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Judiciary Committee Votes to Ask for Clinton Inquiry

By Richard A. Serrano and Marc Lacey
Los Angeles Times

A sharply divided House Judiciary Committee voted Monday night to recommend the start of a formal inquiry into whether President Clinton should be impeached for obstructing justice and lying about his sexual affair with Monica S. Lewinsky.

As anticipated, the vote followed party lines, with the panel's 21 Republicans supporting the motion while its 16 Democrats opposed it. The vote followed an often-heated, all-day session during which the Republicans made their case for proceeding with the inquiry while the Democrats argued Clinton's offenses did not rise to the level of such an investigation.

The committee's action sets the stage for all 435 members of the House of Representatives to vote Thursday on whether they believe there is enough evidence to warrant a full-scale impeachment investigation.

It is expected the GOP-controlled House will approve the inquiry; what will be closely watched is how many Democrats also support it.

House passage will mark the third impeachment inquiry of a president in U.S. history.

Under the inquiry proposal the committee adopted Monday, the panel will review the Lewinsky matter but also can broaden its scope if other allegations of presidential misconduct are sent to Congress by Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr. Democrats strongly opposed such an open-ended approach.

The inquiry, patterned after the one launched for the Watergate scandal, also will not have a timetable for completion. However, Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) has said he would like the committee to complete an impeachment inquiry by the new year.

If the panel approved articles of impeachment against Clinton, the full House would then vote on whether to adopt them, with a simple majority required for passage. If that occurred, the case would then go to the Senate for trial, where a two-thirds majority would be required to remove Clinton from office.

"The 20th century has been referred to often as the American Century," Hyde said at the start of Monday's meeting. "It is imperative we be able to look back at this episode with dignity and pride. In this difficult moment in our history lies the potential for our finest achievement - proof that democracy works."

But the senior Democrat on the panel, Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, complained that House Republicans are simply trying to elevate Clinton's morals into a national scandal.

"This is not Watergate," he said. "It is an extramarital affair."

But reflecting the Democratic strategy of shifting the focus from Clinton's actions to the relentless pursuit of the case by Starr and his aides, Conyers said: "I suggest to you in every ounce of friendship that I can muster that even worse than an extramarital relationship is the use of federal prosecutors and federal agents to expose an extramarital relationship."

Before voting to recommend the impeachment inquiry, the panel defeated several Democratic amendments - each time on strict party-line votes of 2116 - that would have limited the time and scope of the impeachment review.