Hyde Considers Narrowing Probe

The chairman of the House Juciciary Committee said Wednesday that he hopes to pare down some of the 15 grounds for impeachment of President Clinton outlined last week, CBS News White House Correspondent Bill Plante reports.

Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., said Wednesday that he will try to streamline the panel's impeachment inquiry by focusing on the "core charges" against President Clinton: lying under oath, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering.

Hyde said his goal is to finish the inquiry by the end of the year, a goal he has expressed before, even while opposing Democratic attempts to set strict time limits on the investigation.

The White House suggested Hyde was floating a trial balloon for political reasons.

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"The committee is attempting in this initial phase of the impeachment inquiry to establish a process for completing the inquiry by the end of the year," Hyde said Wednesday in a written statement. "This requires streamlining its work to focus on the core charges against the president of lying under oath, obstruction of justice and witness tampering."

Hyde had told the Washington Post that he is doing this in order to meet his goal of ending this by the end of the year. But, if Starr were to come up with new material, or if he feels the White House is stonewalling, he says his timetable may not hold.

"I frankly don't see how we can deal with all 15 charges," Hyde said. "We need to think about narrowing the charges down to the ones that are the most provable."

But White House spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters Wednesday morning that he suspected partisan interests were behind Hyde's statement to the Post. Lockahart said that the hearing could not be fair until the committee first decides what the standards of impeachment are.

David P. Schippers, the panel's chief counsel, outlined the 15 separate allegations last week, adopting 10 of the 11 grounds for impeachment recommended by Starr and offering four from the panel's GOP staff for the committee to consider.

Those recommended grounds included conspiracy, obstructing justice, perjury, withholding evidence and tampering with witnesses, all arising out of Mr. Clinton's affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinksy.

"There is a limited amount of time, and we can't spend all the time we would like on all of the charges," Hyde told the Post in an interview published Wednesday. "There may be some consolidation of these counts to accommodate the time constraints. But we aren't there yet."

Hyde said he wans to focus on the charges "that look the most profitable, I should say productive, for an impeachment inquiry."

Mr. Clinton denied having a sexual relationship with Lewinsky in a sworn deposition last January in the now-dismissed sexual harassment lawsuit by Paula Jones.

He denied to a federal grand jury in August that he committed perjury in the January deposition but has admitted to an "inappropriate" relationship with Lewinsky.