White House responds to Byrd comments on impeachment
Byrd says Clinton 'misled', but suggests he ought to finish termFebruary 8, 1999
Web posted at: 8:33 a.m. EST (1333 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, February 8) -- A White House spokesman responded to critical comments by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) on Sunday, saying President Clinton's "strong case" in his impeachment trial showed he had committed neither perjury nor obstruction of justice.
Spokesman Barry Toiv's comments followed an interview broadcast Sunday in which Byrd said he had "no doubt that (the president) had given false testimony under oath and that he has misled the American people."
Byrd's comments were broadcast on ABC's "This Week" as the impeachment trial entered what could be its final week. House managers and White House lawyers are scheduled to give final arguments before the Senate beginning Monday afternoon.
"It will be very difficult to stand and say 'not guilty' -- very difficult," Byrd said. "Who's kidding whom here? I have to live with myself. I have to live with my conscience. And I have to live with the Constitution.
"I have no doubt that he has given false testimony under oath and that he has misled the American people," Byrd said. "There are indications that he did indeed obstruct justice."
But Byrd said that because conviction carries with it automatic removal from office, he also has to take into consideration "what's in the best interests of the nation."
"There has been such polarization, such a division among the American people," Byrd said. "To remove him -- does it help that or does it make the wound deeper?"
Toiv responded that "We certainly respect the right of others to disagree," but he said White House attorneys have shown during the impeachment trial that the president is not guilty of perjury or obstruction of justice.
At least one Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), said Sunday that the first impeachment article may not get a majority of votes in the Senate. "The odds are that Article One will probably go down," Hatch said on CNN's "Late Edition."
Article Two, which charges Clinton with obstructing justice, is not given much chance of reaching the two-thirds majority needed to remove the president from office.
"In a sense, it's a foregone conclusion as to what the final vote is going to be," Hatch said.
Clinton and two senators -- Republican Ted Stevens of Alaska and Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont -- will not be in town for Monday's session, which begins at 1 p.m. EST. They will be in Jordan, representing the United States at the funeral of the late King Hussein.
Many senators say there are not the 67 votes required to convict Clinton and remove him from office. Given that conventional wisdom, the Sunday political talk shows were dominated by three other questions:
Is there enough support to pass a bipartisan censure resolution? Will either of the two articles of impeachment -- one alleging perjury and the other obstruction of justice -- even get a simple majority? And will the Senate vote to open its final deliberations to the public?
A censure resolution is being circulated by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California). On the Republican side, Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) is trying to round up votes among his caucus, many of whom remain skeptical.
Feinstein says she supports censure because, "I don't believe (Clinton's actions rise) to the level of impacting a danger on the nation to the extent that the nation has to be saved by removing this president from his office."
"At the same time, I find the conduct, and many people find the conduct, not only wrongful but egregious and a lot of other adjectives and adverbs that one can add to it," she said on NBC's "Meet The Press."
"I have the feeling, very strongly, that a vast majority of the members of the Senate, regardless of party, regardless of where they are on the ideological spectrum, want to leave some kind of formal statement of indignation and outrage over what this president has done," Bennett said on CBS's "Face The Nation."
But at least one senator, Texas Republican Phil Gramm, made it abundantly clear Sunday that not only does he not support censure, he plans "to fight it hard."
"People want to be on both sides of the issue. They want to say the president's not guilty, (and) they want to say the president's guilty," Gramm said on "Meet The Press."
"The problem is, this covering-your-fanny approach has constitutional cost, because if we do censure the president, we establish a precedent that when a future Harry Truman fires a future General MacArther, then Congress is going to come in and ... censure the president," he said.
Asked if he planned to launch a filibuster against a censure resolution, Gramm said, "Filibuster is a hard word. I prefer to offer amendments and let other people filibuster.
"I think in the end, this thing will die a -- hopefully -- quiet death," he said.
One leading Democratic senator, Leahy, also made it clear that a censure resolution will not be dependent on getting White House approval on the language.
"The president probably would not like what is in it. But that's really immaterial. We didn't like what he did, so if he doesn't like what we say, that's his problem," Leahy said on "Face The Nation."
Another question drawing attention on Capitol Hill is whether the two impeachment articles will fail to get a simple majority -- something that could prove embarrassing to House Republicans who voted for impeachment.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) said on "This Week" that he thinks there could be 10 to 15 of the 55 Republicans in the Senate who vote no on the perjury article. He indicated that there was more support for the obstruction of justice count.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan) said he doubts either count will muster a majority. But two GOP senators, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, both predicted that at least one of the articles will get 51 votes.
One moderate Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, while saying "it's impossible" to predict the outcome, indicated that she has doubts about the perjury count against Clinton.
"His grand jury testimony is replete with lies, half-truths and evasions, but the legal test for perjury is a difficult one to meet," she said on "Face The Nation." "He seems to have navigated the shoals of the perjury laws in a way that may allow him to avoid it."
Hutchison is also trying to drum up support among her Republican colleagues for a motion to change the Senate rules to allow final deliberations to be held out in the open -- something which would take 67 votes.
"This is a public forum. It is a historic event. We have a new era in openness of government, and to go into a retreat to talk about how we have made this very important decision, and not have this on the record for the American people, is unthinkable," she said on "Fox News Sunday."
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who has been championing an open session on the Democratic side, predicted Sunday that all 45 Democrats will vote to change the rules. That would mean that 34 of the 55 Republican votes will be needed to make it happen.
But one leading Republican, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said he disagrees "absolutely" that the deliberations should be open.
"Our friends on the other side of the aisle wanted to deny the public the witnesses, didn't even want to have the videotapes, but they want to have the deliberations open," he said on "Face The Nation."
"In this country, deliberations have been in private and trials have been in public. The public's not going to be denied anything if we have these discussions in closed session. We'll all release our statements explaining our votes," he said.
Yet to weigh in on the issue of a closed session is Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi). Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut) said on "This Week" that without Lott's support, he believes an open session is unlikely.
The White House announced Sunday that Charles Ruff, the president's counsel, will deliver the closing argument on behalf of Clinton.
White House managers will go first, followed by Ruff, and then managers will have a final chance for rebuttal, said Jim Kennedy, a spokesman for Clinton's legal team.
White House Correspondent Chris Black contributed to this report.
Monday, February 8, 1999
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World confused by Clinton trial
White House focuses on youth, accountability for anti-drug programs
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Official U.S. delegation to King Hussein's funeral