Clinton Faces Impeachment Probe

For only the third time in U.S. history, The House of Representatives voted Thursday to begin a formal impeachment inquiry against the President of the United States.

After a bitter debate, the House voted by a 258-176 margin for an unresticted, open-ended probe of President Clinton that may range far beyond his conduct with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

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Thirty-one Democrats voted in favor of the measure.

After the vote, reports CBS News Senior White House Correspondent Scott Pelley, the president said he has surrendered to the impeachment process. Bill Clinton, who mustered every resource of the White House to fight this investigation for eight months, told reporters his fate is now in the hands of God.

"I hope we can now move forward with this process in a way that is fair that is constitutional and that is timely," Mr. Clinton said.

"The American people have been though a lot on this and I think that everyone deserves that. Beyond that I have nothing to say. It's not in my hands. It's in the hands of congress and the people of this country. And ultimately in the hands of God."

However, the White House does have an anti-impeachment strategy.

First, the president will raise money aggressively for Democratic candidates. If Democrats hold their own on election day, his chances of striking a deal with Congress are much better.

After the election, the White House will try to negotiate a censure and a fine in hopes of stopping the process before an impeachment vote.

Even though the outcome was known in advance, CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer reports that the debate had it's moments.

Most Democrats took the line that what the president had done was wrong, but didn't rise to the level of impeachable crimes.

"The global economy is crumbling and we're talking Monica Lewinsky," said Florida Democrat Robert Wexler. "Saddam Hussein hides weapons and we're talking about Monica Lewinsky."

To Wexler, it was a case for domestic court, not impeachment.

"The president betrayed his wife. He did not betray the country,". he said.

But Republicans saw it differently.

"This is not about sex," said Judiciary Committee member George Gekas. "This is not about lying about sex. It is rather when under oath does one lie about sex."

Republicans said the president should nt be treated as if he is above the law.

"The result will be a return to the imperial presidency of the Nixon era where the White House felt the laws did not apply to them," warned Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner.

During the debate, Rep. Kucinich of Ohio and Rep. McHale of Pennsylvania were the only Demcorats who spoke in favor of the inquiry.

McHale's criticism of the president was withering.

"His actions were not inappropriate," he said. "They were predatory, reckless, breathtakingly arrogant for a man already a defendant in a sexual harassment suit."

That contrasted with most Democrats who warned Republicans that most Americans don't favor impeachment.

"As you judge the President of the United States, the voters will be judging you on November the 3rd," warned Rep. Charles Rangel.

It was a foregone conclusion that Republicans would prevail, but Judiciary Committee Chairman Hyde was anything but gloating as he closed debate.

"It's an onerous, miserable, rotten duty, but we have to do it, or we break faith with the people who sent us here," he said.

Afterward, Hyde promised no public action until after the fall elections.

"We don't believe we should do anything overt -- that is to say have hearings or anything between now and the election because we don't want to be accused of politicizing this," he said.

Although 31 Democrats voted with the Republicans, the President's defenders claimed victory of sorts saying they had feared it would be worse.

"Why should we be so happy? We didn't win but we did darn good," said Rep. Maxine Waters.

According to the latest CBS News Poll, the public's opinion of the matter is still strongly in favor of Mr. Clinton.

By 55 to 40 percent, Americans polled said they would prefer that their representative veto a formal impeachment inquiry. The majority also prefer some kind of censure for the president instead of his impeachment or resignation.

Most of those polled (49 percent) said they believe the Lewinsky investigation is about sex, while 42 percent said it involves impeachable offenses.

President Clinton will be the third chief executive in history to face the threat of being removed from office. The last presidential impeachment inquiry was authorized in 1974, when Democrats controlled the House and Republican Richard Nixon was in the White House.

The only other president to face the impeachment process was Andrew Johnson, the unpopular successor to Abraham Lincoln. The Senate came within one vote of removing him in 1868.

The Nixon case was triggered by a politically inspired burglary, and grew to involve allegations of payoffs, cover-ups and misuse of government agencies.

Mr. Clinton's troubles began over his sexual relationship with Lewinsky, and gathered steam with the president's efforts to conceal the affair.

After investigating the president's relationship with Lewinsky, indepedent counsel Kenneth Starr submitted a report to Congress citing 11 possibly impeachable offenses by Mr. Clinton, including obstruction of justice and abuse of power.

Mr. Clinton has apologized for his sexual affair and asked the nation for forgiveness in hopes of ending this grave threat to his presidency.