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Washington Journal: Clinton Lawyers Say No Impeachable Crimes Committed

Washington, 14 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton's legal team says Clinton did not commit any offenses that would warrant an impeachment by Congress.

Washington criminal lawyer David Kendall, Clinton's lead attorney, said in a television interview (ABC) Sunday that the president did not violate the law as charged in a report to Congress by an independent counsel.

In a separate TV interview (NBC), White House counsel Charles Ruff said Clinton's defense is that he was guilty only of personal wrongdoing, but of no criminal act.

Members of Congress are studying the report issued by independent counsel Kenneth Starr that claims Clinton committed illegal offenses stemming from his relationship with a former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

The report charges that Clinton lied under oath about his sexual relationship with Lewinsky, obstructed justice, tampered with witnesses and abused his authority. It found 11 alleged grounds for possible impeachment by Congress.

Clinton has acknowledged that he had what he called "improper" contacts with Lewinsky -- though he insists he did not have, under a legal definition, "sexual relations" with her. Clinton has said he never perjured himself or asked anyone else to lie about the affair in a judicial proceeding.

In a formal rebuttal to Congress, Clinton's attorneys said: "The president did not commit perjury. He did not obstruct justice. He did not tamper with witnesses. And he did not abuse the power of the office of the presidency."

The Clinton attorneys said Starr's report is "biased and skewed." They accused the former Republican judge of waging a "hit-and-run smear campaign" against the two-term Democratic president.

Members of Congress, facing the possibility of holding the first hearings on impeaching a president since Watergate a quarter century ago, spent the weekend studying the report and listening to their voters.

Several Republican and Democratic lawmakers have said consideration of impeachment charges would be the gravest task facing Congress short of declaring war.

Representative Maxine Waters, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said "this president will not be railroaded if the Congressional Black Caucus has anything to do with it." Waters is a member of the caucus and sits on the panel that would consider impeachment charges.

Some Republicans said there seems to be enough evidence of possible impeachment offenses.

House Republican Whip Tom DeLay said Clinton is "in real trouble." Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said the case "doesn't look good" for Clinton, but added he did not wish to rush to judgment.

The top Republican in the Senate, Majority Leader Trent Lott, said there was no constitutional crisis in the United States.

Lott told a TV interviewer (on Fox): "The presidency will be there, the government will be there and be strong when it's over. This is a Clinton crisis."

The House of Representatives has initial responsibility for weighing impeachment cases. The first step is for the Judiciary Committee to decide whether to refer articles of impeachment to the full House. If an impeachment article is approved by majority vote, the case goes to the Senate. The Senate would then conduct a trial. The chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court would preside. A two-thirds vote by the senators would be needed to remove the president from office.