Decision on Clinton `by end of year'

Lewinsky affair: Bill Clinton fights impeachment as trouble mounts for presidential mudslinger Sidney Blumenthal
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A DECISION on whether to impeach Bill Clinton should be taken by the end of the year, the Republican who is running the Congressional investigation into the President said yesterday.

The House Judiciary Committee will vote today or tomorrow to begin hearings on the President, but it will take months to handle all of the allegations, said Henry Hyde, the committee's chairman.

The Democrats on the committee want the hearings to finish by Thanksgiving on 25 November, and to cover only the allegations in the Starr report.

But the Republicans, hoping to drag things out, insist it will take much longer, and that other charges - relating to campaign financing and alleged interference with White House files - must be taken into account.

After the Judiciary Committee votes, the decision must be ratified by the House of Representatives at the end of this week. Congress will then break up to prepare for elections on 3 November.

The charges stemming from the Starr report will form the basis for the impeachment charges, according to weekend reports. But others relating to witness tampering and obstruction of justice may be added.

But, in an important break for the President, it now looks likely that one important charge - abuse of his constitutional powers - will be dropped. And the case will centre on allegations that the President made false statements under oath, a lesser crime than perjury. Perjury means intentionally making false statements with an intention to mislead.

It is likely that about 100 Democrats will join the Republicans in voting for impeachment hearings, making them a near-certainty.

The Democrats are pushing for some solution short of impeachment, however, such as a Congressional reprimand. They received support for this at the weekend from Gerald Ford, former President, in the New York Times. While he had no interest in saving Mr Clinton, "I do care, passionately, about rescuing the country I love from further turmoil or uncertainty," Mr Ford wrote.

Mr Ford advocated a "harshly worded rebuke as rendered by members of both parties," televised and delivered in Congress. The White House has tried to steer Congress towards some similar punishment, trying to get a petition of Senators to say that they would never vote against the President on the issue.

It would be the Senate which would try Mr Clinton were he to be impeached, and it would only take 34 out of 100 Senators to save his bacon.

However, Senate Democrats refused to play along, fearing that they would be linked too closely with the President's problems, and in some cases because they believe the President should be impeached.

The President was celebrating his wedding anniversary yesterday, preparing foranother difficult week. He will try to concentrate on policy, addressing the International Monetary Fund and World Bank on a plan to help bail out countries in distress, and pressing for action in Kosovo.

t Have you had an adulterous sexual encounter with a member of the United States Congress or a high-ranking official? If so, Larry Flynt and Hustler magazine are offering a million dollars. The pornographic magazine publisher put a full-page advertisement in the Washington Post: "Can you provide documentary evidence of illicit sexual relations with a congressman, senator or other prominent officeholder?" it asked, promising the cash "if we choose to publish your verified story and use your material".