Expert says impeachment unlikely

by Nicole Tsong | 10/2/98 5:00am

Impeachment is an unlikely conclusion from Congress in the impeachment inquiry of President Bill Clinton in the Monica S. Lewinsky affair, a political expert told a crowd of students and professors Thursday.

Clinton, who is facing an impeachment inquiry for obstruction of justice, perjury, tampering with witnesses and abuse of power in the Lewinsky case, must wait for a vote from the House Judiciary Committee, which will decide whether the accusations against Clinton are serious enough to begin Senate impeachment proceedings.

Joel Grossman, a Johns Hopkins University political science professor, said at a speech in the Rockefeller Center that impeachment is unlikely, and a plea-bargain or some kind of negotiated solution is a more likely outcome.

"The president [can] be above the law," Grossman said, and "it is probably necessary to accept the fact that the President is a unique creature."

The political climate is similar to the time when President Richard Nixon resigned in 1973, and people were backlashing against the increased power of the president, he said.

"People who opposed Nixon saw this as a wedge and jumped on the bandwagon," Grossman said. "People are using Clinton's behavior for political ends."

Grossman said that the causes of the inquiry extends beyond the affair between Clinton and Lewinsky, the 25-year-old former White House intern.

Politics have changed, Grossman added. Politicians now feel free to attack opponents based on personal idiosyncrasies as well as positions on issues. Privacy in the White House has also declined.

Everyone in the press corps "knew John F. Kennedy had an extraordinary sexual appetite," he said, but "as long as [the president] was reasonably discreet, nothing would happen."

The change in politics resulted in an impeachment inquiry, but the argument for impeachment is weak, Grossman added.

The only impeachable offense is perjury, he said.

The evidence for witness tampering, obstruction of justice and abuse of power is not substantial enough to justify impeachment, he added.

Abuse of power is particularly weak, Grossman said. The accusation is "not only ridiculous, but actually dangerous."

Clinton's use of presidential privilege was merely defense against Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel for the case, Grossman said.

Impeachment is a serious step, he added, and there has to be a "serious abuse of government power, not a personal imperfection of some kind."

But there is "no way of making Congress vote based on that standard" because people's opinions differ on "moral certainties" and abuse of governmental power, Grossman said.

College President James Wright, who is also a professor of American History, attended yesterday's speech.

The speech was sponsored by the Dartmouth Lawyers Association Speaker Series, the Daniel Webster Legal Society, the Government Department and the Vermont Law School.

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