Lawyer Heading Inquiry Ready For Task

By Edward T. Pound
No Date
Forwarded By Jim McGough

WASHINGTON - The Chicago lawyer who will head an expected House impeachment investigation of President Clinton has taken on more than his share of high-profile cases in a legal career spanning 40 years. But David Schippers, who prosecuted mobsters as a young government attorney and years later represented a serial killer in a sensational murder case, has never experienced anything quite like the scene that is about to consume him.

He got a taste of Washington hysteria last week when Whitewater independent counsel Ken Starr sent the House his graphic 445-page report detailing the president's sexual trysts with Monica Lewinsky, 25, a former White House intern. The report set journalists and legislators atwitter. Amid all the clamor, Schippers has a daunting job to do, one he says he is ready to shoulder: advising the House Judiciary Committee on whether to bring impeachment charges against Clinton. The panel is expected to vote on whether to conduct an inquiry in the weeks ahead.

Schippers believes his common sense and vast trial experience will serve him well as the panel's chief investigative counsel. 'It's an awesome responsibility," he said one recent morning, his feet propped on a desk in his office in the Gerald R. Ford House Office Building. Schippers is confident he and his team of eight lawyers and investigators - all from the Chicago area and including his son, Thomas - can handle the issues that will confront them. "I've dealt with high-profile cases," he explains, 'I've dealt with cases where I was attacked."

In all, Starr sent along two sets of 18 boxes of grand jury transcripts, interviews, tapes, and other supporting material to buttress his report, which claims Clinton committed perjury and obstructed justice to hide his affair with Lewinsky. "When I heard it was 36 boxes," Schippers remarked to reporters last Friday afternoon, "I saw Christmas going down the toilet." A few hours later, Schippers started poring over the supporting evidence.

Unlike his counterpart, Abbe Lowell, who is serving as the chief investigative counsel for the Democrats, Schippers is no Washington insider. He also isn't a screaming partisan. Indeed, though a lifelong Democrat, he was hired in the spring by a Republican, Rep. Henry Hyde of Chicago, the panel's chairman. The two men have been friends for 30 years. Hyde asked him to review Justice Department operations but to be ready to shift gears if Starr sent an impeachment report.

Now 68, with his salt-and-pepper beard and stocky build, Schippers looks more like the grandfather he is than the hard-charging lawyer who has jailed mobsters, befriended cops and defended some highly unpopular clients. Friends say his easygoing manner masks a toughness and a focus that will enable him to make the right calls in the House inquiry. "Dave is not an SOB," says James "Bags" Bailey, his partner in a small Chicago law firm. "He will try to be fair with everybody, and if Dave doesn't think he can really prove his case, I don't think it will go." Bailey adds: "He is best on his feet, and he loves to do legal research and write." "He will call it straight. I've never seen him equivocate," adds Dennis Czurylo, a longtime friend and former criminal investigator for the Internal Revenue Service.

Another friend, Anton Valukas, a former U.S. attorney in Chicago, says Schippers will approach his task in a workmanlike manner. The Judiciary Committee can "count on Schippers to seek out the facts and present them in a fair and nonpartisan manner," he says. What does Schippers have to say about the president's conduct and whether it's impeachable? Not much, at least at this early stage.

A devout Irish Catholic with 10 children and 25 grandchildren, Schippers grew up on Chicago's northwest side. Family members worked in the Democratic Party. He took a job with the telephone company, worked his way through night school and got a law degree from Chicago's Loyola University.

Prosecuting was Schippers' love. He joined the Justice Department in the early 1960s, when Robert Kennedy was attorney general. Kennedy tapped him to head the organized crime strike force in Chicago. It was a heady time. The "Outfit," as Schippers likes to call the mob, was making headlines every day. Schippers went head-to-head with the infamous crime boss, Sam "Momo" Giancana, and ended up outfoxing the old mobster. He employed what was then an unusual tactic, obtaining court-authorized blanket immunity from prosecution for Giancana. That meant the mobster had to testify before a grand jury. He refused, and a judge jailed him for a year.

William Hundley, a Washington attorney who headed Kennedy's organized crime section, remembers Schippers' creative use of immunity. "He is very smart, fair, a good choice" for the House inquiry, says Hundley, who represents Vernon Jordan, a Clinton friend and key figure in the sex scandal. Schippers "is not an idealogue," Hundley says. "He is just a good, solid lawyer."

In private practice, Schippers has represented cops, federal agents, a porn star and a legendary burglar named Joseph 'Pops" Panczko. But his defense of a suspected serial killer, Larry Eyler, proved so painful that he decided a few years ago against doing much more criminal work. "I would have bet my life that kid was innocent," Schippers says.

He wasn't.

Eyler, a house painter, was linked to a series of slayings in Indiana and Illinois. In 1984, under suspicion in one killing, Eyler was freed after Schippers established that evidence confiscated by Indiana police was obtained illegally. But Eyler used his freedom to kill again, authorities said. When he learned of Eyler's arrest for killing and dismembering a 16-year-old boy, "I broke up in tears. I was inconsolable for hours," Schippers recalls.

Years later, Eyler turned on Schippers and accused him of covering up for the real murderer. A judge threw out out his claims. Eyler, who died in prison, later confessed to a series of killings. Schippers was stunned. "I started to pull away from this criminal stuff," he explains.

His new assignment, plumbing presidential misconduct, isn't something he is looking forward to. "It's a duty that I've been asked to perform, and, very honestly," he says, "the quicker I can perform it and get out of here, the better I'll like it."

By Edward T. Pound, USA TODAY

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