David P. Schippers Jr., the Republican Party’s chief counsel in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, died of pancreatic cancer Friday at 88 at his home in Grayslake.
In 1998, U.S. Rep. Henry J. Hyde, R-Illinois, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, appointed Mr. Schippers to be the committee’s chief investigator as it weighed whether to endorse the impeachment of Clinton.
After independent counsel Ken Starr had recommended 11 grounds for impeachment, including obstruction of justice and lying under oath, Mr. Schippers, a Chicago criminal defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor, said there were at least 15.
“If you don’t impeach, then no House of Representatives will ever be able to impeach again,” he said. “The bar will be so high that only a convicted felon or a traitor will need to be concerned.”
In December 1998, the House Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice, sending the question to the full House. Days later, for just the second time in history, the Republican-controlled House voted to impeach a president–in this case, for misleading officials about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
After a trial, the Republican-controlled Senate voted on Feb. 12, 1999, to acquit Clinton.
“In the U.S. Senate, politics trumped principles, and polls trumped honor,” Mr. Schippers said in a book he wrote with Alan P. Henry, “Sellout: the Inside Story of President Clinton’s Impeachment.”
He felt “he had a solid case, and he didn’t think all of those people in the Senate were honoring their oath of office,” according to his son David. But his son said he also knew this: “You win some, you lose some.”
Mr. Schippers drew criticism that he overstated the grounds for impeachment and for some of his remarks.
In the book “The Breach,” then-Washington Post reporter Peter Baker wrote: “Schippers could not help throwing in scornful asides at the president. ‘Life was so much simpler before they found . . . [Lewinsky’s stained] dress, wasn’t it?’ he said at one point. At another, Schippers ridiculed how Clinton described his phone sex calls with Lewinsky. ‘If what happened on the phone calls is “banter,” than Buckingham Palace is a cabin.’ ”
Mr. Schippers grew up on the Northwest Side of Chicago in Our Lady of Victory parish in a family with plenty of Irish-Catholic and Democratic clout. He was a cousin to longtime Cook County Democratic Party Chairman Thomas G. Lyons and former state Rep. Joseph M. Lyons, D-Chicago, and his uncle Gerald Lyons was a top Chicago police official.
For a time, he was interested in pursuing the priesthood, attending Quigley Prep seminary before going on to get his bachelor’s and law degrees from Loyola University.
He used to tell his kids, “Never bet against God, Notre Dame and the Democratic Party,” according to his son, who said, “After he got old and the Clinton impeachment, he said, ‘At least, I’m two out of three.’ ”
As a federal prosecutor in Chicago in the 1960s, Mr. Schippers headed an organized-crime division under then-U.S. Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan. He helped prosecute Sam Battaglia, a successor to Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana. And his unit’s work led to a yearlong stay at the Cook County Jail for Giancana, sent there for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury.
After five years in the U.S. attorney’s office, Mr. Schippers switched to working for the defense. Among his clients, he represented Larry Eyler, who was sent to Death Row for killing and dismembering a 15-year-old boy. Eyler confessed to killing more than 20 young men.
In 59 years as a lawyer, he also defended white-collar defendants linked to Navistar and Waste Management and, in the 1970s, worked on behalf of law enforcement officers including a Chicago police captain accused of taking bribes to protect gamblers.
“In all my cases, I tried to find the truth,” he liked to say.
He was a lifelong White Sox fan who enjoyed fishing for bluegill at his vacation home in northern Wisconsin.
In addition to his son David, Mr. Schippers is survived by his wife Jacquelin, daughters Kate, Antoinette “Tiyi,” Ann Schippers Winter, Colleen Schippers Margolis and Mimi, four more sons, Thomas, Kevin, Patrick and Peter, 26 grandchildren and 29 great-grandchildren.
Visitation is from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday at Strang Funeral Chapel in Grayslake. A funeral Mass is planned for 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. Gilbert Catholic Church in Grayslake.
Contributing: Lynn Sweet
Editor’s note: Corrected, the Senate was under Republican control, with a 55-45 GOP-Democrat split. It took two-thirds, or 67 votes, to convict.