Clinton's defence starts in earnest

WITH AN impeachment vote in the House of Representatives expected in days, the White House yesterday mounted its most comprehensive effort to save President Clinton from the ignominy of a Senate trial.

The White House sent a crack team of lawyers and constitutional experts to Capitol Hill to tackle the charges against him head-on for the first time. It also issued a 200-page riposte to the report compiled by the independent prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, arguing that, while Mr Clinton's conduct in the Monica Lewinsky affair was "sinful", it was not impeachable. There was a glimmer of good news for the White House, too, in the announcement that a senior Republican, William Weld, had agreed to testify today on the President's behalf. The former governor of Massachusetts, he resigned last year to pursue his (unsuccessful) nomination as ambassador to Mexico. His testimony marks the first open split in Republican ranks since the Judiciary Committee began formal impeachment hearings and could be crucial in persuading moderate Republicans to vote against impeachment. They are seen as the "swing" voters in an otherwise hung House.

The President's defence before the House committee was led by Gregory Craig, recently appointed White House special counsel. Adopting a more apologetic tone than Mr Clinton's other representatives, he began with what could have been interpreted as a small olive branch: "The President wants everyone to know - the committee, the Congress and the country, that he is genuinely sorry for the pain and damage that he has caused."

But he was adamant that while Mr Clinton's conduct was "morally wrong", it was not illegal. Of the perjury charge - that Mr Clinton repeatedly lied under oath about the nature of his relationship with Ms Lewinsky - he insisted evidence as it stood "could not sustain a criminal prosecution, much less impeachment". To be sure, Mr Clinton's evidence under oath was "evasive, incomplete, misleading, even maddening", he said, "but it was not perjury".

Mr Craig and the nine expert witnesses called through the day's session made much of the "personal" nature of Mr Clinton's misconduct and what they said was his motive - to conceal the affair from his family and the public, rather than to mislead the courts.

They also sought to demolish parallels with the Watergate scandal. Wayne Owens, a Democratic Representative at the time of Watergate, said Richard Nixon "used his executive powers to interfere with course of justice and conceal proof of his subordinates' conduct"; Mr Clinton, by contrast, was trying to conceal "an illicit sexual affair ... for his own and his family's sake".

The role of impeachment, said former Representative Elizabeth Holtzman, was "to protect the country, not punish the President".

A clear purpose of the revised defence tactics and the dossier released by the White House yesterday evening was to return the hitherto partisan debate to strictly legal points and counter the impression of arrogance created by Mr Clinton's legalistic written responses to the committee's 81 questions. The dossier, for instance, accuses Mr Starr of deliberately disregarding statements by Ms Lewinsky and others that contradicted his view of a president trying to obstruct the judicial process.

And it repeatedly cites Ms Lewinsky's closing remark to the grand jury: "No one told me to lie and no one promised me a job for my silence." (Mr Starr's response to that before the committee was that no one needed to tell her to lie, because she already had a tacit agreement with the President.)

The evidence piled up by the White House yesterday was thought unlikely to discourage the committee from approving articles of impeachment - formal charges - against Mr Clinton. Its main target was seen as members of the House of Representatives still undecided about which way to vote.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
The spider makes its break for freedom
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Customer Support Technician

£15000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Waterlooville based softwa...

Ashdown Group: C# Developer - (C#, VB.Net, SQL, Git, TDD)

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Developer (C#, VB & ASP.Net, SQL Server, TSQL) - Pe...

Recruitment Genius: Associate Sales Consultant

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Associate Sales Consultant i...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established and expanding ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot