Some Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee predicted Saturday that independent counsel Kenneth Starr's perjury and obstruction-of-justice allegations would trigger an impeachment inquiry if they're credible.
While all lawmakers agree that there's much document-reading and discussion needed before a recommendation is made to the House about President Clinton's conduct in the Monica Lewinsky affair, Republicans are setting the stage for exercising their majority political muscle if bipartisanship doesn't work.Rep. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican from Clinton's home state of Arkansas, said, "I don't see how you could avoid considering perjury, particularly before a grand jury, and obstruction of justice as anything but `high crimes and misdemeanors' " - the constitutional standard for an impeachment inquiry.
But Hutchinson predicted the American public would "never support" the committee's conclusions if only one party supported them.
While congressional partisanship was mostly held in check, the White House on Saturday intensified its rebuttal. "It is plain that `sex' is precisely what this 41/2-year investigation has boiled down to," the White House argued in its second counter in two days.
Starr's report found 11 "substantial and credible" grounds for impeachment, including perjury and obstruction of justice in the Paula Jones lawsuit and Starr's criminal investigation.
Last week, in the first test of whether the impeachment process can proceed in political harmony, flowery language quickly flowed into political bickering at the House Rules Committee.
Republicans on the panel rejected a White House request to receive an advance copy of Starr's report; and the GOP rebuffed Democratic wishes that only Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill. and senior Democrat John Conyers of Michigan would have access to thousands of pages of still-secret supporting documents. Instead, all committee members and designated staff members have access.
Committee officials were organizing those documents Saturday, and several reviewed them, but they remain under lock and key as ordered by a House resolution. The committee is to make them public by Sept. 28, after irrelevant material that could harm innocent people is expunged.
Democrats, reeling from the graphic, lurid accounts of Clinton's sexual escapades with the former White House intern, have urged caution in public statements. Top House leaders, including Hyde and Speaker Newt Gingrich, have carefully avoided drawing any conclusions.
"I think you cannot render . . . any judgment until you have given the president a chance to respond and given the Judiciary Committee a chance to do its job," Gingrich said in Georgia.
Committee member Charles Canady, R-Fla., said that "clearly, perjury before a grand jury would constitute an impeachable offense."
"Even those defenders of the president who sought to diminish the significance of perjury in a civil case have acknowledged that it's simply unacceptable for a president to lie before a grand jury," Canady added.
He cautioned, however, that "I am reserving judgment on all these matters until we have the opportunity to fully and fairly review all of the relevant evidence."
Rep. Thomas Barrett, D-Wis., named Friday to an open committee seat, said: "Obviously he did something wrong. You don't violate your marriage promises and walk away from it."