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White House Plans Invisible Defense

With impeachment looking less and less likely, President Clinton's lawyers are planning an almost invisible defense, CBS News Correspondent Bill Plante reports.

Those lawyers don't plan to call any witnesses, and their whole argument to answer all of these charges before the Judiciary Committee is limited to a half hour. The White House is expecting that the committee will issue a bill of impeachment anyway, and the whole matter will be resolved before the full House.

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The House Judiciary Committee asked the White House nearly three weeks ago to answer 81 questions. Assuming the president has had time to work on them, those answers may come Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, when most of the nation won't be paying much attention anyway.

The questions deal directly with the facts in independent counsel Kenneth Starr's report. One question the president's lawyers cannot answer is how to bring this investigation to an end short of impeachment.

One House Democrat has a suggestion. William Delahunt of Massachusetts says that he will offer a motion to censure Mr. Clinton. It would say that the House of Representatives disapproves of and rebukes the behavior of the president.

Delahunt says Mr. Clinton could then still be prosecuted after he leaves office. But that is not likely to satisfy the Republicans in Congress, particularly the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee.

"A resolution of censure will be offered in committee by the Democratic side," said Rep. Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat and a member of the Republican-controlled panel. "This would be the most dignified and responsible way to end the congressional impeachment inquiry."

Boucher said it was unclear how many of the panel's 16 Democrats would support a censure motion, but he admitted it would not be unanimous.

Committee Republicans, led by Chairman Henry Hyde of Illinois, have made it clear they do not favor censure, which they have argued may be unconstitutional and would not be sufficient punishment for Mr. Clinton over his actions in the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Hyde has said censure, if considered at all, would be best left for the full House or possibly the Senate. Incoming Speaker Bob Livingston of Louisiana has expressed reservations about considering censure, but has not ruled out the idea.

The Washington Post Wednesday quoted senior Republican sources as saying that a preliminary survey of House Republicans found that a single article charging Mr. Clinton with perjury would come close to passing in a floor vote, while a possible second count of obstruction of justic would fail.

Should an impeachment vote fail on the House floor, Republicans told the paper, it was increasingly likely that the party leadership would allow a vote on censure.

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