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House Opens Impeachment Proceedings Against Clinton

By Richard A. Serrano
and Marc Lacey
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

For only the third time in the republic's 210 years, the House opened a formal impeachment proceeding Thursday against the president of the United States, and its largely party-line vote signaled a rancorous investigation ahead.

By a vote of 258176, the House authorized its Judiciary Committee to investigate whether President Clinton committed "high crimes and misdemeanors" - the Constitution's vague standard for impeachment - by committing perjury and obstructing justice in concealing his indiscretions with Monica S. Lewinsky.

Not one of the Republican members of the House voted against the resolution authorizing the investigation, and they brought with them only 31 Democrats, most of them conservatives.

By contrast, the House vote establishing an impeachment investigation of President Nixon 25 years ago was 4104.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., said it is his aim to have the inquiry completed by year's end, but it could easily be broadened if Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr sends Congress additional evidence from his still-ongoing Whitewater investigation.

At the White House, Clinton pledged his cooperation with the inquiry, even as his aides quickly condemned the House debate as "injected with politics."

"I will do what I can to help ensure that this is constitutional, fair and timely," Clinton promised during a session in the White House Cabinet room.

But, he added, "It's not in my hands. It is in the hands of the Congress and the people of this country, and ultimately in the hands of God. There is nothing I can do."

Gesturing with his right palm turned upward, Clinton said: "I have surrendered this. This is beyond my control."

With the impeachment review likely to get under way after the Nov. 3 election, it was clear Thursday that many of those Democrats who voted with the Republican majority did so because they feared a political backlash as they head into tight re-election contests.

But if they prevail in November, they are expected to return to their Democratic base and join what is likely to become an extraordinarily bitter struggle against Republicans over the remaining two years of Clinton's second term.

Signs of the coming fury could be heard as both Democrats and Republicans stood in the uncharacteristically full House chamber. Mindful of the dramatic moment of the day, lawmakers pounded their fists, waved their arms and argued in tough, almost-always partisan language about how they believed the inquiry should proceed.

More often than not, they harkened back to the ghosts of Congresses past, recalling the Founding Fathers at the nation's birth and Rep. Peter Rodino, D-N.J., who just a generation ago presided over the House's impeachment review in Watergate.

But Democrats argued that it was a rush to judgment; they demanded but did not get a limited inquiry, warning that an open-ended investigation would open the gates for a Republican stampede through the myriad scandals that have dogged the Clinton presidency.