Stage set for dramatic showdown vote next week as White House tries to scupper
President Bill Clinton has been pushed closer to the brink of impeachment, with the House of Representatives unveiling four articles accusing him of perjury, obstructing justice and abusing his power.
The impeachment articles, which are almost certain to be approved by the House Judiciary Committee by Saturday, set the stage for a dramatic showdown vote of the full House next week.
Even though the White House is desperately scrambling to try to recruit enough moderate Republicans to scupper the threat of impeachment, only one of the four articles needs to be approved for the Senate to be forced to put a president on trial for only the second time in American history.
Mr Clinton's best hope of defusing the biggest crisis of his presidency remains a long-shot chance of getting his opponents to accept a censure motion instead.
House Democrats yesterday unveiled their compromise censure plan and, although panel chairman Henry Hyde said he would allow a committee vote on it, its ultimate prospects remained remote.
The White House hit out at Republicans for drafting the articles even before Mr Clinton's chief counsel, Charles Ruff, had finished testifying before the panel.
In a measured performance which was ranked as the only bright spot in a dismal two days of defence testimony from the White House, Mr Ruff pleaded that Mr Clinton's behaviour in the Monica Lewinsky case, 'although morally reprehensible, does not warrant impeachment, does not warrant overturning the mandate of the American electorate'.
But the committee nevertheless released the articles 'impeaching William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanours.' Counts one and two refer to alleged perjury - for lying under oath about his relationship with Ms Lewinsky in his January deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit, and for repeating the lies to prosecutor Kenneth Starr's grand jury.
In the third count, the article states that Mr Clinton obstructed justice, trying to cover up the affair by encouraging his secretary, Betty Currie, and other witnesses to lie in potential future testimony and by trying to arrange a job in New York for the former intern.
The fourth article cites the President for abuse of power, saying he lied to the American people and to his own officials, misused executive privilege to slow down Mr Starr's probe, and made more false statements in his written answers to the 81 questions submitted by the committee.
'In all of this, William Jefferson Clinton has undermined the integrity of his office, has brought disrepute on the presidency, has betrayed his trust as President, and has acted in a manner subversive of the rule of law and justice, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States,' the articles state.
Speaker Newt Gingrich put lawmakers on notice the House will convene next Thursday to debate any articles of impeachment approved by the Judiciary Committee.
Mr Gingrich said any written report approved by the committee would be available by Wednesday. The brief letter did not use the word 'impeachment'.