Clinton impeachment hearings `hijacked by extremists'

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THE WHITE House and the committee considering the impeachment of President Bill Clinton locked horns again yesterday after the decision of the committee to extend its inquiry to the President's alleged involvement in illegal fund-raising for the Democratic Party. The decision, which entails summonses for the head of the FBI, Louis Freeh, the Attorney-General, Janet Reno, and the President himself, takes the proceedings well beyond the territory covered by the independent prosecutor's report into the Monica Lewinsky affair.

The White House spokesman, Joe Lockhart, said the move to broaden the investigation showed the committee had been "hijacked by extremists" whose only aim was to damage Mr Clinton.

"Despite all the protestations that this was a narrowly focused process looking at what was in the referral [Kenneth Starr's report on the Lewinsky affair], what it really is is a partisan process designed to damage the President and ... investigate the President on any subject that they see fit."

To some legal specialists, allegations that the President flouted rules on fund-raising are potentially more dangerous to him - and could lead more directly to impeachment - than charges that he lied, even under oath, about his relationship with Ms Lewinsky. But a series of criminal and congressional inquiries hase so far turned up no conclusive proof.

Mr Lockhart's onslaught about the extension of the impeachment inquiry came only hours after the committee chairman, Henry Hyde, had launched a withering attack of his own on Mr Clinton's replies to the 81 questions on the Lewinsky affair set by his committee. Mr Hyde said that the answers, in which Mr Clinton had insisted that, while he did wrong, he did nothing that was either illegal or impeachable, had "made very clear he is going to stick with his reliance on bizarre technical definitions and legalistic defences".

The two chief witnesses at yesterday's session were a former woman basketball coach, Pam Parsons, from Atlanta, who was convicted of perjury after admitting she lied under oath about a visit to a gay bar at a time when she was suing a magazine for defamation, and Barbara Battalino, a former government psychologist, whose case has frequently been cited for its apparent parallels with Mr Clinton's.

Ms Battalino was convicted of obstruction of justice, fined and sentenced to six months' "home detention" after admitting she lied when she denied performing oral sex on a Vietnam veteran in her charge. The perjury, which happened in a civil case, related to a single act on federal property.

Under questioning from committee members yesterday, both women stressed that they had been justly punished, and that perjury had "consequences".

Both lost their jobs, and - as they emphasised yesterday - also lost their professional licences to practise and their personal reputations.