Clinton's fate no clearer as case rolls on

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 November, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 November, 1998, 12:00am

The winding road towards a possible impeachment of President Bill Clinton continues this week, without any clear idea of where it will end.

President Clinton's answers to 81 written questions from Republicans on the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee have not taken the process further, and neither are the panel's members any closer to deciding whether to recommend full impeachment or a compromise censure motion.

Unless President Clinton or his lawyers accept a Republican invitation to appear before the committee to present a defence to prosecutor Kenneth Starr's report, a hearing planned for tomorrow could be the last before the committee sends the issue to the full House for a vote.

The hearing will call several witnesses, including federal judges and two convicted perjurers, to testify about perjury and its importance in the justice system. Republicans are hoping to show that perjury is a serious issue, while Democrats will argue that the offence is not a reason to impeach the President.

If, as expected, the Judiciary Committee decides to send articles of impeachment to the floor for a full vote -which could take place before Christmas - the dilemma facing the new Republican leadership is whether to accede to public opinion and opt for censure instead.

Most Democrats are pushing for a censure motion - which might include a possible fine against Mr Clinton - as an alternative to an impeachment vote. But Republicans are continuing to argue that there is no basis in the constitution for censure, and that the House should recommend full impeachment and then leave it to the Senate to vote the motion up or down.

A growing possibility is that a censure vote might be taken as a second option if an impeachment vote is defeated.

But the President's hands are tied in either case. It is impossible for him to make further admissions, even if it allows him to escape with only a censure, because his lawyers believe he would lay himself open to the increasing likelihood that he will be indicted for perjury when he leaves office.

The responses to the 81 questions - all of which were indirect answers which mostly referred to the President's previous testimony - drew an expected chorus of criticism from Republicans.

Senator Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said: 'He ought to be more forthcoming, he ought to tell the truth.' He said it was 'kind of a pathetic thing' that good lawyers had shielded the President.