WASHINGTON -- Congressional Republicans attacked President Clinton yesterday after a report that he plans to retaliate against House Republicans who backed impeachment by working for their defeat in the 2000 elections.
The president pledged earlier this week to help Democrats regain control of the House, where Republicans hold an 11-seat majority. Previously, most lawmakers took that declaration as standard politics.
Quoting unnamed advisers to Clinton, however, the New York Times said that the president, fuming over his treatment, intended to target House Republicans who supported impeachment, especially vulnerable members of the House prosecution team.
Rep. Chris Cannon of Utah, one of the 13 GOP representatives who prosecuted Clinton in the Senate, was particularly exercised over the possible targeting of Rep. James Rogan, a House prosecutor from California whose district favored Clinton in 1992 and 1996.
"Now, as the Democrats in the Senate are working through harsh and ugly language to describe his willful, wanton and despicable actions, the president has declared war on Ken Starr and the House managers," Cannon said at a news conference he called to denounce Clinton.
In a later interview, Cannon said Clinton clearly intended to move beyond simple political campaigning to personal attacks co-ordinated by sometime presidential adviser James Carville. Cannon also cited the efforts of Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt to defend Clinton by offering money for accounts of sexual indiscretions by congressional Republicans.
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart, noting that most of the House prosecutors hold safe seats representing solidly conservative districts, dismissed the account offered by yesterday's Times.
"I think we're a little bit smarter than that," Lockhart said. "I can't think of a worse, more dumb strategy than going after people based on whether they were a House manager or not."
As they denounced the president, several House trial managers performed a rhetorical pirouette, depicting themselves as the president's prey instead of his prosecutors. They said Clinton was the true master of the "politics of personal destruction" that the president claimed to decry.
"They may have a gloat-free zone, but they're not going to have a retaliation-free zone," said Republican Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia.
Later in the day, Rogan told reporters gathered in his House office that the president had brought his troubles upon himself.
"I certainly didn't go looking for this fight," a bemused Rogan said. "I expect World War III every two years in my district."
Not all the House managers appeared disturbed. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican from Clinton's home state of Arkansas, said that Clinton had already campaigned against him and his brother, GOP Sen. Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas.
"I'd like to think that is the idle musings of the president's aides," Asa Hutchinson said in a brief interview. "This really would not be much change in dynamics if he were to come back in. That's just Arkansas politics."
Pub Date: 2/12/99