Former Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, who helped investigate President Richard Nixon and voted to impeach him, says President Clinton's conduct and lies have been "grossly immoral" but do not merit booting him out of office.
What's more, impeachment would do "immeasurable damage to the presidency" and hurt the country. Censuring Clinton would be punishment enough for the man and keep the country stable, Owens said.But Paul Cassell, a University of Utah law professor and former prosecutor, says Clinton's actions have such close parallels to Nixon's that only Clinton's resignation or impeachment would provide the proper remedy.
And, Cassell says, getting Clinton out of office is the quickest way to heal the country.
The two squared off in a courteous debate that showed them to have completely opposite views at a Hinckley Institute of Politics gathering on Monday that asked the question "Will Clinton Survive?"
Owens says yes; Cassell says no.
"The sad result of all this lying is the president has lost the moral authority to lead this country," Cassell said, after listing repeated instances and allegations in which Clinton has not told the truth.
"If President Clinton is removed from office, it's one of the quickest ways to resolve this. If we found tomorrow that President Clinton had resigned and if President Gore was leading us, we would be better off," Cassell said.
Cassell distributed a sheet listing one of the three articles of impeachment against Nixon on one side and allegations of impeachable offenses against Clinton prepared by special prosecutor Kenneth Starr on the other.
Nixon was accused of making false or misleading statements to investigators, withholding evidence, counseling witnesses to lie to investigators, interfering with legal investigations and making false statements to the public.
Cassell drew parallels between these allegations and those Starr has lodged against Clinton.
These include claims that Clinton lied under oath about his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky in the Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit and before the grand jury and that Clinton tried to obstruct justice by making suggestions about legal action to Lewinsky and to influence the testimony of his secretary, Betty Currie.
But worst of all is the charge of abusing presidential power, Cassell said.
"Leon Jaworski (special prosecutor in the Watergate case) later said that the thing that did Nixon in was not the break-in (of Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate apartment-office complex in 1972), but lying to the American people," Cassell said. When Americans look back on the Clinton matter, they'll say what did him in was not perjury about his sexual relationship with Lewinsky but lying to the American public, Cassell said.
Owens disagreed, although he was quick to say that he is not an apologist for Clinton.
"The contrast with Richard Nixon is remarkable and is dramatic," Owens said.
Clinton, whom Owens characterized as a man "captive of his sexual instincts," lied to protect his family and his presidency, and to spare himself embarrassment.
Nixon, on the other hand, used the office of president and government agencies to cover up crimes - which is a completely different matter.
Owens said Nixon presided over the break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters, which precipitated the congressional investigation. "He instructed his staff to lie to grand juries. He taught (presidential counsel) John Dean to lie - `Just tell them you can't remember,' " Owens said.
Nixon also authorized hush money to such individuals as consultant E. Howard Hunt (who pleaded guilty to burglary and wiretapping), directed a cover-up using the Secret Service and used the Internal Revenue Service to punish enemies, Owens said.
"He used the CIA to instruct the FBI to call off their dogs on Watergate because it was a national security matter," Owens said.
Owens said the House of Representatives' judiciary committee should consider what an extraordinarily serious step impeachment is before taking action.
"I think there should be a repudiation of President Clinton, but he should stay in office," Owens said. "There is a medium place to which we can go in this country in this terrible dilemma."