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Washington Journal: U.S. Lawmakers Want To Move Beyond Impeachment

Washington, 15 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Members of the U.S. Congress say it is now time to move beyond impeachment and work with President Bill Clinton on solving America's problems.

Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut said Sunday in a television interview (CBS) the country deserves to focus on issues other than Clinton's legal problems stemming from an affair with former White House worker Monica Lewinsky. Lieberman has been a close friend of Clinton but also a critic of Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky.

Lieberman said: "We've got to have a little bit of space free of impeachment and prosecution. We deserve to have a couple of years now, after this last year of ordeal, in which we can focus on the nation's business."

Clinton was acquitted by the U.S. Senate last Friday on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. The acquittal means Clinton can serve out his remaining nearly two-year term as president. However, the president could still face an indictment in the future in a criminal court if independent counsel Kenneth Starr decides to go after him.

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky (speaking on CNN TV) said indicting Clinton "is not a good idea." Republican Congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois, a driving force behind impeaching Clinton in the House, also has voiced opposition to indicting the president.

Several members of Congress agreed Sunday the American system of justice has worked in the Clinton impeachment case.

Veteran Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York said in a television interview (on NBC): "What we found out is that the constitutional arrangements for impeachment are still secure. They are not flying off, as they so easily could, into a political removal of the president" on grounds that the president's political opponents don't like his policies.

Moynihan added: "Impeachment is a dangerous measure. It can lead to instability, because only the Congress is involved. None of the checks and balances that make up our Constitution and provide for our stability is there. And we could go off to, you know, impeaching a president because you don't care for his tax proposals. We didn't do that."

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, a possible presidential contender in 2000, echoed the sentiment.

McCain said the process worked despite the polling data that indicates that the American people didn't approve of the way that the House impeached Clinton last December and the way the Senate handled the trial.

The senator also said he disagrees with some historians who contend that the very institution of the presidency was weakened by the impeachment drive.

McCain said: "I think you could argue because of the process we went through that the institutions of government have been strengthened."

The Arizona Republican said he believes Congress will work more closely together to advance the country's business.

McCain said: "We have every opportunity to work together. I think it's in the president's interest because of his legacy and the obvious reasons. It's also in Congress's interest, because we want to get off what the American people view has made us very unpopular and move on to their agenda." Clinton seeks to strengthen Social Security (retirement system) and Medicare (medical insurance for the retired) and has been dealing with several pressing foreign policy matters, including the Kosovo crisis, Middle East peace process, Iraq and Russia's economic troubles.

McCain and Moyhihan both said that there is an overwhelming desire on the part of the American people and the Congress to leave Clinton alone.

Moynihan said: "(Let's) Move on. I mean, I've had enough of everything, but particularly of Kenneth Starr. One thing we can do in this Congress is not extend the life of the independent counsel statute. It was a disaster."

Starr, a former Republican judge, was named independent counsel several years ago. His office has spent more than $40 million to investigate Clinton and some of his associates. The office of special prosecutor was created by Congress following the Watergate scandal that toppled the presidency of Richard Nixon a quarter of century ago.

A New York Times article last week, which the White House subsequently denied, quoted unidentified presidential aides as saying Clinton would work to unseat Republicans who pushed hardest for his removal from office.

But lawmakers from both parties on Sunday warned the president not to do it in the 2000 elections.

Said Moynihan: "He has (legislative) opportunities but he will squander them if there is any note of vengeance."