President in crisis: Video causes panic in both camps

Republicans fear backlash over tapes
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REPUBLICAN PARTY leaders struggled yesterday to justify releasing another avalanche of material from the Starr investigation into the President Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

The House Judiciary Committee's decision to make public this morning volumes of new evidence uncovered by Kenneth Starr, as well as the videotape of Mr Clinton's testimony on 17 August before the Grand Jury, has opened a hornets' nest of controversy.

With polls indicating public weariness with the scandal, there is a clear risk that the Republicans will be stung the worst.

The vote on Friday, won by Republicans in fiercely partisan fashion, has provided Clinton loyalists with a potentially golden opportunity to recover their fortunes. White House aides and other Democrats fanned out on the television airwaves yesterday to denounce the Republican party for acting unfairly and wantonly to humiliate further and enfeeble the President.

"I think people may question the judgment to put out that information," remarked White House Deputy Chief of Staff, John Podesta. "They may actually end up questioning the motivation, whether this was done for partisan purposes, and ultimately they may question the fairness of the process that's going on on Capital Hill."

The timing may also be unfortunate for Republicans - today happens to be the Jewish New Year.

Meanwhile, latest polls yesterday indicated that 69 per cent of Americans have no appetite for the Clinton videotape.

It is too soon to know whether any significant voter backlash may surface to hurt the Republicans, who are counting on negative sentiment toward Mr Clinton to propel their chances at thecongressional elections on 3 November.

Democrats will underscore the role of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who last week summoned Republican members of the Judiciary Committee and urged them to support the release of the new material.

Among those defending the vote yesterday was Representative Tom Delay of Texas, who has been unsparing in his anti-Clinton rhetoric. "There's no good time to release [the tape]. But the American people need to see the truth, however bad the truth looks. They need to face the reality of the seriousness of what faces us," he said.

The Republicans may suffer additional damage from the swirling sub-plot to the impeachment hearings concerning allegations about the private lives of other politicians on Capitol Hill. Most notably there were the revelations last week of a 30-year-old extramarital affair entered into by Henry Hyde, the chairman of the Judicial Committee.

A moral war on Capitol Hill, in which the personal histories of almost any politician becomes fair game, could be highly dangerous for all sides. Mr Delay has asked the FBI to investigate his suspicions that the information about Mr Hyde was deliberately leaked by the White House and, specifically, by the Clinton aide, Sydney Blumenthal.

However, without a convincing turn of the tide of public sentiment against Clinton, how wise will it be for the party to forge ahead with impeachment hearings against him? Orrin Hatch, the respected Senator from Utah, has hinted at his preference for a vote of censure against the President, instead of impeachment.

Moreover, with an eye on the presidential campaign in 2000, would the Republicans in fact be better off keeping a damaged Mr Clinton in office rather than replacing him with a potentially much more effective Al Gore?