Clinton faces new impeachment risk

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The Independent Online
BILL CLINTON is once again fighting for his presidency, with a Congressional vote on impeachment expected at the end of this week.

After a month of post-election calm, when the American public appeared to have rescued Mr Clinton by turning its wrath on his Republican adversaries, the mood of Congress appears to have hardened, opening the real prospect of a trial by Senate and the continuation of the President's discomfort well into next year.

Yesterday, the President's supporters and detractors flooded the television talkshows with their views.

The White House appeared to wake up to the risk of impeachment in the middle of last week, when Mr Clinton's lawyers wrote to the chairman of the judiciary committee, Henry Hyde, requesting the opportunity to defend the President before the committee. Until then, the President's supporters apparently believed that last month's election results had limited the committee's options to a Congressional vote of censure or to no action at all.

Late on Friday, White House lawyers sent Mr Hyde a further letter, asking for three days to be placed at their disposal so that they could call witnesses of their own. That has yet to be agreed, but the witnesses named so far include professors of law and American and Constitutional history - a combination that suggests White House fears that at least some Republican charges during the past two weeks' hearings have hit home. The Republicans have fielded experts to testify on definitions of perjury.

Republicans traced the shift of mood to Mr Clinton's answers to the judiciary committee's 81 questions, which the Senate majority leader, Trent Lott, described as "arrogant and evasive".

Many Democrats blamed a small core of Republican hardliners, led by the Texas conservative and Republican whip, Tom Delay. This group, they said, would countenance no compromise along the lines of a censure vote or fine and wanted the President punished. While there is little doubt that a Senate "trial" - the final stage of impeachment - would go Mr Clinton's way (because the Republicans do not have sufficient seats to deliver the necessary two-thirds majority), such a trial would be only the second in US history and a considerable blot on Mr Clinton's reputation.

The demeanour of White House officials and leading Democrats suggests genuine worry that the impeachment process could go forward. The vote in the judiciary committee, which has gone against Mr Clinton from the start, is a foregone conclusion unless agreement is reached on a censure motion. The cliff-hanger is the vote in the full House that would follow. Although Republicans have a majority of 12, the result is said to be too close to call.

Michael Huffington, the California millionaire who spent $28m trying unsuccessfully to capture Dianne Feinstein's Senate seat in 1994 and then contesting the result, has told Esquire magazine he is gay. Mr Huffington and his wife Arianna (nee Stassinopoulos) divorced amicably last year.