Thrusday, January 14, 1999

Chabot guaranteed place in textbooks

Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — Nothing in law school or in private legal practice prepared Rep. Steve Chabot for the role he will play in the impeachment trial in the Senate of President Clinton.

        All 13 members of the House prosecution team have experience in the law, but none has ever had to perform in such a high-stakes, high-pressure courtroom.

        “This is something unlike everything else they have ever done. This is the trial of their lives, that's for sure,” said Michael J. Gerhardt, a William and Mary law professor and expert on impeachment.

        And while their immediate audience will be 100 senators and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, they will be playing to historians as well.

        “It will be written about year after year for centuries, just like the Johnson trial was,” said Larry Sabato, expert on American government at the University of Virginia.

        The 1868 impeachment trial of President Johnson is the only precedent.

        The all-Republican prosecution team was appointed by Rep. Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, on Dec. 19, the day that chamber voted two articles of impeachment against Mr. Clinton alleging perjury and obstruction of justice.

        Since then, they have been cramming to assemble a case that will be watched worldwide.

        The 13 prosecutors have divided among themselves different issues to handle and different aspects of their opening arguments.

        Mr. Chabot's assignment is to research all aspects of federal law concerning perjury.

        He expects to make anywhere from a 10-minute to half-hour presentation on the subject Friday, during the second day of opening arguments.

        Mr. Chabot has been reading exhaustively, taking materials with him on trips back and forth from Washington to Cincinnati since Christmas.

        He will be making his presentation from the well of the Senate, just as Mr. Hyde and the others do.

        “I know future historians are going to look back on what we did here and why we did it. I want to make sure that I did the right thing, that I am prepared,” Mr. Chabot said.

        Will he be nervous?

        “I don't feel intimidated,” he said.

        Once the trial gets under way, observers predict, any nervousness House members feel will likely be replaced by other emotions.

        “I'm no psychologist, but I'm sure their adrenaline levels will be high,” said Lief Carter, a specialist on constitutional law and politics at Colorado College. “I expect them to be more zealous than nervous.”

        Soon after being appointed by Mr. Hyde, the 13 prosecutors split into subgroups to handle aspects of the case.

        Mr. Chabot has been working with Republican Reps. Bill McCollum of Florida, George Gekas of Pennsylvania and Chris Cannon of Utah.

        Foremost among the latter is the contention that an impeachment approved by a lame duck House is not valid in a subsequent Congress. Mr. Chabot doesn't think it's valid.

        As preparation intensified this week, the 13 prosecutors went over to the Senate floor Monday morning to become more familiar with its layout.

        Mr. Hyde, he said, has been telling them, “Let's be prepared. Let's all be ready.”

        Mr. Chabot was formerly a sole practitioner in Cincinnati, operating out of small law office in Westwood and handling a wide variety of cases.

        “A lot of lawyers in Cincinnati have spoken to me and called (about the case),” he said. “It is very interesting for people who have studied the law.”


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