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House approves rare process: Presidential impeachment inquiry

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. House of Representatives initiated Oct. 8 only the third presidential impeachment inquiry in the country’s history when it approved an investigation of whether there are grounds to impeach President Clinton.
The House approved 258-176 an inquiry resolution offered by the Judiciary Committee on a day when all but five representatives voted at least once for an investigation. While only 31 Democrats voted for the resolution approved by the House, 196 members of Clinton’s party supported a failed Democratic resolution that set limitations on the time and scope of the investigation.
All 227 Republicans present supported the committee resolution, which gives the panel the freedom to delve outside the report referred to Congress by independent counsel Kenneth Starr and sets no time constraint. The House leadership had hoped to have more than 31 members of the other party support the resolution, but, according to The Washington Post, the Democratic leadership prevented more of an exodus when it made changes to its alternative, including extending the deadline for the committee’s investigation to the end of the year.
The vote approving an inquiry came four weeks after Starr delivered to Congress a report asserting 11 possible grounds for impeachment, including lying under oath, tampering with a potential witness and obstructing justice. The charges stemmed from an eight-month investigation into Clinton’s efforts to conceal his adulterous relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
After learning of his new place in American history, Clinton told reporters he hoped “we can now move forward with this process in a way that is fair, that is constitutional and that is timely. . . . It is not in my hands. It is in the hands of Congress and the people of this country — ultimately in the hands of God. There is nothing I can do.”
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said Americans should “hope and pray that these hearings will be conducted in a way that is consistent with the solemnity and importance of the issues at hand.
“In America, by the providence of God and the faith and courage of our forebears, we have government by the rule of law, not individuals,” Land said. “And the most basic principle of that rule of law is that no one is above the law. Something very basic and foundational about our entire system of government is at stake in this inquiry. Has the president committed perjury and obstructed justice? And if so, does he get a free pass that other citizens do not get by virture of his office? We need to pray for all of our governmental representatives, including the president.”
Clinton is a member of Immanuel Baptist Church, a Little Rock, Ark., congregation affiliated with the SBC.
In two hours of debate on the House floor, Democrats attacked the Republican-backed resolution as unfair and a threat to become a “fishing expedition” for additional evidence against the president. They charged an open-ended inquiry would take away from pressing business.
Republicans argued Congress must uphold the rule of law and the Constitution by investigating whether there are grounds for impeachment. They also said they were following the pattern of an unlimited inquiry established by Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter Rodino, D.-N.J., during the Watergate investigation of President Nixon.
“This has not anything to do with sex; it has a lot to do with suborning perjury, tampering with witnesses, obstructing justice and perjury, all of which impact on our Constitution and our system of justice and the kind of country we are,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R.-Ill., in his closing statements during debate, according to excerpts reprinted by The Post.
“The president of the United States is the trustee of the nation’s conscience. We are entitled to explore fairly, fully and expeditiously the circumstances that have been alleged to compromise that position. We’ll do it quickly. We’ll do it fairly.”
Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D.-Mo., said in support of the Democratic alternative, according to The Post, “The question, you see, is not whether to have an inquiry; the question today is, ‘What kind of inquiry will this be?’
“We’re all profoundly hurt by what the president has done. He has deeply disappointed the American people, and he’s let us all down. But this investigation must be ended fairly and quickly. It has hurt our nation, and it’s hurt our children. We must not compound the hurt.”
The Democratic motion failed by a 236-198 vote, with one Republican, Rep. Jay Dickey of Arkansas, voting for it and 10 Democrats opposing it.
Five Democrats voted against both resolutions for an inquiry: Reps. Bob Filner of California; Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania; John Lewis of Georgia; Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, and Jose Serrano of New York.
The Judiciary Committee will return to Washington after the Nov. 3 elections to begin hearings as part of the inquiry. Hyde did not rule out expanding the investigation beyond Starr’s report, which goes into great detail about the sexual relationship between Clinton and Lewinsky to show the president lied when testifying in a deposition in the Paula Jones lawsuit in January. At the time, Clinton denied he had sexual relations with Lewinsky. When the news reports of a Clinton-Lewinsky relationship broke days later, he told the American people he never had sexual relations with the former intern. On Aug. 17, the same day he testified to a grand jury, he told the American people his testimony in January was “legally accurate” but acknowledged he had an improper relationship with Lewinsky. He told religious leaders at a White House breakfast in mid-September he was sorry for his sin and had repented.
The Starr report charged Clinton not only committed perjury on four matters in the deposition but also on his sexual relationship with Lewinsky before the grand jury.
Nixon resigned in 1974 shortly after the Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment to send to the full House. Prior to Nixon, the only president to undergo an impeachment inquiry was Andrew Johnson in the post-Civil War era. The House impeached Johnson, but the Senate fell one vote short of convicting and removing him from office.
If the House votes to impeach Clinton, the Senate will hold a trial on the matter. It would requires a two-thirds majority for the Senate to convict the president.
In an attempt to short-circuit a trial and to find another form of punishment, five Democratic senators have been lobbying their fellow party members in the Senate to make public statements in support of the president, Roll Call reported Oct. 8. The Capitol Hill newspaper said Sens. John Breaux of Louisiana, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Robert Torricelli of New Jersey hope to convince enough senators to make such statements in order to convince Republicans to settle for a lesser punishment.
On Oct. 7 from the Senate floor, Sen. Robert Byrd, D.-W.Va., issued some advice to the White House on a potential trial: “Don’t tamper with this jury.”