New nemesis for President

Four Men with Destiny in their Hands
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The Independent Online
CONGRESS IS likely to agree today to release the contents of the Starr report on President Clinton, Congressman Henry Hyde said yesterday, with key sections posted on the Internet.

For the past eight months, the President's nemesis has been Kenneth Starr, the Republican lawyer who single-mindedly pursued Bill Clinton and his libido through the corridors of the White House.

From today, the politicans take over from the lawyers. Mr Hyde, a Republican, chairs the Judiciary Committee that will lead impeachment hearings should they occur.

Mr Hyde himself will set the tone and speed of the proceedings that will decide the fate of the president. He will also have to maintain discipline within a committee that is difficult to control at the best of times; and these are not the best of times on Capitol Hill.

Hyde had already said that impeachment solely on the grounds of the President's sexual misadventures would not be desirable, and added on Thursday that any proceedings would be carried out in a non-partisan way. "I will not condone, nor participate in, a political witch hunt," he said, promising "a fair, full and independent review of the evidence on our own."

Mr Hyde is a Congressman of long standing, and in the traditional style. The silver haired 74-year-old smokes cigars, and during the Second World War skippered a landing craft in the Pacific. He was born and bred in Chicago, a Catholic and a Democrat, but felt the party shifting away from him in the Sixties.

He represents a well-off north-western suburb of Chicago, near O'Hare airport. This is where First Lady Hillary Clinton grew up, an area of solid Republicanism and middle-class values. It is an area that voted for President Bush in 1992, and for Robert Dole in 1996, even as the rest of the country - and especially Chicago, a Democratic bastion - swung behind Mrs Clinton's husband.

The Almanac of American Politics describes him as "one of the most respected and intellectually honest members of the House," a Representative since 1974. He is on the right of the party, one of its most conservative members who is adamantly opposed to abortion, backs a constitutional ban on flag- burning and takes a strong stand on moral issues.

The fight to maintain discipline has already been launched by both Mr Hyde and Newt Gingrich, the Speaker of the House. Mr Gingrich has remained largely silent for the past few weeks, despite his record as a free-talking, sometimes wild figure on the Republican right. Partly, this is because he wants to maintain the image of bipartisanship that is essential to making the proceedings work.

But Mr Gingrich himself has some dirty laundry in the cupboard. Divorce proceedings were served against his wife while she lay in hospital dying of cancer.

It will not be an easy task to maintain decorum. The Judiciary Committee contains some of the most partisan members of both parties.

At one end of the spectrum is Barney Frank from Massachusetts, on the left wing of the Democrats. Mr Frank - the only openly gay Congressman - has been faced with sexual scandals himself. At the other pole is Bob Barr of Georgia, an attack-dog of the conservative right who has been calling for the impeachment of the President since last year.

For the moment, it is these figures - Congressmen with little presence outside the US - who will be crucial. Final judgement on the President, if he is impeached, would be delivered by the Senate, allowing many of those who have already criticised the President, such as Democratic Senators Pat Moynihan and Joseph Liebermann, to have their say. It would be presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, William Rehnquist.

Mr Hyde is grimly aware of the dimensions of what he now faces. Some Congressmen criticised the style of the delivery of the Starr report to Capitol Hill on Thursday: not Mr Hyde. "I have no criticism of Judge Starr," he said. "He belongs to the pantheon of saints. He's gone through hell." It is an experience which Mr Hyde will now, in many ways, repeat.

Henry Hyde

74-year-old chairman of the Judiciary Committee which will lead impeachment hearings

Barney Frank

Left-wing member of the

Judiciary Committee. He is unlikely to attack Clinton

Bob Barr

An attack-dog of the conservative right from Georgia who has been calling for impeachment

Newt Gingrich

Speaker of the House, and the prime mover in getting the

report made public