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Democrat on House Panel to Propose Clinton Censure

Scandal: Judiciary Committee member is first lawmaker to offer up a condemnation of the president's actions as alternative to impeachment.

November 25, 1998|MARC LACEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — A Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee said Tuesday that he intends to offer his colleagues an alternative to impeachment that would strongly condemn President Clinton for his conduct but not impose any sanctions against him.

While the notion of censure has been discussed generally for months, Rep. William D. Delahunt of Massachusetts is the first lawmaker to offer a way out of the current controversy, short of removing Clinton from office.

"We are trying in the most constructive sense to get a ball rolling on this," said Steve Schwadron, Delahunt's press secretary. "It will either roll or it won't."

Delahunt's proposal is unlikely to alter the outcome in the committee, whose hard-line Republican majority is expected to approve articles of impeachment in the coming weeks. At the helm of the process is Judiciary Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), who says the panel's role is to impeach or not impeach.

"Most Republican members have publicly rejected the idea of censure either because it is not constitutionally prescribed or because it would be a bad precedent given the seriousness of the allegations," a GOP committee aide noted.

Off the committee, however, Republican lawmakers appear to be more willing to embrace a compromise that acknowledges Clinton's transgressions while stopping short of impeachment.

Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), a committee member, said one possible scenario would have both articles of impeachment and a censure motion going to the House floor for consideration.

Still, Hutchinson was not optimistic that his GOP colleagues would favor a rebuke. "If you have a censure [motion], you'd have a lot of Republicans voting against it," he said.

Also uncertain is whether lawmakers will coalesce behind Delahunt's proposal or a stronger measure that brings with it some form of punishment against the president. Previously, various lawmakers have floated proposals to fine Clinton, dock his pension or force him to apologize to the country from the House floor.

Defining Clinton's conduct will also likely be the subject of much debate. The committee is probing whether Clinton committed criminal offenses--perjury, obstruction of justice and witness tampering--in attempting to hide his affair with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky. Some argue that he has demeaned the office by engaging in the sexual affair and lying about it to the American people.

"It seems self-evident that the Congress should speak its and the nation's mind," Schwadron said. "The president's actions deserve more than closing of the eyes. If we're ever going to express disappointment of anything, this is the time."

At the White House, Press Secretary Joe Lockhart said that Clinton and his lawyers hope to have written answers today to 81 questions posed by the Judiciary Committee about his actions in the Lewinsky matter.

"We are close to the end of this process," he said, adding that the president was meeting with his attorneys to finalize the White House responses.

The answers, which ask for clarifications about whether Clinton committed perjury or obstructed justice, will be sent to the committee and made public either today or on Friday, Lockhart said.

The impeachment investigation, meanwhile, continues rolling ahead.

After hearing from independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr last week, the Judiciary Committee will reconvene on Tuesday with an assessment of the seriousness of perjury. Witnesses will include a judge and some individuals convicted of lying under oath.

Times staff writer Richard A. Serrano contributed to this story.

Video excerpts from Starr's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, the full text of the Starr Report, and excerpts from the Linda Tripp tapes are on The Times' Web site:

http://www.latimes.com/scandal

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