Impeachment proceedings are moving quickly Livingston prefers vote to happen on Gingrich's watch, former aide says

November 11, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON — A headline in yesterday's national news section incorrectly attributed to a former aide of Rep. Robert L. Livingston a statement that Livingston would prefer an impeachment vote while Newt Gingrich is speaker of the House. In fact, it was Livingston's advisers -- including the former aide -- who expressed that preference.

The Sun regrets the error.

WASHINGTON -- Even as House Republicans are increasingly consumed with their leadership struggles, presidential impeachment proceedings are advancing with remarkable speed.

Members of both parties now expect the House Judiciary Committee to approve articles of impeachment against President Clinton by mid-December, leaving a momentous decision to a Republican leadership in disarray: whether to call a special session of Congress, to cast only the second presidential impeachment vote in history -- or to hand that task to the next speaker, presumably Rep. Robert L. Livingston.


"That's a decision that may have to be made by the speaker-elect and Henry Hyde," said Christina Martin, spokeswoman for outgoing House Speaker Newt Gingrich, referring to the House Judiciary Committee chairman.

She said the subject of a special session of Congress did not come up in transition talks yesterday between Gingrich and Livingston.

Livingston's advisers signaled that they would prefer to have an impeachment vote as the final chapter of the Gingrich era rather than as the opening page of the Livingston speakership.

"Bob wants to address the real issues facing this country -- health-care reform, balanced budgets, increasing the surpluses, saving Social Security," said Dean R. Sackett III, a former aide who remains close to Livingston.

"He is an issue guy. You can read into that what you will."

And because virtually nobody expects the Senate to hold an impeachment trial that could lead to Clinton's removal from office, some leadership sources see no reason to wait. Indeed, after last week's election setback for the Republicans, there are doubts that the House even has the votes to approve articles of impeachment.

Moderate Republicans such as Reps. Christopher Shays of Connecticut and Constance A. Morella of Montgomery County have become increasingly vocal in their opposition to approving articles of impeachment.

"I don't see anything in the Starr report to justify removing the president from office," Shays said yesterday, "and I don't think you can impeach a president on a party-line vote."

If Republican leaders wait until the next Congress, they would have even fewer votes, because five fewer Republicans will be sworn in.

"Everyone wants to get it over with, and there's a good chance it's not even going to be referred to the Senate," said one Republican leadership aide. "So let's have a vote, and get it over with."

Republicans and Democrats were taken aback by the hard-line stances struck by Republicans on the Judiciary Committee on ** Monday, when a Judiciary subcommittee considered the historical precedent for impeachment.

The surprisingly poor Republican showing in the Nov. 3 elections was expected to dampen the GOP drive in the House to impeach Clinton for his alleged efforts to cover up his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

But Judiciary Committee Republicans have argued that the committee has a constitutional obligation to pursue the matter, despite broad opposition to impeachment as registered in public opinion polls. Several influential committee Republicans have signaled a willingness to impeach.

"If a president commits perjury and obstruction of justice, he is bringing his office into disrepute and undermining the rule of law in a way that we cannot countenance," Rep. Charles T. Canady of Florida, a Judiciary Committee Republican, said yesterday.

A half-dozen committee Republicans met yesterday to try to hash out a strategy for the opening of impeachment hearings next week, which will feature one witness: independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr. They even circulated a memo to prepare for Democratic attempts to turn the subject away from the president's misdeeds to Starr's own.

The first of the two-part memo is titled "Positive Points" about Starr, according to a copy reviewed by the Associated Press. The memo's first point: "1. Judge Starr is one of the country's premier lawyers."

Democrats said they were surprised and disappointed by the Republicans' offensive.

"Anyone outside that [hearing] room felt the election killed any prospect for impeachment," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, a committee Democrat. "Inside the room, the Republicans were as gung-ho for impeachment as ever."

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, in what seems like another universe, Republicans are preoccupied with the disarray in their top ranks and the struggle to produce a new slate of leaders for the next Congress. Leadership aides readily conceded yesterday that few of them are watching the Judiciary Committee's actions closely.

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