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A risky game of 'gotcha'?

Speaker-elect's revelation of extramarital affairs points to high impeachment stakes.

As America's capital city slogs to the end of a year filled with high-profile yet tawdry revelations, new scandals are underscoring the bitterly partisan, dog-eat-dog atmos-phere that has emerged here.

On the eve of the opening of the House impeachment debate, Republican House Speaker-elect Robert Livingston became the latest politician subjected to embarrassing publicity.

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Under scrutiny by individuals who he said sought "to find indiscretions" calculated to discredit him and his party, Representative Livingston of Louisiana admitted to past extramarital affairs. He vowed, however, that he would "not be intimidated," and made no indication that he would step down.

Like Mr. Livingston, many of the most recent targets of attack-politics have been prominent Republicans, suggesting to some observers that Democratic sympathizers are taking revenge against those who support impeachment of President Clinton.

The White House has denied any involvement in a calculated smear campaign.

Nevertheless, supporters of Mr. Clinton have often disparaged the investigation of the president's alleged misconduct on the grounds that it is "just about sex" and a private affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Moreover, several of those recently thrust into the scandal limelight have been directly involved in the impeachment inquiry. For example, in September the Internet publication Salon revealed a past affair by the GOP leader of the inquiry, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde of Illinois.

Representative Hyde admitted that he had an affair 30 years ago, but at the same time angrily lashed out at what he called an obvious attempt at political intimidation.

Last week, lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who testified on Clinton's behalf at the impeachment hearings, wrote a letter revealing that Rep. Bob Barr (R) of Georgia had spoken to a conservative group that Mr. Dershowitz said "overtly espouses racism and anti-Semitism." Representative Barr, also on the House Judiciary Committee, called the letter an effort to smear Clinton's critics.

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"It is no coincidence that, days before a vote on impeachment, one of President Clinton's most ardent supporters is falsely accusing me of harboring racist views. I am adamantly opposed to discrimination in any way, shape, or form," Barr said.

MANY House Republicans rallied around Livingston following his surprise admission on Thursday evening. They noted the difference between his situation and Clinton's. With Clinton, "the issue ... is lying under oath, obstruction of justice," said Rep. J.C. Watts (R) of Oklahoma. Livingston also said that the affair did not involve anyone in his office.

Democrats, though, predicted chaos would arise in GOP ranks as a result. "I would imagine that ... there would be turmoil on the floor of the House," said Rep. Bill Delahunt (D) of Massachusetts.

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