Parties Torn On Clinton Inquiry

Democrats blasted Republicans Wednesday, accusing them of designing rules unfair to President Clinton in the impeachment inquiry now under consideration. CBS News Correspondent Russ Mitchell reports.

Although both sides promised that their review of independent counsel Kenneth Starr's report would not dissolve into bipartisan bickering, a dispute has broken out over the scope of the inquiry.

Republicans want to give the House Judiciary Committee authority to expand its investigation beyond Mr. Clinton's affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, indicating that there are other questions surrounding the presidency. Democrats contend that any inquiry must be limited strictly to the Lewinsky case.

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Republicans are proposing that the panel be given the same scope as that given to the committee 24 years ago when it investigated President Nixon.

Democrats, arguing that Watergate is different from the Lewinsky case, want to limit the range of the investigation.

John Conyers, the top Democrat on the panel, plans to meet Thursday with Minority Leader Dick Gephardt to explore ideas on how this could be accomplished.

Conyers said that Congress should not have an impeachment inquiry vote next week, because the proposed impeachment standard (the one applied to President Nixon 24 years ago) is "unacceptable to almost half of the members of the Judiciary Committee." He also argued that the impeachment standard is "a strong violation of precedent."

Both sides did agree to consider modeling any future impeachment hearing of President Clinton on the Watergate impeachment inquiry, but White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry was quick to shoot down any further comparison.

"There is no parallel whatsoever," he told reporters.

Meanwhile, James Carville, a Democratic political strategist and Clinton friend, condemned the push for an impeachment inquiry. Carville, who attacked Starr's investigation in past months, now accuses House Speaker Newt Gingrich as leading a political "witchhunt."

James Carville

Carville criticized Gingrich's involvement, saying that a "confessed liar" and tax evader was "railroading the president out of office."

"I'm speaking on behalf of the entire House of Representatives that fined him hundreds of dollars for not speaking the facts," Carville said.

"What every American doesn't know is that, according to everybody in the Republican caucus this thing is being run by Newt Gingrich. He's the person in charge."
Carville pointed out that the president did not get the chance to look at Starr's report before it was released to the public, and that the airing of Mr. Clinton's videotaped testimony before a grand jury was unprecedented.

"I have to, in good conscience, speak up about these things, and I'm going to speak up about them, and I'm going to point out injustices. If I see a friend of mine under attack, I'm going to help him," Carville said.

The Democrats say they will come up with their own proposal, one they are sure will be shot down. In the meantime, more documents from the Starr report are expected to be released Friday.