Three GOP moderates will vote against conviction
Sen. Lott hopes for a final impeachment vote Thursday
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, February 10) -- After a second full day of closed-door impeachment deliberations, it grew even more certain Wednesday that President Bill Clinton will not be removed from office as three moderate Senate Republicans announced they would not support either article of impeachment.
Sens. James Jeffords of Vermont, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and John Chafee of Rhode Island said they would not support the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice alleged in the articles of impeachment passed by the House.
Chafee said he had only recently made his decision in what he called a "deeply troubling case."
"Overshadowing all has been the president's reckless, tawdry behavior, coupled with misleading statements that have undermined the dignity of the presidency, and brought about a divisive and unpleasant chapter in our history," Chafee said.
But he concluded, "Absent the proof that I find necessary to justify the removal of a president, I will vote to acquit on both articles."
Specter cited Scottish law, saying there could be "three possible verdicts: guilty, not guilty, not proved."
"Given the option in this trial, I suspect many senators would choose 'not proved' instead of 'not guilty,'" Specter said.
In an interview with CNN's Frank Sesno, Jeffords said he did not think either impeachment count against Clinton would get a simple majority in the 100-member Senate.
Jeffords said he would vote against both articles and believed as many as 12 Republican moderates would join him.
The Vermont Republican said he hoped that neither charge would get a majority "because of the question of precedent setting. If the vote is more than 50 percent, half of the Senate will say you have a legitimate reason to throw the president out of office."
Jeffords said it was clear there was not the two-thirds vote required -- 67 votes -- to remove Clinton office. His concern, Jeffords said, now centered around the precedents that would be set for future presidents.
But Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) issued a statement Wednesday saying "the President has committed perjury and obstructed justice."
"We've come to the point many of us hoped we would never reach: The evidence shows that the President has committed perjury and obstructed justice. The only question left is, will the Senate vote to find him guilty of committing these high crimes?" Lott said in the statement.
A spokesman for the majority leader said Lott issued the statement because he "wanted to echo the sentiment that is out there," but noted Lott has not yet said if he believes Clinton's offenses rise to the level of "high crimes."
The Senate will reconvene at 10 a.m. EST Thursday for a third day of deliberations.
Lott asks for discretion
Earlier, Lott said he hopes for a vote on the articles of impeachment by 5 p.m. EST Thursday, "if at all possible."
Before staffers closed the doors Wednesday, Lott (R-Mississippi) requested senators use discretion and not comment to the news media on the discussions taking place in the closed sessions.
Under Senate rules, lawmakers cannot reveal what happens behind closed doors.
"I don't think there's been any violation, but use a lot of discretion," Lott said. "I would prefer we not even talk about which senators spoke or how many spoke."
Lott was reacting to numerous media reports Tuesday and Wednesday in which sources characterized senators' closed-door statements. He reminded senators they would have the opportunity to put their statements into the Congressional Record following the vote on the articles of impeachment.
But on their way out of the Senate chamber Wednesday, several Democratic senators stopped to give reporters a sense of the tone of the deliberations.
Freshman Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York), who sat on the House Judiciary Committee that passed the articles of impeachment against Clinton in mid-December, called Wednesday's debate "one of the finer debates that I have heard in 18 years in the House."
"People are really reaching for history," he said. "I think people know that the remarks are going to matter historically."
Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana said that although there wasn't any give and take between senators Wednesday, the debate was a "rewarding" and "fulfilling" experience.
"I doubt that many minds are changed by the statements but nevertheless the statements are insightful," Baucus said.
"This is a very solemn, grave matter," he said. "Senators take this decision very seriously and have for the most part reached down quite deep to determine why they have reached their conclusion and they want to explain their conclusions to their colleagues."
As the proceeding began Wednesday, Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Georgia) asked Lott if statements had to be read in the closed session or if they could simply be submitted in writing. Lott assured the senators statements could be simply submitted and did not have to be read.
Lott said written statements submitted by senators for the Congressional Record would be available to the public the morning following the vote.
Harkin delivers statement for public
But Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, a strong proponent of opening the Senate deliberations, delivered his speech live to the press Wednesday before giving it in the closed Senate session.
Harkin said he was making his statement in public before he made it behind closed doors "so that my constituents and others will know how and why I reached my decision. I have nothing but disdain for and objection to the closing of the Senate doors on this vital matter of impeachment of the president."
Harkin said he plans to vote against both of the articles of impeachment. What Clinton did, said Harkin, was "a sin, not a crime."
He said the Republicans in the House were guilty of "vindictive actions" and he referred to GOP supporters of impeachment as "zealous Republicans."
Republicans were not the only targets of his speech, though. Harkin referred to the independent counsel as "a fourth branch of government with no checks and balances."
Harkin called the allegations against the president a "totally counterfeit case" put together by "an out-of-control" independent counsel.
"It looked real on the surface, but when you examined it under a microscope you saw that it was counterfeit, a case that at the beginning, through it and at the end, was all about sex," he said.
Harkin said the House had a heavy burden to prove the impeachment charges against Clinton and "they have never met that burden." He predicted the perjury article would not get even a third of the Senate votes.
Senators began deliberating in private on Tuesday after a proposal to open the proceedings to the public failed on a 59-41 vote. Changing the impeachment trial's rules would have required a two-thirds margin, or 67 votes.
Although a final vote on the two articles of impeachment could happen Thursday, a source said "in public and in private, it is still the U.S. Senate" and schedules "have a way of sliding."
During the deliberations, each senator is allotted 15 minutes to speak. If all members take their full time, the debate would last for 25 hours over two to three days.
First to speak as the closed-session debate got under way Tuesday was Sen. Slade Gorton, a Republican from Washington state.
The Democrats led off with Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts after the Senate's senior Democrat, Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, declined the opportunity to start off for his party. Byrd has suggested he could vote either way.
Sources characterized Kennedy's speech as "trying to break away from a partisan tone and basically offered his thoughts."
Kennedy is said to have focused his comments "on the essence of democracy." He offered that it was not the intent of the framers of the Constitution "to nullify an election except in the most extraordinary cases unless it posed a great danger to the nation," sources said.
Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) was surprised at what some "people were bringing out about perjury." He said he wouldn't characterize the give and take as debate, "but more Q-and-A," with senators asking questions like, "Why do you believe that? Why do you think that and why would you draw that conclusion?"
Craig said he believed all of his colleagues were attentive "and comparing notes with what is said."
Gorton told colleagues he would vote to remove Clinton because "it is clear that he obstructed justice."
"I cannot will to my children and grandchildren the proposition that a president stands above the law and can systematically obstruct justice simply because both his polls and the Dow Jones index was high," Gorton said in a statement containing the text of his remarks.
He said he would vote to acquit Clinton on a second charge of perjury.
Other senators' decisions, announced Wednesday, came as no surprise. Democrat Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey released a statement saying he would vote "not guilty" on both counts. Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Indiana) said he would vote to convict on both articles.
"Although President Clinton's shameful behavior has caused great pain to his family and the nation, the House managers have not proven that he has committed high crimes," Lautenberg said in a statement summarizing his position.
Censure losing steam
In what might be an indication of languishing attempts to come up with a censure resolution, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) said Wednesday she and the other colleagues who were pushing censure now may simply pass the proposal around among other senators to be signed and released as a statement.
Feinstein indicated that the statement idea was one of two possibilities to be explored after Congress returns from its President's Day recess.
The other would be to try and attach a statement of censure to other legislation, also after the recess.
Some members promised to try and keep a formal censure resolution off the floor of the Senate either before or after the vote on the articles of impeachment.
The White House fully expects acquittal at the end of the trial, but is not commenting on a censure resolution. White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart said Wednesday the president would be open to such a resolution, but it is up to the Senate to decide what to do about censure.
According to sources, the president does plan to address the public after the votes on the articles of impeachment. He is expected at that time to apologize to the American people for what the country has gone through. The White House has said there will be no celebration following the vote.
CNN's Jonathan Karl, Wolf Blitzer and Candy Crowley contributed to this report.
Wednesday, February 10, 1999
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