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Clinton impeached, faces trial in Senate Partisan vote in House passes obstruction of justice, perjury articles

GOP says outcome shows even president is not above the law

December 20, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

On a parliamentary maneuver, the House also beat back a Democratic effort to introduce a resolution censuring Clinton instead of impeaching him. The vote to declare the censure resolution to be irrelevant to the proceedings passed 230-204, with four Democrats joining the Republican majority, and two Republicans joining the Democrats.

The House narrowly defeated, 229-205, an article of impeachment that accused Clinton of perjury in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconduct lawsuit. Twenty-seven Republicans joined the Democrats and the House's single independent to defeat it.

The House also decisively defeated the fourth and final article of impeachment, charging that Clinton abused the power of his office by lying to Congress. That vote was 285-148.

But in approving two of the four articles, House Republicans stained Clinton with only the second presidential impeachment in the nation's history.

The vote appeared to ensure that what House Democratic Whip David E. Bonior of Michigan called "this whole sorry episode" would stretch well into next year -- with ever-weightier implications for the nation and the balance of power between the presidency and the Congress.

Republican leaders said it was the price to be paid for defending "the rule of law," for expunging the example of lawlessness they say has been set by the nation's chief executive, and to eradicate what House Republican leader Armey called "a cancer spreading through the nation."

"The evidence is overwhelming; the question is elementary," said Rep. James E. Rogan of California, one of the House-appointed Republican impeachment prosecutors.

"The president was obliged under his sacred oath faithfully to execute our nation's laws. Yet he repeatedly perjured himself and obstructed justice, not for any noble purpose, but to crush a humble, lone woman's right to be afforded access to the courts.

"When they are old enough to appreciate today's solemnity," he said, "I want my young daughters to know that when the last roll was called, their father served in a House faithful to the guiding principle that no person is above the law, and he served with colleagues who counted it a privilege to risk political fortune in defense of the Constitution."

If the proceedings were not strange enough, Livingston stood up on the House floor to throw down the gauntlet to Clinton, challenging him to resign from office, and backing that challenge by resigning himself, not only from the speakership that he was to assume next year but also from the House of Representatives.

"To the president, I would say: 'Sir, you have done great damage to this nation over this past year. You have the power to terminate that damage and heal the wounds that you have created. You, sir, may resign your post,' " Livingston declared from the House floor before the vote.

The White House will try to enlist former Senate Democratic leader George J. Mitchell to lead Clinton's Senate defense team and has even begun reaching out to the president's 1996 election rival, Bob Dole, to help defuse the crisis in the coming months.

But the president may no longer control his own destiny. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, accompanied by the other 11 House impeachment managers, ceremoniously delivered the two articles of impeachment to the Senate at 3 p.m.

And Senate Republican leader Trent Lott immediately set in motion the steps to convene a Senate impeachment trial, prosecuted by House Republicans and presided over daily by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

"Senators will be prepared to fulfill their constitutional obligations," Lott said in a written statement. "Each senator will take an oath to 'do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws; so help me God.' "

Already Senate Democrats are appealing to moderate Republicans and the White House to find some way to head off a lengthy trial, possibly with an agreement to censure Clinton and fine him.

"Over the past year, our country has suffered through difficult and divisive times," said Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. "The Senate should now seek to bind those wounds, and we can do that by proceeding in a manner that is fair, dignified and completely nonpartisan."

Rep. Charles T. Canady of Florida, a Republican Judiciary Committee member who will help present the impeachment case to the Senate, did not foresee a long process.

"I believe it's important for a trial to be handled as expeditiously as possible. This is a relatively simple case," he said. "I would expect the trial would not take an extraordinarily long time -- more days or weeks than months."

Before a trial is convened or a deal is cut, Clinton will come under withering pressure to leave office voluntarily.

House Republicans before today's vote repeatedly exhorted colleagues to vote for impeachment if they believed Clinton should stand trial, even if they do not believe he should be removed from office.

"All you have to believe is that there is clear and convincing

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