Clinton 'faces lesser charges'

REPUBLICANS WILL drop the most damaging charge against Bill Clinton, by dismissing the allegation that he abused his constitutional powers to impede investigations into his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, reports in the US said yesterday.

A key Congressional committee will meet tomorrow to decide on impeachment hearings, which begin the process that could lead to the President's removal from office. They will use charges in the report by Kenneth Starr to decide if there is evidence that he committed "high crimes and misdemeanours" serious enough to warrant impeachment. The Republican-dominated committee is sure to vote for hearings, but there are still questions over their terms.

Chief lawyer David Schippers will recommend adding a series of charges to those contained in the Starr report, the Washington Post said yesterday. But he will drop the allegation that the President abused his powers, granted to him by the constitution, to obstruct investigations.

That charge, the most grave in the Starr report, was heavily criticised by lawyers, since it relied on criminalising the President's use of executive privilege.

More allegations of obstruction of justice and witness tampering will be added, said the Post. But in another sign that the Republicans are lowering their sights, the case will focus on false statements under oath; a lesser offence than perjury, which involves the intent to mislead.

Other White House figures, including perhaps Ms Lewinsky herself, may also face indictment on charges stemming from the Lewinsky affair. Ms Lewinsky's immunity from prosecution does not cover charges of perjury.