By Juliet Eilperin and Peter Baker
The measure released by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) would empower the panel "to investigate fully and completely whether sufficient grounds exist for the House of Representatives to exercise its constitutional power to impeach William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States of America."
The language drafted by Republicans was adapted nearly word for word from the authorization of the Nixon impeachment proceedings. Just like the Watergate investigation approved by Democrats 24 years ago, the GOP's resolution would impose no limits on the Clinton inquiry's scope, and subpoena power would be provided not only to the chairman but also to the committee's ranking opposition member, in this case Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.).
But Conyers and the White House yesterday condemned the open-ended nature of the proposed impeachment proceedings and Democrats were developing an alternative proposal for a more limited inquiry to present the full committee when it meets on Monday.
"The facts of Watergate and the Monica Lewinsky matter are entirely different and I think most Americans would readily and quickly agree to that," said White House press secretary Michael McCurry. Clinton's deception about an extramarital relationship, McCurry said, is not equivalent to the "enormity of the crimes committed during the period of Watergate."
Even so, the White House signaled that it does not expect House Democrats to stand with Clinton and oppose any inquiry during committee and floor votes next week. "We would argue strenuously against" the need for impeachment proceedings, McCurry said. But conceding the odds, he said "reality is reality" and if Democrats decide they must support going forward with the process, "I don't think we would be in a good position to take much issue with that."
The jockeying over rules governing any impeachment probe comes as both parties prepared legal analyses of the evidence independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr delivered to Congress last month. Starr contended Clinton committed perjury, obstructed justice, tampered with witnesses and abused the power of his office in trying to cover up his affair with Lewinsky during the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit and, later, during the Starr grand jury investigation.
According to Republican sources, chief GOP investigator David P. Schippers is considering outlining for the committee even more grounds for impeachment than the 11 counts Starr cited, though these charges would be exclusively related to the Lewinsky affair. These additional charges could focus on Clinton's alleged abuse of power and repeated invocation of executive privilege, the sources said, but they emphasized that Schippers was still in the process of drafting his analysis and planned to meet with other committee aides today.
Democrats, according to sources familiar with their deliberations, plan to critique several elements of Starr's report. They will likely reject outright Starr's argument that Clinton obstructed justice or abused power by asserting executive privilege and lying to top aides who later conveyed false information to the grand jury. The rest of Starr's case concerning obstruction of justice and witness tampering is "thin, circumstantial," argued one Democratic source.
Democrats are likely to conclude that there is a "legitimate legal question as to whether lying under oath constitutes perjury" in Clinton's case, and to question whether even if the president did commit perjury, it would warrant impeachment under these circumstances.
The resolution and accompanying committee rules drafted by the Republicans and announced by Hyde draw heavily from those used by then-Judiciary Chairman Peter Rodino (D-N.J.) during Watergate proceedings. Clinton would enjoy the same rights as Nixon, including the ability to attend or send his lawyers to all hearings, to respond to evidence collected by the committee and to have his attorneys cross-examine witnesses, make objections about the relevance of evidence and submit exculpatory material.
"I am hopeful that [this] draft will continue the bipartisan cooperation that we both want," Hyde wrote in a letter to Conyers.
Democrats, who have pushed for Rodino-style rules, gave a mixed response. Conyers said the Watergate format was "what we have been asking for" but pronounced himself only "half happy" because Republicans already have made public much of Starr's evidence in contrast to the more secret practice of 24 years ago.
Democrats also objected to the fact that Hyde would need only to consult with Conyers before authorizing depositions and could overrule any assertions of privileges by witnesses. They also noted that while Conyers would have subpoena power, he could be overruled if Hyde objects and refers any dispute to the full committee, where Republicans have a 21 to 16 majority.
More broadly, congressional Democrats and the White House argued that the Lewinsky matter does not merit the same open-ended inquiry as Watergate. Conyers called that "preposterous. Watergate involved a wholesale corruption of government. . . . This matter involves the concealing of a private affair for which the vast majority of facts are already known."
At the White House, McCurry heatedly read from a long list of allegations against Nixon, including obstructing investigations of the original break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters; obtaining and misusing confidential information from the Internal Revenue Service; misusing federal authorities for illegal wiretapping; creating a secret White House unit to target enemies; and withholding information from Congress.
"So there's no parallel whatsoever," McCurry said. Asked if he would not agree the Clinton White House similarly obstructed the Starr investigation, McCurry said, "I would not, in the fashion that was done by the Nixon administration, in subordination of the Constitution, absolutely not."
McCurry said the White House objected to "going back and regurgitating" past Clinton scandals such as the travel office firings, the misuse of FBI files, Whitewater and campaign finance. To include those in impeachment hearings, he said, "is suspicious; it looks like it's politics."
Democratic leaders were considering a rival resolution that would impose a fixed length of time for an impeachment inquiry, offer censure as a specific alternative to impeachment and require a hearing to decide whether there is an "impeachable offense" before voting whether to begin an inquiry, sources said yesterday.
Several Democratic committee members indicated they could vote against any inquiry unless a hearing on the viability of impeachment was held first. "How do you decide on whether you should have an inquiry when you haven't concluded that there is anything to have an inquiry about?" said Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-Va.).
As for funding the inquiry, Republican sources said the committee has decided as of now that it had enough money, using $1.3 million from a special March allocation made for a Judiciary oversight project involving the Justice Department.
On a related front, no progress was reported in Clinton's attempt to reach a settlement with Jones. Clinton attorney Robert S. Bennett was spotted at the White House as the president and his advisers consider how much money to offer to finally get rid of the case that led to the Lewinsky investigation.
Jones, who is appealing the April 1 dismissal of her case, has asked for $1 million while dropping her longstanding demand for an apology. Bennett has countered with a $500,000 proposal.
Any settlement would not be funded by the insurance companies that once paid for Clinton's defense, according to an executive at one of them. But State Farm said yesterday that two committees of outside directors have completed an investigation of the company's involvement with the Clinton defense and concluded there was no impropriety, despite a complaint filed by Clinton critic Larry Klayman.
Staff writers Guy Gugliotta and Susan Schmidt contributed to this report.
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