The Unraveling of Impeachment

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WASHINGTON: Call it the Arlen Specter solution. As the impeachment process begins to collapse for want of GOP support, the Republican senator (and former prosecutor) from Pennsylvania is trying to convince his colleagues that presidential punishment, like revenge, is a dish best served cold. Specter's plan: Wait until Bill Clinton leaves office in 2001, then prosecute him as a regular citizen for perjury and obstruction of justice - presuming, of course, that Clinton's successor does not pardon him first. If the GOP can just cool its heels, Specter says, a jail sentence for the President is "a distinct possibility" - as opposed to impeachment, which will "come to naught."

Special Report It may sound crazy to some, but Specter's solution has already gained more currency among Republicans than any other impeachment alternative -- such as Gerald Ford's public rebuke plan, or the White House-favored "censure-plus." Even Henry Hyde had to admit the senator was "ahead of the curve," although he added that nothing would halt his committee's impeachment probe before Ken Starr has a chance to speak on November 19. Still, with at least five Republican representatives having come out publicly against impeachment over the past few days, GOP lawmakers no longer have the votes in the House -- let alone the Senate -- to impeach Clinton. In the face of a humiliating defeat on the floor, building a bridge to some 21st century jail time may be their only option.