Panel To Decide Clinton's Fate

After almost twenty-five years, Capitol Hill will once more echo with an impeachment debate Monday as the House Judiciary Committee meets to decide whether to launch a formal inquiry into President Clinton. CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports.

The committee must decide if independent counsel Kenneth Starr presented enough evidence to warrant full impeachment proceedings. The 21 Republicans and 16 Democrats will hear the panel's lawyers lay out the case against the president. If a majority decides full proceedings are warranted it would forward the recommendation to the full House.

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While Republicans and Democrats have been debating whether Starr's report does indicate impeachable offenses by the president, some say the focus has spun away from the Constitution.

"Instead of talking about what Monica Lewinsky said to Linda Tripp, we should be talking about what James Mason said to James Madison, and what is an impeahable offense, and how high did they set the bar?" Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said on CBS 'Face The Nation.'

The House is expected to have its vote by Friday, and Republicans say impeachment hearings could begin after the November elections. Republican officials say House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde is hoping the hearings could conclude before this Congress expires, January third.

Meanwhile, an editorial written by former President Gerald Ford in Sunday's New York Times has raised some Republican eyebrows. In his article, Ford called for Congress to rebuke President Clinton.

He says Mr. Clinton should appear in the well of the House and receive what he calls a "harshly worded rebuke" from Congress. "No spinning, no semantics, no evasiveness or blaming others...the result...would be the first moment of majesty in an otherwise squalid year," Ford wrote.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, speaking on ABC's This Week, countered the editorial, saying it would take things out of order to issue a rebuke before determining what, if any, offenses the president has committed.

Hyde echoed Lott's sentiment, telling NBC's Meet The Press that he doesn't see much chance of punishing Mr. Clinton with a rebuke. However, he did say that the president would be welcome to appear before the panel.

Former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta called Ford's statement a "public service."

"When he had to pardon President Nixon, it probably cost him his election," Panetta said. "But he did it because he thought it was in the national interest to put that issue aside and then deal with the isues confronting the country, and I think he's making the same kind of proposal here to move forward with some kind of rebuke."

In a speech before the Senate, Biden that if an impeachment process is initiated, the Senate does not have to conclude the inquiry with a vote.

"A lot of things are being said out there now, and one is that once this train leaves the station - that is, the impeachment process - it can't be stopped. Wrong," Biden said.

He explained that the Constitution allows the Senate to be "the judge and the jury."

While sources quoted the lawyers for the Judiciary Committee as saying that Republicans may expand the number of items that they will consider for articles of impeachment, Congressman Bill McCollum, who is on the panel, said that the only allegations reviewed would be from the initial Starr report.

"There's no indication that I'm aware of that we're going to be looking at anything that he hasn't sent us, or we'll be looking at any extraneous matters," McCollum said.

However, McCollum did say that Starr still could suggest other charges he thinks the president may have committed.

However, Hyde said he had sent to Starr a bipartisan request by four committee lawmakers that the independent counsel let the committee know if any further evidence would be submitted to Congress on other topics.

With American voters signaling they have no appetite for a long drawn out process against the president, Hyde sais he hoped to conclude things by year's end.

"But it all depends on how swiftly we can move, and how accommodating and cooperative the Democrats are, and the track record doesn't hold out an awful lot of hope in that direction," Hyde said on Fox News Sunday.

Democrats, too, want a speedy process, but are pushing a different agenda.

"We call for a few weeks of looking at the standards of impeachment and putting up the facts against those standards," Rep. Dick Gephardt said. "We allow for looking at alternative solutions other than going forward with impeachment."