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Thursday, November 5, 1998 Published at 20:38 GMT

World: Americas

Clinton impeachment inquiry cut back

Clinton is unlikely to be forced to testify again

[an error occurred while processing this directive]The White House has welcomed the announcement of a drastically scaled-back impeachment inquiry against President Clinton as "a positive development".

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde told reporters on Thursday that the inquiry was likely to proceed with only one major witness being called - independent counsel Kenneth Starr, the author of the no holds barred report into the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Tom Carver reports from Washington
Mr Hyde also said that he had written to the president asking him to "admit or deny" key facts about his conduct surrounding his relationship with White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

He said that Mr Clinton should "tell us what's in dispute and what is not". By agreeing to facts he does not dispute "he will allow us to narrow the issues and bring this matter to a close more quickly."

[ image: Hyde: No witch-hunt]
Hyde: No witch-hunt
It now seems likely that the president will be spared the embarrassment of being interrogated by members of Congress. Mr Hyde said that a letter "was the most genteel way" of conveying the committee's request and "undercuts the notion we're on a witch hunt."

He said he hoped the inquiry would be wound-up by the end of the year.

The announcement follows the Democrats' surprisingly strong showing in Tuesday's midterm elections, which both sides have interpreted as an indication that the American public is not in favour of removing the president from office.

Public disapproval

Representative Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said the voters "reiterated they want this matter behind us."

Henry Hyde's letter to President Clinton
But Mr Hyde said his committee's inquiry would not be affected by the result.

Until recently senior Republicans said they were prepared to see the investigation run well into 1999.

"It would be easy, we could just look away from this awful mess and let it disappear, but our duty demands that we look forward," Mr Hyde said.

BBC Washington Correspondent Philippa Thomas assesses Clinton's current position
He said that Mr Starr would appear before the committee on 19 November. "The most relevant witnesses have already testified at length about the matters in issue", he told reporters.

On Monday, historians and legal scholars are to begin debating before the Judiciary Committee what constitutes an impeachable offence.

Behind the scenes efforts are continuing to come up with a form of punishment for the president which would fall short of impeachment.

Although the Republicans retained control of both chambers of Congress, the Democrats gained five seats in the House of Representatives and maintained their 45 seats in the Senate.

Poor Republican showing

[ image:  ]
Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich blamed his party's showing on their attacks on Mr Clinton's sex scandal.

"We didn't understand that people would frankly just get fed up with the existence of the topic," Mr Gingrich said.

President Clinton said the impact of the elections on impeachment proceedings was a matter for Congress and the American people.

But he said the voters had "sent us a message that would break the eardrums of anyone who was listening."

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