What to do with Mr. Clinton Judiciary Committee: Lurching toward an impeachment vote that nation and full House do not want.


KENNETH Starr did his utmost to accumulate evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors for the House to use in impeaching President Clinton, and failed. That is the conclusion most fair-minded people take from his referral and testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, scrutinizing the Monica Lewinsky affair while omitting the more serious allegations Mr. Starr was assigned to investigate.

But that is not the conclusion that the committee's Republican majority wishes to reach. Its Dec. 1 hearing looms as an exercise in public relations to persuade more American people of the gravity of the perjury charges. That is different from the witnesses the committee deposed after Mr. Starr's testimony in a fishing expedition into areas beyond the Starr referral.

This was undertaken by Chairman Henry Hyde, perhaps to appease the hawks on his committee.

While they and other partisan warriors of the 105th Congress' Republican majority might want to throw the book at Mr. Clinton, the Republican majority of the 106th Congress wants this resolved by January.

Mr. Starr, who testified under oath that he avoided talk shows, gave an exclusive interview to ABC News stressing the gravity of lying under oath. This was the sort of advocacy that provoked Mr. Starr's ethics counselor, Samuel Dash, to resign.

Although Mr. Dash's defection was exploited by Mr. Clinton's defenders, Mr. Dash had stood by Mr. Starr through all the controversies that mattered. Mr. Dash's resignation is based on his reading of the law that the independent counsel should provide information for the members of the House but not seek to influence their decision. Critics of Mr. Starr had, in fact, demanded that he justify his referral. They wonder where Mr. Dash's ethical sensitivity was when Mr. Starr's lawyers were intimidating Monica Lewinsky out of consulting her lawyer.

The House Judiciary Committee's Republican majority appears determined to vote an article of impeachment. Why committee members would want to force this is not clear. So far they have ignored suggestions from Democrats and former President Gerald Ford that a reprimand is more appropriate punishment.

Mr. Clinton got himself into his predicament. The same must be said for the House Judiciary Committee.

Pub Date: 11/28/98

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