Special Report: Impeachment

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NANCY GIBBS AND MICHAEL DUFFY--FROM THE ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT APPROVED BY THE HOUSEJUDICIARY COMMITTEEIt was around 8 on Thursday night in the White House residencewhen a small group of advisers quietly started talking aboutwhether it was time for Bill Clinton to grovel again. To theirsurprise, he was already there: I've been thinking about thisfor a couple of days, Clinton said. He had begun scratching outnotes about what he would say: not another legal brief--hislawyers had been delivering those all week--but something alittle more spiritual, about taking responsibility and acceptingpunishment and sending the signal that he finally, finally got it.Some of his aides had something else in mind. They had beenlistening all week long to the Republican moderates whose votescould save the President from the impeachment that now lookslikely to come this week. By Friday, Republican brokers had evenfed them some actual lines for him to read, the very script thatthey thought just might save him--and them--from months of hell.The fence sitters weren't looking for an apology; they werelooking for an admission. Say you lied, and we'll let you go free.The words were simple: I lied to the American people, and I'msorry. But Clinton didn't know what to do with them. Maybe theywould be enough to redeem him with those members who wereprepared to vote to impeach him mainly because he had neverseemed genuinely sorry for anything. But maybe they would killhim too. It's a trap, his lawyers warned. Admit that you lied,even once, and they will impeach you, then indict you, and thenthrow you in jail the first chance they get.This is what happens in Washington now, where everything ispersonal, no one trusts anybody, the lines are down and thefriendships and history have been replaced by bad blood andgrudges. And so by the time he had finished his four minutes inthe Rose Garden that afternoon, talking about his wrongdoing andhis shame and Ben Franklin and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam andthe whole blue book of his family's pain and his God-givenabilities, the power brokers in the Capitol who had beendesperate for some help were slamming down their phones. Whatwas he thinking? asked one. He'd have been better off if he'djust got on the plane and left for his Middle East trip. Somein the White House who had started the day feeling sick notedthat the President was now 0 for 3: every time he opened hismouth about this subject, he made things worse. The Republicanreaction was deadly. It's like a sniper, said a G.O.P. source.You only get one shot, and he missed it.Less than 10 minutes after he finished, the House JudiciaryCommittee began to vote on the first of four articles ofimpeachment, each one ending, Wherefore, William JeffersonClinton, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, andremoval from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy anyoffice of honor, trust or profit under the United States.In a slow-motion year that has seemed to go on forever, it isfair to wonder how we got here so fast. The public has beenright about many things much of the year, but was wrong aboutone thing: going into last week, almost the same vastmajority--68%--that opposed impeaching the President did notimagine that it would ever take place. After the Novemberelection, when the voters spoke, the G.O.P. crumpled and NewtGingrich succumbed, many assumed that the impeachment hay wagonhad been run off the road, overturned, its wheels spinning inthe air.PAGE 1  |    |    |    |    |  
In 1868, another President besieged
 
The public went off contentedly shopping, thinking the matterwas all but settled, and with that, the wild rumpus began. TheWhite House decided to go for broke: the President's alliestoasted the death of neo-Puritanism, stopped talking aboutcensure and raised the possibility that there should be nopenalty at all. Clinton's lawyers finally answered those 81questions that Judiciary chairman Henry Hyde had sent him threeweeks before, but the answers were forgetful, slippery andshowed no trace of repentance. Impeach me if you dare, Clintonwhistled, dancing on their graves.He was, of course, waltzing into a trap. With Gingrich and KenStarr gone, the role of tormentor fell to majority whip TomDeLay, the diminutive former fire-ant exterminator from Texaswho knew enough to lie low and deny Clinton a repellent foil.Alone onstage with his weaselly answers, Clinton isn't all thatappealing either. He made things worse by golfing a lot. AsGeorgia's Bob Barr, the Judiciary Committee's hangman, said withprecise accuracy this week: One of the faults of the WhiteHouse, I think, is that they have a tendency--maybe thisPresident personally, perhaps--to break out the champagne orlight up the victory cigar a little bit early sometimes.A White House governed by polls has trouble reading politicianswho are bent on ignoring them. Clinton had waited all year forthe Lewinsky affair to be out of the hands of the courts anddumped in the laps of the lawmakers. The framers, after all, haddesigned impeachment as a political rather than a legal process,handled not by unelected judges but by the most transparentlyaccountable branch, the legislators who have to face votersevery two years. With Clinton's approval ratings still in orbitand the opposition to impeachment screaming from every lastpoll, it was easy for the President's men to imagine that theywere over the rainbow.Except that this House doesn't work that way. The people thatcount this time are not the 269 million Americans or even the435 House members, but only the 30 or so moderate Republicans,all on the political version of the endangered-species list, whocome from places where most people cling religiously to theradical middle and fear the intensity of right and left. Forthose members the question was simple: Party or country?Many want to see Clinton pay, but not at the price of shreddingthe presidency. Some were just holding out for something theyhave never before seen from this President: a flat, clearadmission of wrongdoing, stripped of self-pity or sophistry,that would allow them to spank him and move on. And others wereweighing how hard it would be to fight off a conservativechallenger in their next primary. You've got the facts and lawabout impeachment, says Delaware's Michael Castle, but thebottom line is that for every member, there is a lot of politicsinvolved in this decision.Meanwhile, DeLay was spreading the word: most voters are againstimpeachment because they think it means removing Clinton fromoffice. When they see that impeachment is really justsupercensure or the ultimate censure, as the JudiciaryCommittee's Bill McCollum of Florida has described it, they willnot revolt; in two years they will not even remember. Yourconservative base will be placated and your moderates won'tcare, because Clinton won't have gone anywhere except down inhistory. Which is also a happy thing for Republicans, accordingto DeLay. The good politics, by the way, is to leave thePresident in office, DeLay told TIME. He's the best thingthat's happened to this party.  |  2  |    |    |    |  
In 1868, another President besieged
 
By early this month, the tide had turned, and Clinton was back inhis own personal Hitchcock movie. At meetings on Social Security,where he would normally cartwheel through one proposal afteranother, he sat fatefully quiet, sullen and completelydistracted. They tell me, Clinton remarked to a longtime aideon Dec. 4, the votes are probably there for this thing. Anotheradviser told Time later that it was probably the worst I'd everseen him. It's not fuzzy anymore. He really, really, really getsthe idea that this is going to be a big, permanent stain on hisrecord.And so two weeks ago the White House that for a moment hadconsidered not mounting any defense at all was suddenlydemanding four days to make its case last week--a sign that itwas worried and playing for time. Mr. Chairman, said thePresident's lawyer Greg Craig, I am willing to concede that inthe Jones deposition, the President's testimony was evasive,incomplete, misleading, even maddening--but it was not perjury.The message to the moderates was direct: This President is ahound dog, but that's not an impeachable offense.But for some reason, the White House forgot to tell its panel oflegal scholars to stow the Ivy League condescension and assume ahumbler pose. If you vote for impeachment, said Princeton's SeanWilentz in a high-pitched, insinuating voice, you will be castforever as zealots and the fanatics [who] have done far more tosubvert respect for the framers, for representative governmentand for the rule of law than any crime that has been allegedagainst President Clinton, and your reputations will be darkenedfor as long as there are Americans who can tell the differencebetween the rule of law and the rule of politics.That afternoon, the mood went from bad to worse. In trying toshow that the Lewinsky affair was no Watergate, the White Houseexhumed some of the most partisan veterans of the 1974 JudiciaryCommittee. Wayne Owens, a former Democratic member from Utah,said it was the current committee's fault that they gave toAmerica, to the seven- and eight-year-olds, the knowledge orraised the question of what oral sex is, what telephone sex isand what you can do with a cigar sexually. And Father RobertDrinan, the ultraliberal former member from Massachusetts,predicted that the committee would go down in the history booksas one that was dominated by vindictiveness and by vengeance andby partisanship. Representative Howard Coble of North Carolina,who sometimes sounds like he's still got a place on MayberryR.F.D., reacted by challenging Drinan, still in clerical garb,to a rumble. We're going about our business, Coble croaked.And if anybody thinks that vengeance is involved, I'll meetthem in the parking lot later on tonight.On the second day the grownups returned. A team of formercriminal justice officials argued that few in their professionwould consider taking Clinton to court for lying about sex, andnone would win a conviction. By the time the White House aidesfinally let America meet the President's counsel, the reclusiveCharles Ruff, they were making concessions they had refused tomake for months. Ruff walked right up to the line of admittingthat Clinton lied, stopping just short of the red zone.Clinton's testimony in the Jones case, said Ruff, wasmisleading. Reasonable people, and you maybe have reached thatconclusion, could determine that he crossed over that line andthat what for him was truthful but misleading or nonresponsiveand misleading or evasive was, in fact, false. But in hismind--and that is the heart and soul of perjury--he thought andhe believed that what he was doing was being evasive buttruthful.Then Ruff made his plea: Let each member assume that Ms.Lewinsky's version of the events is correct, and then ask, 'Am Iprepared to impeach the President because after having admittedhaving engaged in egregiously wrongful conduct, he falselydescribed the particulars of that conduct?' It was a lawyer'slast stand, a final appeal to save a client from thecongressional equivalent of indictment. In effect, Ruff wassaying, You know he lied and we know he lied. The onlydisagreement is what we ought to do about it.  |    |  3  |    |    |  
In 1868, another President besieged
 
If the defense was arguing that Bill Clinton should not be heldto a higher standard than any other criminal defendant, theRepublicans were arguing that a President must be. If thenation's chief law-enforcement officer can get away with lyingunder oath, whatever the subject, then the rule of lawcollapses, and everyone else walks. We've got to do it for thechildren, Representative Steve Chabot of Ohio said later.But no Republican, not even Ken Starr, cut through thePresident's mortar as efficiently as David Schippers, a Democrathired by Hyde as majority counsel. In an angry, sarcastic andmerciless presentation delivered in a penetrating Chicago twang,Schippers drilled holes in Clinton's words, deeds and character,arguing that the President had lied repeatedly under oath,obstructed justice by helping Lewinsky get a job and encouragedeveryone around him to do the same. He lied to the people, helied to his Cabinet, he lied to his top aides, and now he's liedunder oath to the Congress of the U.S. There's no one left tolie to.Schippers played a tape recording of Clinton's testimony in theJones case, and the committee room went silent as Clinton hemmedand hawed over whether he was ever alone with Lewinsky. Clintonsat stony-faced through another piece of tape when his lawyer,Bob Bennett, insisted to the judge that Lewinsky had signed anaffidavit stating that she and the President had never had sex.And Schippers referred to the famous Clintonian phrase itdepends on what the meaning of is is from the August sessionwith the grand jury. That single declaration, Schippers said,reveals more about the character of the President than perhapsanything else in the record... Can you imagine dealing with sucha person on any important matter?The Republican express slowed only briefly when, on Friday,Democrats complained that Hyde and his allies were dodging theirrequest to specify exactly which of the President's many swornstatements about Lewinsky were perjurious. The reason, arguedBarney Frank of Massachusetts, was that the offending statementswere all about sex, and there was no way for the Republicans todress up something so salacious except by hiding it. Did thePresident touch her here or did he not touch her here? saidFrank. They do not want to take that to the [House] floor andto the Senate. That's their dilemma. Because if they arespecific, they are trivial.Hyde dismissed the complaint, and the committee proceeded withvoting on the articles, along party lines. This vote sayssomething about us, said Hyde on Friday night. It answers thequestion, Just who are we, and what do we stand for? Is thePresident one of us, or is he a sovereign? We vote for ourhonor, which is the only thing we get to take with us to thegrave.All the while, as the public morality play went on in theJudiciary Committee, the private drama unfolded in hundreds ofconversations among moderate Republicans, their party leadersand staff members stranded in the empty halls of the Capitol.Both sides insisted they weren't whipping the vote, but behindthe scenes, every manner of pressure was applied: DeLay and hislieutenants worked from Texas and Washington, tracking downmembers who during the recess were overseas or unreachable.Committee chairmen gently reminded members of old favors. In aclever bit of jujitsu, Republicans claimed the White House wastrying to buy support with oblique suggestions that a vote forClinton might free up funds for disaster relief. In fact, theRepublicans had more to trade, but the Democrats had lots moreto lose, which probably made it a fair fight.  |    |    |  4  |    |  
In 1868, another President besieged
 
Hiding somewhere behind the scenes was the next House Speaker,Bob Livingston, who is so concerned about striking the rightnote with the American people when he finally takes over that heis missing the most important moment of his tenure. He cut adeal with outgoing Speaker Gingrich to put a moderate colleaguefrom Illinois, Ray LaHood, in the Speaker's chair during thesure-to-be-televised-everywhere floor debate Thursday. Even inprivate, Livingston is hard to pin down: he refused in atelephone conversation with House minority leader Dick Gephardton Wednesday even to discuss censure. No comment, he toldGephardt. Conservatives, who forced Gingrich out, worried allweek that Livingston would not fight for impeachment. It was notuntil Saturday that Livingston indicated that he opposedconsideration of censure by the full House.White House aides worked overtime in a hastily assembled warroom on the first floor of the West Wing, where businesslobbyists were asked to call lawmakers and donors were urged tophone wavering Republicans. Intermediaries issued invitations tocome over and meet the President when he returns from the MiddleEast on Tuesday. Around the nation, state Democratic partiesorganized phone-a-thons on behalf of the President in districtsheld by moderate Republicans. Appeals went out over theInternet, and Working Assets, the long-distance company thatuses a portion of its proceeds to fund liberal causes, set up a1-877-to-move-on phone line to connect voters with theirrepresentatives. Geraldine Ferraro pitched in too: she workedthe phones, calling Representatives Connie Morella of Marylandand Tillie Fowler of Florida for some girl talk. To thebuttoned-up-right-to-her-brow Fowler, Ferraro made adown-and-dirty pitch: Tillie, a man is a man is a man.There were a few wins for the President's team, but they didn'tpromise much. New York Governor George Pataki endorsed censureover impeachment, and outgoing New York Senator Alfonse D'Amatosaid impeachment would be a grave mistake. Democrats cheeredwhen Representative Amo Houghton, also of New York, came aboard.But Houghton, a multimillionaire former chief of Corning GlassWorks, is the very embodiment of a Rockefeller Republican. It'sall fine and good, said a depressed Democratic vote counter inthe House. But it's not exactly a score. I mean, if we don'tget Amo Houghton, Clinton's going to the big house.It fell to New York's Peter King, the leader of the rumpRepublicans, to explain why he couldn't bring more along. Theyfeel it is a moral test, says King, who has been lobbying hardfor censure. By voting against impeachment, are they supportingthis immoral behavior, saying it's O.K. for the President to lieand have sex with an intern in the White House?Moderate Republican Bob Franks was waiting last Friday with ablue pen, a white pad and a can of Dr Pepper in front of the TVin the study of his Berkeley Heights, N.J., home when thePresident began to speak. For days Franks had been signaling theWhite House that he would vote against impeachment if Clintonwould just come clean. As the President started speaking, Istarted jotting down a couple of phrases, remembers Franks.Then I just stopped when it was clear that he wasn't going tomake an admission. I just looked at the screen and shook myhead. If he had told the truth, that he had broken the law, hewould have saved the nation from the ordeal of an impeachmentand saved his presidency. Within an hour, Franks announced thathe will vote to impeach this week.Rather than providing a way out, Clinton's speech opened anotherone of those miniature windows into his soul. He talked abouthow hard it was to hear yourself called deceitful andmanipulative but never admitted that he was those things. Heattributed his 11 months of stonewalling and deception to hisshame over what he had done, the one quality he has nevershown. He continued to thread his presidency between the wordsmisled and lied.After the speech, his aides explained that Clinton had severalreasons for leaving some things unsaid. He feels he has alreadydone more penance than any other public official, andjustifiably wonders where it will end. It's a bit of Lucy withthe football, said an official. The bar does keep gettingraised. But the main reason Clinton rejected the L word onFriday is that he continues to insist that he didn't lie underoath. It's very simple, an aide explained. He doesn't believeit.  |    |    |    |  5  |  
In 1868, another President besieged
 
It was a fitting irony--the one time it would have helped him toshave the truth, to just pretend for a minute that he agreedthat he was a perjurer--he couldn't bring himself to do it. BySaturday there was still no stampede to save Clinton, and bothDemocratic and Republican head counters said the momentum seemedto remain against the President. When it became clear that thespeech had fallen short, some White House officials hinted thathe might have to try one more time before the House vote. Othersargued that the apology was actually embedded in the text, thathe might explicitly apologize for lying someday, once censurewas safely in hand. (The speech, and its reference to rebukeand censure, had no effect on the committee: on Saturday itrejected a Democratic censure resolution, 22-14.)The only person more allergic to impeachment than Clinton wasSenate majority leader Trent Lott, who made little secret of hisdesire that the whole thing just go away. He knows that a trial,which could take weeks if not months (and require members tolisten patiently from their uncomfortable seats), would anger hiscaucus, bog down his party and make bipartisan progress on otherissues virtually impossible for months. He don't want no trial,said a Lott confidant this week.But Lott too was dusting off procedures not used on a Presidentsince Andrew Johnson in 1868. Lott met quietly with Tom Daschle,his Democratic counterpart, to discuss how to keep things civilshould a trial get under way next year. Last week some Senatorsbegan to discuss the possibility that a censure deal could becut after the House votes. Under this scenario, Clinton might beimpeached by the House but then offer to accept censure, a fineand some written statement rather than face trial in the Senate.That way the Republicans could ink their black mark in thehistory books and still avoid the trial.But it is not clear that G.O.P. conservatives in the Senate, whoalready fear that Lott is too eager to make deals with the WhiteHouse, will allow him to avoid the unpleasant proceeding. AndClinton, more Andrew Johnson than Richard Nixon, may decide thathe might as well take his chances on the Senate floor, where thenumbers are in his favor. The Constitution requires a two-thirdsmajority, or 67 votes, for removal from office, something Lottwill be hard pressed to muster in a chamber with only 55Republicans, several of them proudly moderate. With rules likethat--and in the stately confines of the Senate--the odds mayfinally be in Clinton's favor.Reported by Jay Branegan, James Carney, John F. Dickerson, Viveca Novak and Karen Tumulty/Washington  |    |    |    |    |  6
In 1868, another President besieged