Clinton Supporters Float 'Immunity' Deal

Goal is to quicken impeachment process

Clinton supporters are floating an idea that would fast-track the impeachment process, bringing to a quick resolution the charges hanging over the head of the president.

Under such an agreement, President Clinton would admit his testimony has been "less than truthful" regarding his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, according to former White House counsel Lanny Davis.

But in return, Congress would guarantee that the president's admission could not be used against him in any subsequent criminal or civil action - a move that would be tantamount to giving Clinton immunity.

Mr. Clinton and his lawyers have been reluctant to follow Democratic lawmakers' admonition to "come clean" about the Lewinsky affair.

Their concern centers around the possibility that such statements would weaken the president's position in the Paula Jones case, if it is reinstated, or in a criminal case that could be brought by independent counsel Kenneth Starr.

Mr. Davis says he has been talking about the idea with people inside and outside the White House, and with Republicans and Democrats.

"This deal, if it can be worked out, is very doable for all sides," he said yesterday at a Monitor breakfast, a day when the president's lawyers met with members of the House Judiciary Committee to discuss ground rules for impeachment hearings.

Why would Republicans agree?

The attraction to Republicans, Davis explained, would be in the president's admission that he had not told the truth. The official White House position still is that Clinton was legally correct in his answers in the Paula Jones deposition and in his testimony before Mr. Starr's grand jury, even if he was misleading.

The attraction to the Democrats would be a fairly quick hearings process.

If the president agreed that he didn't tell the truth about his sexual relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, it wouldn't be necessary to delve into what would amount to a long and embarrassing discussion about the definition of sex.

But this idea is not without risk. For Clinton, the danger lies in setting up the deal as something other than a formal immunity agreement.

Congress has granted immunity before, such as to Oliver North in the Iran-contra scandal. But it's not clear whether lawmakers have the power to grant immunity to the nation's chief executive. Moreover, it's doubtful Republicans would agree to this, even if they could.

"Anything that would require us to formally grant immunity, I would be skeptical about," says Rep. Charles Canady (R) of Florida, a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Never before tested

Because an approach like the one Davis is suggesting has never before been tested, there's a chance that Starr, or Ms. Jones's lawyers, could challenge these protections in court.

"There's only one person who can protect the president from prosecution, and that's the independent counsel," says Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University.

Mr. Turley, who once filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Starr in the Lewinsky investigation, says that Starr would probably grant the president a plea bargain or immunity if he would admit publicly to having lied.

But both Turley and Davis acknowledge that Clinton would never go to Starr for a plea agreement because of the personal animosity between them.

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