Yes Vote On Impeachment Probe

The Republican-led House Judiciary Committee on Monday rejected a move by Democrats to set limits on the time or scope for a formal impeachment inquiry of President Clinton.

The committee's Republican majority voted Monday to recommend an open-ended impeachment inquiry.

On Capitol Hill, CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer reports that committee members spent the day arguing impeachment.

The arguments have been along party lines, but the panel approved an open-ended inquiry into whether the president ought to be impeached. There are 21 Republicans and 16 Democrats on the committee and vote was along party lines, 21 to 16.

Chairman Henry Hyde summed up the Republican view in one sentence: "We are here to ask and answer this one simple question: Based upon what we now know, do we have a duty to look further or to look away?"

To Democrats, who want a time limit on the probe, the charges simply did not warrant impeachment.

"This is not Watergate. It is an extra marital affair," said Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the panel.

But in a methodical way, the top Republicans' top lawyer laid out even more charges than the Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr had recommended.

"We respectfully submit that there exist substantial and credible evidence of 15 separate events directly involving President William Jefferson Clinton that could, could constitute felonies, which in turn may constitute grounds to proceed with an impeachment inquiry," said GOP counsel David Shippers.

Starr, whose report on the president's sexual relationship with former White House intern Lewinsky sparked much criticism from Democrats, reported to the House that Mr. Clinton may have committed 11 impeachable offenses.

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Shippers outlined charges ranging from lying under oath and concealing evidence to encouraging others to lie in both the Paula Jones case and before the grand jury.

Using phone logs, he drew a graphic picture of the urgency that gripped the White House and the flurry of phone calls that took place between the president, his secretary, Betty Currie, and his friend, Vernon Jordan, once they realized that Paula Jones' lawyers knew about about Monica Lewinsky.

The Democrats' lawyer argued the committee was going about it in the wrong way.

"The process thus far is backwards. The committee is considering whether to open what type of impeachment inquiry without havinspent a single minute discussing what conduct by a president rises to an impeachable offense," said Democratic counsel Abbe Lowell.

CBS News Senior White House Correspondent Scott Pelley reports that the White House fully expected the committee vote in favor of an impeachment inquiry.

In fact, in frustration, one senior member of the president's defense team told CBS News: "We are reconciled that there will be no statesmanship until the process reaches the Senate."

For his part, the president is working overtime to try to hold Democrats together. For now, the president is pinning his hopes on the election just four weeks away.

If Democrats suffer a rout, the White House fears it may be impossible to negotiate punishment for Mr. Clinton that leaves him in office. The strategy calls for Mr. Clinton to ignore the impeachment debate publicly.

But behind the scenes, Mr. Clinton is calling Democrats hoping to persuade as many as possible to vote against an impeachment inquiry when it reaches the full House. That's critical because a bipartisan vote on the inquiry would undercut Mr. Clinton's argument that the investigation is partisan.

In public, the White House wants to send the message the president is engaged. Late Monday, he attended a meeting of world finance ministers to discuss the international financial crisis. Earlier, he castigated Congress for refusing to send the International Monetary Fund over $14 billion in bailout money.

"The world is waiting, literally the world is waiting, for Congress to step up to America's responsibility, provide funds to the IMF, and give us the tools we need to pull teetering economies back from the brink," Mr. Clinton said.

Mr. Clinton has called the financial crisis the worst in 50 years. It is part of the White House strategy to show him engaged and above the impeachment process.

In a related development, the latest CBS News Poll shows that 63 percent of Americans approve of how Mr. Clinton is handling his job, while 31 percent disapprove.

White House polling also indicates that the president still has public opinion on his side.

Two-thirds of the people polled by CBS News say they still want the president to finish his term, and 51 percent say they would support censure for the president. However, people's overall opinion of the president has dropped slightly, with 39 percent of those polled having a favorable opinion of Mr. Clinton, and 40 percent unfavorable.