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Don't wait for Starr -- impeach!

Wouldn’t it be interesting if, ultimately, what leads to the downfall of Bill Clinton is the one thing we knew about him even before he became president — his simple inability to keep his pants zipped?

The revelations about an affair between the president and a 21-year-old White House intern and possible obstruction of justice employed to cover it up will force Congress next week to consider the inquiry of impeachment resolution introduced last November.

Not that I think this is the most serious offense committed by Bill Clinton or his administration. It’s just that this one is actually getting the attention it deserves from the news media.

And it is, indeed, a very serious matter. It raises questions about Clinton’s emotional health and stability — his fitness for office and the grave responsibilities he carries as commander-in-chief and the world’s most powerful political figure.

“Can a president who is so reckless, and so emotionally unsound, be trusted with the nation’s nuclear arsenal and its well-being in a dangerous world?” asks Judicial Watch’s Larry Klayman. It’s a rhetorical question, because the obvious answer is no.

Anyone who had any doubts about the veracity of Paula Jones’ allegations of sexual harassment should now thank her for coming forward, subjecting herself to ridicule and exposing the president as a man who is out of control and devoid of any sense of morality. The nation owes a debt of gratitude to her as well as to Linda Tripp, the former White House staffer who wore a wire to record meetings with Monica Lewinsky, the more recent object of Clinton’s improper advances.

Let’s be clear about what’s at stake in this controversy. It’s not just another lurid story about sexcapades in the White House. This is not just another “bimbo eruption,” as the administration would like you to believe. This incident is about abuse of power. It’s not the worst example, but it may be the simplest, the easiest to understand and, thus, the most dangerous of Clinton’s term in office.

There have been many such allegations in the past. Remember the Arkansas State Troopers who claimed Clinton tried to bribe them with federal jobs into silence about his affairs as governor? The Arkansas state cop accused of offering that hush money, Buddy Young, is now the No. 2 ranking official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He sure landed on his feet. Yet, those allegations, like so many others, were never even investigated.

Congress has a choice, when it returns to session next week. It can do what it has done in the past when the administration has been engulfed in controversy — hand-off responsibility to the office of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich can say, as he has in the past, that he has more important matters to deal with — tax rates, budget deals, health care. The House can pass the buck as it did with Vincent Foster and Ron Brown. It can drop the ball as it did with campaign financing and Filegate. It can stall as it did in investigating the politicization of the Internal Revenue Service. It can wait around until a bipartisan consensus emerges. Or, it can do its job.

In this case, the job is pretty clearly defined. It means beginning the impeachment process, as Rep. Bob Barr, R-GA, and 18 co-sponsors have urged.

“For those in the House who have been waiting for a smoking gun, both barrels are smoking,” Barr said yesterday in the wake of the Lewinsky story breaking into the mainstream. “These latest allegations of witness tampering, obstruction of justice, perjury and improper moral behavior should not be dismissed out of hand as the president would have us do. Rather, they should be investigated by the Judiciary Committee as part of a broader impeachment investigation into all the allegations of presidential misconduct.”

That’s right. This matter must not be left to Kenneth Starr. It’s much too important for a prosecutor with such a poor record of holding public officials accountable. Congress must not abdicate its authority again or it may find out it has none left to abdicate.

The whole world is watching. Let’s show them that America still works — and that, here, no man is above the law.