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Thursday, September 17, 1998 Published at 09:31 GMT 10:31 UK

The Republican and the beautician

Henry Hyde and Cherie Snodgrass enjoying a 1960s nightspot

As debate intensifies over whether to release President Clinton's video-taped testimony to the grand jury, the head of the Judiciary committee, which has the power to launch impeachment proceedings, has suddenly come under the spotlight.

Henry Hyde, chair of the House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee, has admitted to carrying on a five-year relationship with a younger married woman 30 years ago.

Henry Hyde, then 41-years-old and married, was a lawyer and rising star in Republican state politics. When asked, he described the relationship as a "youthful indiscretion" and labelled the allegations as an attempt to intimidate him.

The affair

The story broke when Salon, a politically influential San Francisco-based Internet magazine, published a story chartering Mr Hyde's affair with Cherie Snodgrass, a former beautician. The headline read: This hypocrite broke up my family, The secret affair of Henry Hyde, the man who will judge President Clinton.

According to the article, Mr Hyde's relationship with Mrs Snodgrass, who had three small children, lasted from 1965 to 1969.

Henry Hyde released the following statement: "Suffice it to say Cherie Snodgrass and I were good friends a long, long time ago. After Mr Snodgrass confronted my wife, the friendship ended and my marriage remained intact."

"The only purpose for this being dredged up now is an obvious attempt to intimidate me and it won't work. I intend to fulfil my constitutional duty."

Fred Snodgrass, a 76-year-old Florida retiree, and Cherie Snodgrass's former husband said Henry Hyde was a "hypocrite" who broke up his family.

Republicans defend Hyde

The House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, a Republican, reacted to the story saying, "It is sad that the president's attack dogs don't know the difference between breaking the law and making a mistake decades ago."

"Nobody doubts the credibility of Henry Hyde. Nobody doubts his sense of fairness and his sense of honor," he added.

In an editorial accompanying the story, Salon Magazine, a self-proclaimed "outspoken critic of Kenneth Starr's investigation", insisted that publishing the piece was not a "pro-Clinton" gesture.

The editorial went on to suggest that in the "brave new world" created by the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, private lives of public figures are no longer off limits.

Revelations about other Congressmen and women were predicted. Almost as soon as he received the Starr report, Mr Hyde warned fellow committee members that the president's supporters might try to dig up dirt on them.

He called it a "scorched earth" policy - suggesting that members of Congress sitting in judgement on the president will themselves be judged.

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