Clinton charges unveiled Judiciary Committee Republicans seek his impeachment

Defenders brushed aside

3 Democrats propose a tough resolution to censure president

The Impeachment Hearings

December 10, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman and David Folkenflik | Jonathan Weisman and David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Brushing aside the White House's earnest two-day defense, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee unveiled last night four articles of impeachment, charging that President Clinton "has undermined the integrity of his office, . . . brought disrepute to the Presidency" and should be banished from office.

The release of the articles upstaged an insistent pleading of the president's case by Charles F. C. Ruff, the White House counsel. And by capturing public attention, the articles could short-circuit any momentum that might have been building for some punishment short of impeachment.

With the blessing of Democratic leaders, three committee Democrats proposed a toughly worded resolution of censure yesterday, offering it as an alternative punishment for the committee to consider.

Rep. Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, the panel's chairman, promised to allow the censure resolution to come to a vote in the committee. But the Republican-led Judiciary Committee will almost certainly defeat such a resolution, and House majority whip Tom DeLay is trying to bar any censure resolution from receiving a vote in in the full House.

Acknowledging that Clinton "made false statements concerning his reprehensible behavior," the Democratic resolution asserts that the president "fully deserves the censure and condemnation of the American people and the Congress." White House aides signaled that the president would accept that rebuke, along with a hefty financial penalty.

Only days remain for the president to secure the votes he needs to stave off only the second presidential impeachment in the nation's history. Abbe D. Lowell, the committee's chief Democratic investigator, will sum up the defense today. His Republican counterpart, David Schippers, will press the case for impeachment. Debate and consideration of the articles of impeachment will then begin and could stretch into the weekend.

A historic impeachment vote in the full House is likely next Wednesday or Thursday.

Four draft articles

As strong as the Democratic condemnation was, it paled in comparison to the committee's four draft impeachment articles. The articles charge Clinton with perjury in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual-misconduct case, perjury before independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's grand jury, obstruction of justice and abuse of presidential power.

All four articles conclude with the statement: "William Jefferson Clinton has undermined the integrity of his office, has brought disrepute on the Presidency, has betrayed his trust as President, and has acted in a manner subversive of the rule of law and justice, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

"Wherefore, William Jefferson Clinton, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States."

Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, a committee Republican who is one of Clinton's most caustic critics, said the impeachment articles were defined by the evidence gathered by the committee, and he vowed to win the committee's approval of each one. "The best thing we can do at this point is to defend them and ensure they get presented to the full House," Barr said.

But Rep. Thomas M. Barrett, a moderate Democrat from Wisconsin who helped write the censure resolution, said the articles indicated that the Republicans, far from weighing the facts, had merely regurgitated the allegations that Starr sent to the House in September.

"We could have seen these same articles the day Ken Starr delivered his report to Congress," Barrett said. "Nothing has changed in three months."

The release of the articles dealt a setback to White House aides, who had begun to gain some confidence that they could narrowly head off impeachment, in part because of Ruff's conciliatory testimony yesterday. Even committee Republicans offered praise for Ruff's eloquent defense.

Yesterday morning, a panel of five former federal prosecutors, including former Republican governor of Massachusetts William Weld, had scored points in testifying that only "foolish" prosecutors would take to court any of the charges against Clinton, since they could probably not win a conviction.

By releasing the articles of impeachment even before Ruff had finished testifying, White House aides said, the Republicans on the committee showed they had no intention of considering Clinton's defense seriously and had undermined Democratic efforts to reach undecided House Republicans.

"There's nothing in the articles, there's nothing in the allegations, there's nothing in the record, there's nothing in the Constitution that brings anything here up to the standard of an impeachable offense," said Joe Lockhart, Clinton's spokesman.

The articles do not simply recommend the removal of Clinton from office, as the articles against President Richard M. Nixon did in 1974. They recommend that the Senate bar Clinton from ever holding elective office again.

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