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GOP Stand on Inquiry Firm Despite Election Day Losses

By Robert L. Jackson
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

In the face of public disapproval and conflicting advice from law professors and historians, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee showed a fierce determination Monday to push ahead with their impeachment inquiry.

While the 19 academicians disagreed on whether President Clinton's alleged crimes warrant impeachment, GOP members of the panel's constitutional subcommittee evinced scarcely a doubt on that point, often engaging the witnesses in animated debate.

Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., the Judiciary Committee chairman, said that despite signs from last week's elections that many Americans wanted to put impeachment behind them, "I'm not letting it interfere with my intention to proceed with the inquiry."

Hyde said he was "frightened for the rule of law" if the committee did not punish the president for his alleged perjury about his affair with Monica S. Lewinsky.

Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr also has alleged that Clinton obstructed justice and abused the powers of his office in trying to conceal the affair.

Rep. Charles Canady, R-Fla., the subcommittee chairman, said Clinton "must be called to account for putting his selfish personal interest ahead of his oath of office and his constitutional duty."

In light of the Republicans' poor showing in last week's elections and the resignation Friday of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, many Washington pundits and Democratic lawmakers had declared the impeachment proceedings against Clinton all but over. But Republican committee members expressed renewed outrage at Clinton's behavior and appeared to reject any alternative punishment, such as censure.

The daylong hearing, scheduled by Republicans in response to Democratic criticism that Clinton's actions did not meet the constitutional impeachment standard of "high crimes and misdemeanors," was expected to be a relatively minor, uneventful preliminary to full impeachment hearings. But following Hyde's announcement last week of a truncated hearing schedule, committee members used the experts' testimony as a platform to restate their own views, often vehemently and at length.

Sparking a related debate, historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. argued that Clinton's alleged offenses dealt largely with "private misbehavior" and noted that no one had spoken of impeaching former President Reagan for his public conduct in the Iran-Contra scandal.

Schlesinger, who is closely associated with the Kennedy family, called impeachment "a remedy for grave crimes," adding that Starr's allegations against Clinton "plainly do not rise to the level" of impeachable offenses historically.

"Lying to the public is far from an unknown practice by presidents," he said. He argued that "lowering the bar" for impeachment to include such actions would tip the constitutionally mandated balance of powers to the legislative branch.

But another expert, law professor Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago, told the panel that removing Clinton from office based on such insufficient charges "would threaten to convert impeachment into a legislative weapon to be used on any occasion in which a future president is involved or said to be involved in unlawful or scandalous conduct."