BILL CLINTON became the second president in 25 years to face impeachment hearings last night after the House of Representatives judiciary committee gave the green light to the proceedings that could force him from office.
The voting divided along party lines, with the 21 Republicans upholding a majority on the House of Representatives judiciary committee against strenuous opposition from the 16 Democrats, who wanted to limit the time and scope of the inquiry.
The Republicans also served a warning that they were in no mood to show mercy to an errant President, especially not so soon before congressional elections. In a submission of unexpected sharpness, the Republicans' chief legal counsel, David Schippers, said that Mr Clinton could be liable to impeachment on four counts of conspiracy, in addition to the 11 counts of perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power, set out by the independent prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, in his report. Mr Schippers said Mr Clinton may have "aided, abetted, counselled and procured Monica Lewinsky" to file a false affidavit (when she denied their relationship) and to obstruct justice in the sexual harassment suit brought against him by Paula Jones. Referring to the copious volumes of supporting documents issued in the past two weeks, he said there was also evidence that the President tried to conceal these crimes. Conspiracy was not among the charges set out by Mr Starr. The 37 members of the House judiciary committee had assembled yesterday in a chamber that reverberated with echoes of the Watergate investigation 24 years ago. It was only the third time that the committee had met to consider the impeachment of a President. Proceedings were televised, and the imminence of the mid-term elections ensured that committee members spoke with an eye not just to history and the matter in hand, but also to their own election prospects. Specifically, the committee had to decide whether Mr Starr had provided sufficient evidence of presidential misconduct in the Lewinsky affair to warrant further inquiry by Congress. Unspoken, but ever-present, was the question of what price President Clinton should have to pay for his Oval Office liaison. …