Ford breaks silence on Clinton scandal, suggests House issue presidential rebuke Recommendation puts former president at odds with Republican leaders

October 04, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Former President Gerald R. Ford broke his silence on the White House scandal yesterday and suggested that the most fitting punishment for President Clinton would be a rebuke in the well of the House, where he would stand and listen while Republicans and Democrats denounced his conduct.

In what may prove to be an important boost for Clinton's search for a way to short-circuit the impeachment process, Ford's recommendation is striking not only because he breaks ranks with Republican leaders who have pressed for impeachment hearings, or called upon the president to resign, but also because of his own experience with impeachment deliberations.

Ford, who made the recommendation in an op-ed article in today's New York Times, succeeded to the presidency in 1974, after President Richard M. Nixon resigned during the impeachment proceedings over Watergate. Ford later damaged his own political standing by pardoning his predecessor.

'Harshly worded rebuke'

"Imagine a president receiving not an ovation from the people's representatives, but a harshly worded rebuke as rendered by members of both parties," Ford wrote.

"I emphasize: this would be a rebuke, not a rebuttal by the president. On the contrary, by his appearance the president would accept full responsibility for his actions, as well as for his subsequent efforts to delay or impede the investigation of them. No spinning, no semantics, no evasiveness or blaming others for his plight."

Gregory Craig, the special counsel to the president, welcomed Ford's comments yesterday, and he did not rule out the possibility of a rebuke. "Gerald Ford is a man who has been there, who understands a situation like this and understands the importance of deferring to constitutional standards under all circumstances," he said in an interview. "President Ford is absolutely right: This kind of conduct simply doesn't rise to the level of an impeachable offense."

Ford weighed in at a crucial point in the White House scandal. Now that the House Judiciary Committee has released the final batch of evidence in its consideration of impeachment charges, the scandal has shifted to political grounds.

Impeachment inquiry

The committee is scheduled to meet tomorrow, and its Republican majority is widely expected to recommend a formal House impeachment inquiry.

David Schippers, the chief investigative counsel for House Republicans, plans to appear before the committee to expand the current list of 11 possible grounds for impeachment of Clinton to include counts involving making false statements under oath and trying to conceal a crime, Republican officials said. They said Schippers would insist that the case is not about sex.

White House lawyers and political aides said they were devoting the weekend to scouring the 4,600 pages of newly released testimony and transcripts, seeking evidence to support their case that independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr was motivated by partisan gain.

Pub Date: 10/04/98

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