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Area Legislators Call it Too Soon to Judge Clinton

By Manuel Perez-Rivas and Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writers
Satursday, September 12, 1998; Page A15

Some Maryland and Virginia congressional representatives yesterday questioned President Clinton's ability to continue leading the nation in the wake of the public release of prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr's report, but most said they are withholding judgment for now.

Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), a longtime ally, said Clinton should consider stepping down. Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.) said he is standing by the president but added that he is concerned about allegations of obstruction of justice. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-Md.) said Clinton has lost his moral authority, thereby crippling his ability to govern. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) said the descriptions of Clinton's alleged sexual acts are "demeaning" to the presidency.

One aspect of the revelations drew a universal reaction from those who had a chance even to glimpse the report in the hours after the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to make it public: disgust at its abundant and lurid sexual details.

"I wouldn't want my grandchildren to see it," said Rep. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.).

While saying she believes this whole episode has diminished the president's credibility, Morella – who traditionally has been one of Clinton's strongest supporters among the GOP congressional ranks – said it would be premature to call for his resignation or to say if the alleged offenses are impeachable in nature. "I'm going to withhold judgment on it, to make a full, independent decision," she said.

That opinion was echoed in several interviews, especially by the area's Democrats, most of whom took the position that Clinton deserves the same constitutional protection as any other U.S. citizen: namely, that he is innocent until proven guilty.

"It's as if the prosecutor presented his case to the jury, and then the jury went off to deliberate with the defendant still sitting there," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), a former trial lawyer and the only member of the Maryland delegation who voted not to release the Starr report. Cummings said the vote to release Starr's lengthy allegations without first giving the White House time to respond was unfair to Clinton.

The other three Democrats in the Maryland delegation voted to release the report, as did all four Maryland Republicans. Of the 11 representatives from Virginia, only Moran and Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-Va.) voted against its release.

Moran objected to the release of "lurid, almost pornographic" accounts of sexual acts that would be accessible to children. "What kind of family values is that?" he said.

Scott, a senior House Judiciary Committee member who will consider any impeachment resolution, noted that House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) was given time to respond to House ethics charges for which he was fined $300,000. Yesterday, Scott said, "innocent people" would be harmed and "careers ruined" by the report's release.

In Maryland, Democrats Wynn, Cummings, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin all said they would withhold judgment of the president until they had a chance to review the report and the facts fully. So, too, did most Virginia Democrats.

One notable exception was Moran, who had been one of Clinton's staunchest defenders. He called yesterday for the president to consider resigning for his "inexplicable and unjustifiable" actions.

"He should certainly consider any option that would put an end to this and enable the Congress and the country to recover from one of the saddest episodes in American history," said Moran, whose Alexandria office was picketed Thursday by 50 local Democrats carrying signs tagging him a "Gingrich Democrat" for his criticism of the president's conduct.

There were similar reactions from area Republicans.

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest (R-Md.), for instance, said he had not read the report yet, but he, too, criticized Clinton's actions. Davis, meanwhile, said he wanted to hear Clinton's detailed response.

U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and U.S. Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) declined to comment yesterday.

A spokesman for Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.) said that "he may have to render judgment on whether to overturn a presidential election" and that he believes it inappropriate to prejudge the outcome.

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) said she would decline to comment for similar reasons. A spokesman for Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) did not respond to requests for comment.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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