Specter Hints at Clinton Impeachment

Monday, February 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Clinton, who survived a Senate trial on whether to remove him, could technically face new impeachment charges over his last-minute pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, a senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee says.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, interviewed on ``Fox News Sunday,'' said legal research led him to believe a former president ``technically could still be impeached.'' He did not suggest what the specific charges might be.

Clinton spokeswoman Julia Payne shot back: ``Give me a break. What's clear here, by the continued piling-on of the Republicans on President Clinton, is that what they'd like to impeach is the eight great years of progress and prosperity the American people enjoyed under him.''

Legal scholars were divided on whether the Constitution allows Congress to pursue an impeachment case — either over a president's use of his pardon power or against a chief executive who has left office.

The Senate's second-ranking Republican leader, Don Nickles of Oklahoma, opposed a new impeachment case. But he did raise the possibility of using other methods to reduce the former president's pension, office rent allowance and other administrative expenses.

Under questioning, Specter said, ``I'm not suggesting that it should be done, but President Clinton technically could still be impeached.'' He added, ``I don't think that trial would take too long.''

Specter said Clinton ``avoided a conviction on impeachment the last time around because he had not lost the confidence of the American people, and we didn't want to shake up the government, but he's not in office anymore.''

In impeachment proceedings, the House brings charges and the Senate tries the case. Specter said ``someone'' in the House could soon talk about possible articles of impeachment. ``No, I don't have anybody in mind,'' he added.

Clinton was impeached by the House in December 1998 on allegations of perjury and obstruction of justice involving testimony about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. In February 1999, the Senate voted to acquit Clinton, with Specter opposing his removal from office.

Rich was among 140 Americans pardoned by Clinton two hours before he left office on Jan. 20. He has lived in Switzerland since just before he was indicted in the United States in 1983 on charges he evaded more than $48 million in taxes, fraud and participating in illegal oil deals with Iran.

Republicans have noted that Rich's former wife, Denise, was a major contributor to the Democratic Party and to Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign. Denise Rich also reportedly donated some $450,000 to the former president's library foundation.

Democrats have not defended Clinton's pardon decision.

``I think either the president had an incredible lapse in memory or was brain-dead when he did that one,'' Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, told Fox.

Clinton has insisted that Rich deserved the pardon on the merits.

Specter suggested the former president could be stripped of ``the emoluments of office, such as the substantial sums being spent on the library, such as the bodyguards, such as his pension.''

At a Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, Specter plans to seek support for a constitutional amendment that would give Congress the power to overturn a presidential pardon by a two-thirds vote. The president's power to pardon is absolute under the Constitution.