Counsels make argue case on Clinton Investigators differ sharply over evidence against the president

Appeal to GOP moderates

Judiciary Committee appears unswayed by the legal arguments

The Impeachment Hearings

December 11, 1998|By Susan Baer and Jonathan Weisman | Susan Baer and Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- In sweeping presentations, the chief Democratic and Republican investigators for the House Judiciary Committee presented starkly contrasting pictures of the impeachment case against President Clinton yesterday, relying in part on newly released videotape of Clinton's testimony in the Paula Jones lawsuit.

The Republican counsel, David Schippers, in a nearly three-hour summation, angrily and at times disdainfully charged the president with an "attack upon, and utter disregard for, truth and the rule of law." Schippers said it was his "sorrowful duty" to accuse Clinton of impeachable offenses contained in the impeachment articles.

"This is not about sex or private conduct," Schippers said. "It is about multiple obstructions of justice, perjury, false and misleading statements, witness tampering, abuses of power -- all committed or orchestrated by the president of the United States."

His Democratic counterpart, Abbe Lowell, presented a more structured yet equally emphatic statement earlier in the day, telling a hushed hearing room that impeachment is "not a means to punish the president," and cautioning that Republicans should have "second thoughts" before voting to "doom the country" to as grave an action as impeachment.

Of the charges against the president, Lowell said: "No matter how they are dressed up, redivided, renamed, reorganized or duplicated, they all have the same central point: the president's improper relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. Nothing more.

"Are the issues of the president's conduct in this case so grave that you would doom the country to additional months of this ordeal and paralysis of government?"

Dueling statements

On the eve of today's debate and the historic committee vote on impeachment expected this weekend, yesterday's dueling statements crystallized the already partisan vote in the Judiciary Committee.

Last night, as debate began, members of the panel lined up with no surprises in their 10-minute statements: the 21 Republicans in favor of impeachment, the 16 Democrats opposed.

It was unclear whether yesterday's presentations by the two chief counsels had any effect on the pivotal group of undecided moderate Republicans that could make the difference once the articles are sent to the House, as they are expected to be, late next week.

In his two-hour closing statement, Lowell likened impeachment to a fire extinguisher behind a glass enclosure that warns: "Break only in case of emergency."

"We are asking you not to break the glass unless there is literally no other choice," he said.

Even if the president has disgraced his office, Lowell said, his actions did not warrant overturning two national elections through impeachment, "the single device to remove from the office the chief executive who you decide is constitutionally disqualified to serve."

He contrasted the current highly polarized Judiciary Committee with the 1974 committee that drew up articles of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon based on misdeeds "serious and substantive enough to call for bipartisan action."

"The more we all try to dress ourselves up in the clothes of Watergate, the more we see they just don't fit," Lowell said.

Schippers, in contrast to the Democrat's methodical, point-by-point argument, mounted an expansive and emotional attack on the president. He opened with a cryptic statement that "many other allegations of possible serious wrongdoing cannot be presented publicly at this time by virtue of circumstances totally beyond our control."

The White House was quick to denounce Schippers' vaguely ominous reference. "We are disappointed and saddened the committee majority brought this solemn process down to the level of innuendo and unfair and unsubstantiated charges," said the White House special counsel, Gregory B. Craig.

Committee Democrats were far more blunt. "It's outrageous," said Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts. "I think it's McCarthyite. It leaves me to believe they know there's weakness with what they have and they have to leave something else hanging out there."

Even some committee Republicans questioned Schippers' judgment in hinting darkly of further, unsubstantiated allegations. "I was not impressed," said Rep. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas.

But Republicans said they found Schippers' overall presentation direct and forceful.

For his part, Lowell responded with a dramatic flourish to Republican criticism that the president's advocates had called no witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the facts of the case.

"If it's fact witnesses you need, then fact witnesses you get. I now call to the stand Monica Lewinsky, Betty Currie, Vernon Jordan, Linda Tripp and the president of the United States," he said to a riveted hearing room.

As heads turned to look for the surprise witnesses, Lowell and other Democratic lawyers bent below the witness table and hoisted up five thick folders full of testimony.

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