Congress backs impeachment inquiry

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The Independent Online
IN ONLY the third such vote in the history of the United States and the second this century, the House of Representatives endorsed the institution of formal impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton, citing his conduct in the Monica Lewinsky case.

The vote followed Monday's decision by the House judiciary committee that the evidence presented by the independent prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, merited further investigation.

Yesterday's vote ensures Mr Clinton will go down in the history books as a president whose fitness for office was called into question by Congress. Whether he follows Richard Nixon into ignominious departure, will be determined in the course of the impeachment inquiry.

Despite objections from Democrats, that inquiry approved yesterday will have no set time limit and will not be restricted to the Lewinsky case. Hearings will begin as soon as Congress reconvenes after next month's mid-term elections, and could include evidence from other cases being investigated by Mr Starr.

In a move seen by some Democrats as tantamount to partisan intervention, Mr Starr notified Congress on the eve of yesterday's debate that he "could not foreclose the possibility" of forwarding additional charges to the 11 counts of perjury and abuse of office he has already identified.

The prosecutor has also been investigating possible illegalities in the Whitewater land deal in Arkansas, the dismissal of White House travel office staff and the unauthorised transfer of FBI files to the White House in Mr Clinton's first term.

Yesterday's vote, on the last but one day before Congress went into recess for election campaigning, came at the end of a debate that was at times bitter, at times conciliatory, but always impassioned.

The Republican chairman, Henry Hyde, responding to Democratic accusations of "partisanship", doubled the time allotted to discussion from one hour to two, and pledged "the fairest and most expeditious search for the truth that I can muster".

He expressed the hope that both parties would "look every day for common ground" and "do everything to minimise disagreements". He said "civility must be the rule either side of the aisle".

The question at issue was not "whether to impeach", but "shall we look further or shall we look away?"

Despite forecasts of a large number of Democrat defections, most speakers re-mained loyal to their party's line, with Democrats expressing disapproval of Mr Clinton's conduct, but opposing the move towards impeachment, and Republicans - who currently have a majority in the House of 21 - demanding impeachment. The inevitability of the result, however, encouraged many Democrats to qualify their objections to impeachment hearings with calls for a time limit to prevent proceedings dragging on through next year.

One of the most forceful speeches came from one of the Democrat dissenters, Paul McHale, of Pennsylvania, who was one of the first to call for Mr Clinton's resignation after he had publicly acknowledged his liaison with Ms Lewinsky for the first time.

Arguing that the President was "no different from any other citizen" before the law, Mr McHale said Mr Clinton's conduct had set "a dangerous precedent for some future president of the United States".