Panel's Votes Bolster Slipping Moral Standards, Scholars Say: Respect for Ethics Seen at Low Ebb

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The House Judiciary Committee's votes to impeach President Clinton for lying under oath addresses widespread concerns that America's values and standards have been eroded, academic scholars say.

While the panel's politically divided vote magnified the sharp disagreement in Congress, and the nation, about whether Mr. Clinton should be removed from office for his conduct in the sex and perjury scandal, the issues at the heart of the case against him arise from growing concern that to do nothing or to merely reprimand him would encourage further disrespect for the rule of law.

"I'm one of those who believe that there has been an erosion of values and legal standards in the country and that this is the time for the House of Representatives to stand up and say that the erosion will go no further - that we have to stand up for these principles," said Michael Krauss, a professor of law at George Mason University.

"This is a chance for the Congress to uphold what's left," Mr. Krauss said. "This is in many ways an important battle in the culture wars."

Added Theodore Olson, a Washington lawyer who was an assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration: "There has been an erosion in respect for the rule of law. If he [Mr. Clinton] succeeds [in avoiding impeachment], he teaches Americans that they can cheat, and he can cheat, and get away with it."

Throughout the Judiciary Committee's impeachment inquiry, the focus by the Republican majority has been on the importance of the oath that Mr. Clinton took when he swore to uphold the nation's laws as well as the oath he took to tell the truth when he testified in the Paula Jones civil suit and before a federal grand jury.

Judiciary Chairman Henry J. Hyde told his colleagues just before they were to vote on the first article of impeachment that Mr. Clinton's conduct "cheapens the oath; it is a breach of promise to tell the truth; it subverts our system of government."

Mr. Clinton has steadfastly refused to admit that he lied under oath, and in a brief statement Friday he continued to resist any further admission of wrongdoing, saying only that his testimony was "misleading" but not an impeachable offense.

But that was not the way many legal and political experts see it. …