U.S. House Impeaches Clinton for Perjury, Obstruction of Justice

  WASHINGTON, December 19 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. House of Representatives impeached President Bill Clinton on Saturday for lying under oath and obstructing justice about his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, voting largely along party lines to send his case to the Senate.

It was only the second presidential impeachment in U.S. history.

The House approved two of the four articles of impeachment lodged against Clinton, formally recommending that he be tried in the Senate for committing perjury before a federal grand jury and obstructing justice. Lawmakers rejected two other articles accusing the president of perjury in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit and abuse of his presidential powers.

The first vote was announced at 1:24 p.m. EST (GMT 6:24), leaving the 42nd president to face the gravest moment of his political career. Clinton was secluded with a minister at the time, but planned a public appearance later in the day.

For Clinton to be removed from office, two-thirds of senators would have to vote to convict him.

After being stunned by the abrupt resignation of its incoming speaker, lawmaker Bob Livingston, the House proceeded with the first impeachment votes since those against Andrew Johnson 130 years ago.

Five members of each party defected on the first article as the House voted 228-206 to impeach the president. The House then voted:

_229-205 to reject a second article, accusing Clinton of committing perjury in the Jones suit. More than two dozen Republicans defected to join Democrats.

_221-212 to approve a third article, accusing Clinton of obstruction of justice in the Lewinsky matter. _285-148 to reject a fourth article, alleging he abused the powers of his office by giving false written answers to questions posed by Congress during the impeachment inquiry.

Democrats briefly walked out of the chamber in protest when Republicans blocked their effort to force a vote on the lesser penalty of censure as an alternative to impeachment. They returned to vote on the articles of impeachment, ending a three-month constitutional drama that at the end played out amid U.S. military action against Iraq.

The House immediately turned to votes on articles of impeachment accusing Clinton of committing perjury in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit, obstructing justice and abusing his presidential powers.

Final arguments on the historic House votes paralleled those laid out by Republicans and Democrats during a months-long debate over the fitting punishment for a president who deceived the nation, the Congress and his family.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, a Republican lawmaker, told legislators that Clinton's actions required impeachment to ensure equal justice under the law.

Absent some sort of deal, a Senate trial of uncertain duration will follow next year with Chief Justice William Rehnquist presiding. It would be the first such proceeding since Andrew Johnson escaped being removed from office by a single vote during a Senate trial 130 years ago.

A quarter century ago, Richard Nixon resigned before facing a certain impeachment vote in the House.

The somber House debate was brought to an instant hush when incoming House Speaker Livingston called on Clinton to resign and then told lawmakers he himself was resigning from Congress next year because of revelations this week that he had extramarital affairs.

"I must set the example that I hope President Clinton will follow," Livingston said.

Democrats, buoyed by a last-minute visit to Capitol Hill by Hillary Rodham Clinton, made one last move to force a vote on censure as an alternative to impeachment. It was defeated 230-204. Beforehand, they argued that neither Livingston nor Clinton should succumb to the "politics of cynicism and smear."

House Minority Whip David Bonior charged that "angry partisans" were seeking to undo the elections with a presidential impeachment opposed by two-thirds of Americans.

In an early-morning visit to the Capitol, Mrs. Clinton rallied Democrats and told them that the impeachment process against her husband "should be done right and that up to now it has not been."