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On Capitol Hill, Fear of Trying

Impeachment Hearings

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  • By Michael Powell
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, December 11, 1998; Page D01

    The House Democrats just want you to know that a Senate impeachment trial will be really, really, bad for the country.

    Terrible, in fact.

    Stock markets will shudder; the world economy could collapse. The barons of Silicon Valley could fold up their stock shares and decamp for villas in the San Mateo hills. Saddam may rise up and a crisis of faith could cast a pallor across our land.

    And all the while, Monica Lewinsky will sit in the well of the Senate, spinning out that interminable X-rated tale in her Valley Girl voice.


    As the case against President Clinton lurches improbably forward, the House Democrats are contracting the Impeachment-Millennialist-Y2K fevers. Their Republican colleagues on the Judiciary Committee are making like a bunch of junior prosecutors, little inclined to cut any slack for this allegedly perjuring, allegedly obstructing, allegedly power-abusing president.

    The Democrats have neither the votes nor the facts to derail the Republicans. So they are taking to warning that, in the event of an impeachment trial, the sky will fall. They don't want to panic anybody but this could be it! Doomsday. The end of the world as we know it.

    Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the television-savvy Democrat from Silicon Valley, uses her question time during a Judiciary Committee hearing to warn of Apocalypse Maybe.

    "So as we measure the threat of this alleged conduct to the country and whether it meets that standard, is it appropriate to also measure the impact of a trial on the well-being of our nation?" she asks.

    Her district's callow capitalists have looked up from their keyboards. They've noticed impeachment. They're concerned. "What," she asks former attorney general Nicholas Katzenbach, "will the implications be for the economy of this nation? Do you have thoughts on that?"

    Katzenbach nods sympathetically. It's well that your young capitalists are worried, he tells the congresswoman.

    "The people involved in business and the stock markets and so forth want certainty," he notes. "I can think of nothing much worse than pushing them into an uncertainty that would go on for some period of time."

    Then there's the specter of spiritual collapse. Is it really good for the nation's soul to listen to Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp testify? For days on end? About hair, diets, cats, refrigerators and the Big Creep?

    Do you really want to risk that?

    "It is not good for this country to go through a trial where we will call Monica Lewinsky and have her talk about her intimate relationship with the president of the United States," said Rep. Tom Barrett (D-Wis.). "It is not good for this country to call Linda Tripp forward."

    Then there's time. As in, how much do you have? Because a Senate trial would go on and on. Before it's done, the Democrats warn, this Energizer bunny of an impeachment scandal will be right up there with the Hundred Years' War, the War of the Roses, the Law of the Sea Treaty and the O.J. trial.

    "Talk to them," a Democratic congressman pleads with Prof. Bruce Ackerman of Yale Law School. "Talk to them about what a Senate trial is going to be like."

    The professor obliges. It's gonna be long – real long.

    "I literally tell the American people, you have no idea of what the Senate trial is going to look like." Ackerman waves his hands about. "It will disrupt the nation's business, I would expect for a year."

    At this point, let's pause for a moment of bipartisan comity. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) agrees: Impeachment is a pain and will disrupt the nation and Congress and the pursuit of the common weal. And he's come up with a nifty solution:

    "You didn't mention an alternative, which is pretty obvious, and which has been recommended by over 100 major newspapers [note: end bipartisan comity], and that's the possibility of resignation," he says.

    Nor are the Republicans beyond divining a doomsday threat or two in this impeachment fandango. Ed Bryant of Tennessee spun out a particularly imaginative scenario this week.

    The Democrats "seem to be saying that unless you've got the Richard Nixon case, you can't impeach anybody. We have 32 counts and one article of impeachment in that case. That sounds to me like if you've got a bank robber out there that robbed 32 banks, and then you get a second bank robber who only robbed four, that you can't charge that person with bank robbery."

    Now his kicker: "Everybody from here on has to rob 32 banks before they can be charged."

    Got that?

    There is, finally, the prospect most fearsome. That all this will go on. Forever.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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