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Rodino Speaks Out on Impeachment

October 28, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Former Rep. Peter Rodino, who presided over the impeachment hearings of President Nixon, says President Clinton’s behavior does not justify impeaching him.

In a petition to the nation, more than 400 historians agree and say the impeachment of Clinton would cripple future presidents.

Rodino, an 89-year-old Democrat, said the charges against Clinton _ of lying under oath about his sexual affair with a former intern _ do not reach the level ``where we have to consider it to be a ground to remove from office the president of the United States.″

His comments were made in an interview Tuesday with New Jersey Network’s ``Caucus NJ″ public television program and quoted in his hometown newspaper, The Star-Ledger of Newark. Previously, Rodino had little to say about the Clinton matter. The House, which authorized an impeachment inquiry three weeks ago on a 258-176 vote, is expected to start the inquiry after next week’s elections.

The historians said the House’s actions are ``extremely ominous for the future of our political institutions.″

``If carried forward, they will leave the presidency permanently disfigured and diminished, at the mercy as never before of the caprices of any Congress. The presidency ... will be crippled in meeting the inevitable challenges of the future,″ they said.

The decision to gather signatures and make a public statement grew out of a conversation between Sean Wilentz of Princeton and Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., a historian who served in President Kennedy’s White House. Both were dismayed about the implications of an attempt to impeach Clinton, Wilentz said.

He said he sent e-mails to 30 or 40 historians who might share their view and within three days 300 historians agreed to sign the statement.

``We touched a nerve,″ he said. Schlesinger called the reaction ``astonishing.″

Among the signers were some of the nation’s best-known historians: Doris Kearns Goodwin, biographer of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson; Stephen Ambrose, who writes about World War II; Civil War historian James McPherson of Princeton; Henry Louis Gates of Harvard; civil rights leader Julian Bond of the University of Virginia; Lincoln biographer David Henry Donald of Harvard; journalist and author Garry Wills of Northwestern; Taylor Branch of Goucher College, historian of the civil rights movement; Douglas Brinkley of the University of New Orleans; Alan Brinkley of Columbia; James MacGregor Burns of the University of Maryland; and John Hope Franklin of Duke.

Wilentz said the signature drive was ``nonpartisan or bipartisan or transpartisan, however you want to put it.″ Among the signers were ``plenty″ of historians who are Republicans and some who believe Clinton should resign even though they feel his actions are not impeachable, he said.

Only one historian refused to sign, he said; he declined to identify him.

``We face a choice between preserving or undermining our Constitution,″ the historians’ petition said. ``Do we want to establish a precedent for the future harassment of presidents and to tie up our government with a protracted national agony of search and accusation?″

At a news conference with Wilentz and Schlesinger, Southern historian C. Vann Woodward said the Constitution intended to subject a president to possible removal from office only for ``an offense against the state.″

William J. Bennett, a prominent conservative and author of ``The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals,″ took issue with that view. When the Constitution was written, he said, ``impeachment was not explicitly reserved for misconduct done only in the exercise of executive power.″ A president who raped someone or molested a child, he said, could be impeached for that.

Schlesinger said that in some instances perjury _ one of the charges against Clinton in the House proceedings _ might be grounds for impeachment but added, ``but I do not think perjury about one’s private life rises to an impeachable offense.″

Lying about illicit relations is commonplace, even among presidents, said Woodward. ``It is easier to think of those (presidents) who have had illicit sexual relations in office than to think of the exception,″ he added.

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