Judiciary Panel's Passionate Persuader
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 16, 1998; Page A22
Shortly after the November elections, chastened House Judiciary Committee Republicans gathered to discuss the future of their impeachment probe of President Clinton. The panel's chief investigator, David P. Schippers, listened quietly as lawmakers fretted that they might have to shut the inquiry down quickly in light of overwhelming public sentiment against impeachment.
Then Schippers rose to speak, delivering a scathing lecture in which he questioned why members would allow "a lousy election" to affect their judgment. The unusual rebuke from an aide was so harsh that Rep. Howard Coble (N.C.) asked Schippers at the outset of the next session, "Ya'll going to behave today, Dave?"
"Of course, that brought a laugh," Coble recalled. "David is wont to bark from time to time."
In an interview yesterday, Schippers portrayed himself as a reluctant recruit in the impeachment drive but he acknowledged -- and Republican members agreed -- that he soon became a leading inside-the-committee cheerleader for impeachment, committed to recommending the president's removal from office and lobbying members to support the four articles of impeachment the panel passed last week.
"One of the things that's bothered me ever since I've been out here is how people eat, sleep and live on what the polls tell them," he said. At one point in recent days, he said, he told GOP lawmakers: "You're not surrogates, you're representatives."
A self-described Democrat, Schippers was signed up for the task by his longtime acquaintance, Judiciary Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.). Though he insisted he started out "in the middle of the road," Schippers also said he became an unabashed advocate for impeachment soon after independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report to Congress arrived in September.
"I knew I was going to go one way or another," he said. "I'm not a middle-of-the-road guy."
Indeed, Schippers demonstrated that in his fiery presentation last week, enraging Democrats who accused him of "McCarthyite" tactics in intimating evidence of other criminal wrongdoing by Clinton without saying what that is.
When asked about the aborted foray into campaign fund-raising, which committee sources said was motivated by Schippers, he said it amounted to "due diligence" in an inquiry that was always meant to focus on Starr's allegations concerning the Monica S. Lewinsky matter.
"By the time we were finally looking at it, the time was gone," he said. "If we had had the time, there were leads we would have followed. Whether they would have borne fruit, I don't know."
That kind of statement, which he delivered as part of his presentation to the committee, angered Democrats, who accused Schippers of making allegations without the evidence to back them up. Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called it "appalling," while Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) accused Schippers of using "McCarthyite tactics."
But Schippers is anything but contrite. "They're calling me names like McCarthy," he said last weekend. Referring to his days as a mob prosecutor, he said, "The outfit didn't like me either."
Sitting in his secluded office in a House annex, surrounded by volumes ranging from "The History of English Law" to the Wall Street Journal's "Whitewater: Clinton Scandals Collected" ("That was when we didn't have anything better to do," he said of the Whitewater tome), Schippers proclaimed himself "outraged" at "a pattern of a whole load of criminal activities."
Oddly, it was the testimony of a minor character in the Lewinsky saga that Schippers said hardened his position against the president: that of Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal. Blumenthal testified that Clinton not only denied an affair with Lewinsky to him but said that Lewinsky had amounted to a stalker.
"Do you know what really started me going downhill? When I read Sid Blumenthal's testimony," he said. He came to believe that Clinton was "taking this 22-year-old kid and making him the victim of her. I started to think, 'My God. What's going on here?' "
Although Schippers said he initially believed he would not support articles of impeachment "if it's just about sex," by late September he was committed to articles of impeachment that emphasized perjury allegations. Hyde was too, he said.
But not all of the GOP members on Judiciary were as confident. Schippers acknowledged that he lobbied them hard at times to ignore the public sentiment against impeachment.
"His conviction," said Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), "certainly was helpful in not wavering from the facts."
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