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Specter: Let Clinton Face Court Later

By Larry Margasak
Associated Press
Thursday, November 12, 1998; Page A04

Reflecting Republican divisions, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) suggested yesterday that Congress halt the impeachment inquiry and leave President Clinton to the criminal justice system after his term ends. The leader of the inquiry rejected the idea.

Specter told reporters he has shared his idea with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and the likely House speaker in the next Congress, Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.). Both were noncommittal, Specter said, adding that he would discuss his idea with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.).

Hyde said in Wheaton, Ill., that hearings scheduled for Nov. 19 would go on, as would subsequent committee deliberations on articles of impeachment.

"Senator Specter's always ahead of the curve. But he'll get his chance to express himself authoritatively, ultimately, I suspect," Hyde said.

Articles of impeachment, similar to an indictment, would become a matter for the Senate and Specter if approved by the full House by majority vote. If the Senate conducts a trial, a two-thirds vote would be needed for conviction -- unlikely with a 55 to 45 GOP majority.

The 21 Republicans on Hyde's committee are mostly staunch conservatives, who intensified attacks this week on those who believe that lying about a sexual affair -- even under oath -- does not merit impeachment.

"I think we have a constitutional duty to perform under the law and the Constitution, and we're going to perform it. I don't know how it's going to come out. I haven't counted noses, I can't predict the end result, but I will predict we will press forward and do our duty," Hyde said in response to Specter's idea.

Specter, a former prosecutor, said some Republicans were "searching for a way out" of an unpopular impeachment effort but acknowledged his idea "is going to take some . . . digestion." The dialogue must begin now, Specter said, because the Senate will not convict Clinton.

"I am suggesting holding the president accountable through the criminal process after his term of office expires, where he could be subject to prosecution for perjury, obstruction of justice and face the distinct possibility of a jail sentence, as contrasted with the impeachment proceedings, which I believe will come to naught," Specter told a news conference.

Specter said any possibility of a criminal conviction "would really evaporate if the House does not return articles but considers it, or if the Senate were to find the president not guilty."

The Democrats picked up five House seats in the Nov. 3 elections, and some analysts believe that signaled voter discontent with the inquiry. The election results led to a House leadership shake-up.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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