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Analysis: Schippers' No-Holds Barred Attack

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  • By Ruth Marcus
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, December 11, 1998; Page A24

    Republican chief counsel David Schippers yesterday mounted a kitchen-sink assault on President Clinton's conduct that made independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's brief for impeachment look almost mild by comparison.

    Schippers began what he described as his "sorrowful duty" of reporting that the president had committed myriad crimes by saying that the ultimate question of whether Clinton should be impeached "is not for me to say or even to give an opinion." But he ended by telling the House Judiciary Committee that it had no choice in the matter.

    "If you don't impeach as a consequence of the conduct that I've just portrayed, then no House of Representatives will ever be able to impeach again," he said. "The bar will be so high that only a convicted felon or a traitor will need to be concerned."

    For his part, Democratic counsel Abbe D. Lowell repeated the now familiar warnings against invoking the "emergency" remedy of impeachment in this situation, and sought to pick apart the obstruction case against Clinton.

    But Lowell was perhaps most effective in his bid to give pause to those who are still undecided about impeaching Clinton. Playing videotapes of Clinton and taped telephone conversations between Monica S. Lewinsky and Linda Tripp, he tried to turn the clock forward to the "ordeal" he warned would ensue if the case against the president, with its sordid sexual details, were forced to trial in the Senate.

    "How would you have a trial in the Senate to conclude about whether the president was right about what he thought the phrase 'sexual relations' meant?" Lowell asked after playing an excerpt from Clinton's deposition.

    He also raised the spectacle of what hearing testimony from Lewinsky would entail. "By way of example, do you want the Senate to be required to determine what Ms. Lewinsky meant when she said this about herself?" Lowell said, playing a telephone tape in which Lewinsky admits to being "brought up with lies, all the time."

    And, he warned, a Senate trial would inevitably involve graphic accounts from Lewinsky about whether, as the draft impeachment articles put it, Clinton lied about the "nature of details" of their sexual relationship. "Is that what you want to put the country through?"

    Schippers' take was that the country could not afford to turn away from the matter. In October, when he offered his initial assessment of the evidence amassed by Starr, it was clear that he was personally affronted by Clinton's behavior, employing ringing language about the president as the "repository of a special trust" and the gravity of violating the "sacred" oath.

    In that first appearance, Schippers said he had interpreted the evidence in the light most favorable to Clinton and couched his conclusions in language about what the evidence "tends to establish."

    Yesterday's presentation was far more adversarial and aggressive, even hostile, with Schippers decrying Clinton's "crafty mind," drawing every possible negative inference about his conduct and broadening the accusations brought by Starr.

    For example, Schippers tossed into his accusations of the myriad ways in which the president had abused his high office his litigation over the question of whether a president can be subjected to a civil suit while in office, a question that Clinton lost before the Supreme Court but that few have previously suggested was so patently frivolous as to be a possible element of impeachment.

    Similarly, he took after Clinton for testifying before the grand jury that he had "occasional conversations" with Lewinsky, some of which included "sexual banter."

    "Now 'occasional' sounds like once every three or four months, doesn't it?" Schippers said. "Actually the two had at least 55 phone conversations, many in the middle of the night, and in 17 of those calls, Monica and the president of the United States engaged in phone sex. Now, I am not going to go into any details, but if what happened on those phone calls is banter, then Buckingham Palace is a cabin."

    Armed not only with the cold transcript of Clinton's deposition testimony but also with the far more powerful weapon of a videotape of the session, Schippers scored his best hits when he played excerpts that showed Clinton listening intently as his lawyer vouched to the truth of Lewinksy's affidavit that he said denied sex with Clinton in any form, and looking clearly uncomfortable and nervous as he was pressed about whether he had ever been alone with Lewinsky.

    Schippers, a veteran Chicago lawyer and long-time Democrat, was clearly enraged not only by Clinton's actions but also by what he termed the "obfuscation and legal pyrotechnics" the White House has employed in trying to forestall impeachment, and the "arrogance of the White House and its total disdain for the intellect of the American people."

    "What do they think we are?" he thundered. "Do they think we don't read what they give us? Do they think we don't listen to what we hear in this room?. ... Does it ever stop?"

    But at some points, Schippers himself seemed to go beyond the actual facts in evidence.

    For example, on the question of presidential friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr.'s help in obtaining a job for Lewinsky, Schippers argued that Jordan's extensive involvement in a job search for Lewinsky at the same time she was completing an affidavit in the Jones case could only be explained by a "compelling reason. The compelling reason was that the president told him this was top priority, especially after Monica was subpoenaed."

    However, the testimony contained in Starr's referral does not have evidence of any such statement by Clinton about his priorities. Instead, the only testimony cited in Starr's referral was that the president responded "good," when Jordan informed him of his help for Lewinsky.

    In a move that enraged committee Democrats, Schippers said – without providing any details or revealing whether any of the evidence implicated the president – that "a number of very promising leads had to be abandoned" and that other "incidents involving probable direct and deliberate obstructions of justice, witness tampering, perjury and abuse of power" had to be ignored because of concerns expressed by criminal investigators in both the Justice Department and Starr's office.

    His presentation was laced with sarcastic asides about Clinton. "The president told Ms. Lewinsky that seeing her name on the [Jones witness] list broke his heart," Schippers said. "I imagine it did."

    At another point, after playing for the committee the videotape of Clinton's Jan. 17 deposition testimony in which he said he had no specific recollection of being alone with Lewinsky, Schippers said, "Life was so much simpler before they found that dress, wasn't it?" And, in discussing Clinton's argument that his misleading statements came in a civil case that was ultimately dismissed, Schippers could not resist tossing in, "By the way, do you settle bogus suits for $700,000 after you've won?"

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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