After an afternoon studying restricted documents with even more sordid details about President Clinton's affair with an intern, Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, concluded that simple censure of the president is no longer an option.
"I believe the only option is to press forward with impeachment hearings," said Cannon, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which would oversee such hearings.Republicans throughout Congress were telling their leaders the same thing on Tuesday and Wednesday. Senators in a closed-door caucus were said to be pressuring Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to stop saying that censure may be sufficient if Clinton comes clean and stops denials - an idea he floated in talk shows.
Cannon said he cannot yet discuss exactly what is in the 18 cartons of back-up materials that independent counsel Kenneth Starr sent to Congress along with his report alleging that impeachable offenses may have occurred.
"But they back up the report substantially and in a defendable way," Cannon told the Deseret News. "After looking at them, I expect the committee to act quickly" to request authority for a formal impeachment inquiry and hearings.
Cannon said viewing the documents solidified his view "that the president has lost his moral authority to govern" - and simple censure would not provide the needed repair.
"When the president loses moral authority, one of two things must happen. One, vindication. That's still possible in this case - but not likely. Two, removal from office and replacement with someone who can reestablish respect for America," Cannon said, adding either option would require hearings.
"A simple censure of President Clinton at this time would only further diminish his authority and render him powerless," Cannon said. "This country needs a strong president, and it needs healing."
In contrast, Hatch - chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee - had said in recent days that if Clinton ends his legal hairsplitting over exactly what happened, he might survive with only a censure. He said that on "Face the Nation," after Clinton called him on the phone en route to that show.
Senators emerging from a closed-door caucus Tuesday said Hatch was told that most GOP senators don't favor a deal to allow censure. "There is no talk about a deal," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott told reporters afterward.
When Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, was asked about censure, he said, "I don't see it in the Constitution." The only punishment it outlines for a president is impeachment.
Hatch had no comment Wednesday about the reports that others encouraged him to stop talk that censure may be enough.
House Ethics Committee Chairman Jim Hansen, R-Utah, last week also said censure should not be considered. He said his years of work on ethics cases has lead him to believe that censure is a relatively meaningless slap on the wrist.
Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee is expected to begin debating what portions of the back-up materials from Starr should be released publicly - and a vote to release video of Clinton's testimony before a grand jury could come this week.
Cannon said he watched about an hour of that testimony on Tuesday. "I didn't see anything in there that already isn't in the public domain," he said - although he's heard the president looks nervous in part of it, and angry and combative in other parts.
Democrats fear having such video about an affair replayed in campaign ads or at length in TV news shows and were attempting to block its release. "It's difficult, though, for the Democrats to defend why it should not be released," Cannon said.
Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, was also floating another novel idea. He proposed that Clinton pay personally the $4.4 million cost of Starr's investigation after Clinton publicly denied having an affair with Monica Lewinsky.
Cannon said he doesn't like that idea as an alternative to impeachment proceedings. "It would be like buying the presidency," Cannon said.
Of course last year, the House only reprimanded House Speaker Newt Gingrich in an ethics case after he had agreed to pay $300,000 to partially repay investigation costs.
Gingrich was rebuked for not seeking legal advice before using tax-exempt donations for a college class he taught and for giving incorrect information to the House Ethics Committee about the situation - which he said was inadvertent.