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Congress Whispers The 'I' Word

Talk of impeachment is rumbling through Capitol Hill this week, despite White House protests that Congress needs to focus on legislative action.

CBS News White House correspondent Bill Plante reports that Congressional leaders do not want it to appear that they are getting ready for impeachment hearings, but they want to have procedures in place to deal with any information that special prosecutor Kenneth Starr brings before them.

Meanwhile, White House spokesman Mike McCurry says he can't understand why Republicans are discussing something that would be months away at the earliest - while important national issues are languishing.

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With grand juries in Washington and Little Rock, Starr is looking into the president's Arkansas land dealings and accusations that Mr. Clinton had an affair with a former White House intern and tried to cover it up.

These charges are unrelated to the sexual harassment lawsuit Paula Jones has brought against the president.

The Washington jury, which is not in session, heard Thursday from Marsha Scott, a presidential aide whose friendship with Mr. Clinton dates to his Arkansas days, and Natalie Ungvari of Los Angeles, a friend of Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern who told a friend she had a sexual relationship with the president.

Plante says members of Congress are certain to demand hearings on whenever Starr brings in.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R.-Ga., and Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., say they're considering several possible responses should Starr refer evidence of possible impeachable offenses to lawmakers.

Among them, the two men said in a statement, is appointment of a task force to review Starr's evidence, at his invitation before it is formally delivered to the Capitol.

"Our principal concern if an investigation is warranted is to protect the innocent, while simultaneously getting to the truth," they said.

The two men said they were motivated by a concern that Starr's evidence might include grand jury testimony that is covered by secrecy laws, and potentially could leak to reporters if all members of the House have access to it.

For their part, Democrats said talk of reviewing evidence that had not yet been compiled was premature, and pointed toward partisanship.

"Premature would be a gentle way of expressing some mystification of why they would leap to that process," White House spokesman Mike McCurry told reporters. He suggested Republicans turn their attention to Clinton's domestic policy proposals on health carechild care and education.

"I have not been consulted in this matter, therefore, I question their assertion of wanting to approach this issue in a bipartisan fashion," added Representative Dick Gephardt, House Democratic leader.

Several other Democrats questioned the propriety of Republican proposals to have members of Congress review grand jury material, and some said they feared Gingrich was preparing for a partisan impeachment process.

In the bluntest comments to date by Republican leadership, Texas Representative Tom DeLay, the House GOP whip, said lawmakers "may have to act" on the Starr allegations.

"The president's silence is a grave disservice to the very people who elected him," DeLay, the third-ranking Republican in the House, said in a floor speech Thursday.

"I implore the president to come forward with the truth," he added. "The charges against the president are serious. That is why Congress may have to act on them."

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