By Edward Walsh
At first glance, the man who laid out the case for mounting an impeachment inquiry against President Clinton yesterday is an unlikely choice to lead an effort that could end in the ouster of a Democratic president.
David P. Schippers, chief investigative counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, is a Democrat with deep roots in the party who twice voted for Clinton. "When I say I'm a Democrat, that is not a title, that is a commitment," he recently told the New York Times.
But Schippers, a Chicago defense lawyer, is also a longtime friend of Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), which is how he came to head the Republican impeachment staff.
Like Hyde, Schippers, 68, is a Roman Catholic. He is also the father of 10 and grandfather of 25. He grew up on Chicago's northwest side and briefly studied for the priesthood before putting himself through night law school at Chicago's Loyola University.
In Chicago, Schippers's family was active in Democratic circles, although his only direct brush with electoral politics was an unsuccessful run for the Illinois Supreme Court. In the 1960s, he gained national attention as the head of then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy's organized crime task force in Chicago.
In that capacity, Schippers went after the head of organized crime in his home city, Sam "Momo" Giancana. He brought Giancana before a federal grand jury and offered him blanket immunity for testimony against other organized crime figures. When Giancana refused to testify, he was jailed for a year.
Since leaving the Justice Department in 1967, Schippers and a partner have maintained a small but successful law practice specializing in criminal defense cases.
With his white beard, stocky build and slightly rumpled, avuncular demeanor, Schippers projects an image that is the antithesis of the smooth Washington lawyer, and he has assembled a staff who all come from the Chicago area, including his son, Thomas M. Schippers, a former prosecutor in Lake County, Ill.
In his national television debut yesterday, Schippers went to great pains to cast himself as an outsider. His mission, he said, was "a search for the truth" in pursuit of which he made a "deliberate effort to discount the political aspects of our examination."
Minutes later, Schippers had a quick lesson in those politics: The Democrats quickly complained about his folksy concluding remarks, in which he spoke as a "father and a grandfather" and not as chief counsel. Hyde, not wanting to pick a fight, agreed to strike the Chicago lawyer's remarks from the record of yesterday's proceedings.
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