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Clinton on Brink of Impeachment

December 19, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Accused of ``high crimes and misdemeanors″ for his actions in concealing a sexual affair, President Clinton stood on the brink of impeachment today in a House torn by partisanship.

Somber Republican leaders were bringing four articles of impeachment to a vote on the House floor, marking the first time in 130 years that an American chief executive has faced such a threat. An Associated Press telephone survey showed a majority of lawmakers supported at least one article.

Prior to the voting, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton planned to visit Capitol Hill to give a pep talk to dispirited Democrats. Mrs. Clinton’s efforts represented yet another unusual turn of events in a week that saw the bitter fight over Clinton’s future converging with the U.S. military attack on Iraq.

Adding to this remarkable mix: Some conservative House Republicans were rethinking their support for the speaker-designate, Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., after he admitted to sexual infidelity.

Democratic sources said Democratic lawmakers intended to march en masse out of the House chamber today after Republicans crush their attempt to substitute censure for impeachment. They intended to return in time to vote against the articles of impeachment.

A separate vote was scheduled for each of the four articles of impeachment lodged against William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States. He was accused of:

_ Perjury before a federal grand jury.

_ Perjury in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit.

_ Obstruction of justice.

_ Abuse of power.

``Truth does matter,″ Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said in explaining why most Republicans were voting to impeach.

Rep. Steven Rothman, D-N.J., predicted an impeachment vote, based on lying about an extramarital affair, ``will forever damage the constitutional balance of power in America.″

With defeat at hand in the House, presidential defenders already were plotting how to avoid conviction in the Senate. The offensive was beginning today with a visit by Democratic congressional leaders to the White House after the historic vote. A senior White House official said Clinton was expected to make a public statement them about the impeachment battle.

Gephardt said Democrats would carry to Clinton the message: ``He should not, he cannot resign even if this vote goes against him in the House.″

But even among some of Clinton’s supporters, there were ominous voices. Democrats Bill Lipinski of Illinois and Louise Slaughter of New York suggested that an impeached Clinton follow the example Richard Nixon set during Watergate and resign.

``I think the results of a meteor strike are more likely than the resignation of the president,″ Vice President Al Gore said in one of a string of interviews. ``He is just not going to do that.″

The votes add a new page to history books that now mention only Andrew Johnson, in 1868, as an impeached president of the United States. Johnson escaped conviction in the Senate by just one vote.

On the eve of the vote, Clinton received several briefings on U.S. airstrikes against Iraq; conferred with a European Union delegation; discussed tax help for low-income areas; and met on allocation of money to combat AIDS.

While he did so, House members from both parties offered abundant declarations that they were casting votes of conscience that were more important than any ever cast before.

Back and forth the debate went, Republicans arguing that presidential perjury _ no matter the subject _ was an impeachable offense; Democrats demanding a censure, on grounds that lying about a sexual affair did not deserve removal of a president from office. Democrats also expressed fury that Republicans began debate on removing the commander in chief from office while he was waging war.

But while lawmakers argued over what the Constitution’s framers had in mind, Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., said he was comfortable with setting a new standard.

``I have no problem in setting a standard for future presidents that repeated and intentional acts of perjury in official court proceedings will jeopardize their office,″ he said.

Unless there is a deal for a censure in the Senate, a trial of uncertain duration would follow next year in that chamber with Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist presiding.

During 12 hours of debate Friday, Democrats pulled out their most dramatic predictions of constitutional doom if a popular president were impeached.

``Make no mistake my colleagues, not all coups are accompanied by the sound of marching boots and rolling tanks,″ Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said. ``Some like today, are wrapped in a Constitutional veneer ... but the result is the same: defiance of the public will and rejection of the regular political process.″

Rep. Charles Canady, R-Fla., summed up the Republican argument: ``Perjury and obstruction of justice are not private matters, they are crimes against the system of justice, crimes for which this president must be impeached.″

Only a few lawmakers announced they would cross party lines.

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