Clinton accused: Guide to impeachment

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The Independent Online
The speed at which the Clinton crisis is evolving is dizzying.

Barely was word out about the allegations and Republicans in Congress were muttering the I-word: impeach.

However, if the process of impeachment is indeed engaged, however, it would not be something that could be done in just a day.

The drama would begin with the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives. Its job would be to launch an investigation of its own into the allegations that have been made and to begin a series of intensive hearings. The latter could be behind closed doors and would involve serial witnesses and lawyers from all sides.

Rather as with the grand jury system under American law, the committee members would eventually vote on whether or not the equivalent of charges against the President should be pressed. This would take the form of a vote on so-called "articles of impeachment".

These are defined in the US Constitution and pertain to the President committing "high crimes and misdemeanours". It would largely be up to the Judiciary Committee members to decide whether that definition fits whatever allegations are in play.

Most analysts believe that suggestions that the President either perjured himself or suborned perjury from Monica Lewinsky would qualify.

If the articles are indeed voted upon, then they would be passed on for consideration and vote by the floor of the entire House of Representatives.

That stage was not reached in the case of Richard Nixon. After the Judiciary Committee voted in a favour of articles of impeachment, the President was persuaded to step down.

If the proceedings were left in train and the House were to vote in favour on the floor, then it would pass to the Senate. That has happened only once in history, when radical Republicans pressed for the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in the time of reconstruction after the US Civil War.

The Senate would hold its own hearings, which would in essence constitute a full-blown trial of the President, with the hundred senators acting as the jury. If that jury were to find in favour of impeachment then the President would be forced from office.

One poignant historical note: Nixon's goose was cooked in part because a handful of Republicans on the then Judiciary Committee joined Democrats in voting for the articles. One was a senator from Maine, William Cohen: the same Cohen who is now Mr Clinton's Defense Secretary.

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