By Edward T. Pound
Forwarded By Jim McGough
- 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.
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