Clinton Crisis: Clinton is urged to admit perjury

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THE MOST senior Democrats in Congress called on President Bill Clinton yesterday to admit to perjury, part of a growing chorus raised against one of the central planks of the White House defence.

If Mr Clinton admits to lying, then it might be easier for Congress to put in place some lower form of punishment than impeachment. But his continued insistence that he did not lie has also been a grave embarrassment to the Democrats, since it is so patently untrue. He said to the grand jury and in a deposition to the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit that he did not have a sexual relationship with Ms Lewinsky.

"He had, as he concedes, a sexual relationship that was undeniably wrong, and he didn't tell the truth about it," said Tom Daschle, the Senate Minority leader. "The President and his advisers must accept that continued legal jousting serves no constructive purpose."

And Richard Gephardt, House Minority Leader, said essentially the same thing in what was clearly a co-ordinated strike at the President's increasingly untenable position.

Mr Daschle said that he agreed "with those who have grown impatient with hair-splitting over technicalities".

A very similar argument was put by a senior Republican Senator, Orrin Hatch, at the weekend, on the basis that the President could save himself if he were more truthful.

"There is a basic understanding of the standard of truthfulness that the President failed to meet," said Mr Daschle.

The idea of a Congressional censure rather than impeachment was still being rumoured on Capitol Hill, though with little to indicate that it is a serious option at present. A Democratic Judiciary Committee source said: "There is a discussion of some attempt to find a creative middle ground on this.

"Nobody in the country has the stomach to let this thing drag on for eight or nine months." This is the length of time it may take for impeachment hearings to be completed.

Both Mr Gephardt and Senator Bob Kerrey, another Clinton critic, left a lunch in New York yesterday before the President took the podium.

With other party grandees, they are unhappy with the President's conduct, and even angrier about the way he has sought to get out of his problems. Others in Mr Clinton's cabinet are said to be livid, including William Daley, the Secretary of Commerce, and Donna Shalala, Secretary for Health and Human Services.

Fresh calls for the President's resignation came yesterday, including one from USA Today, one of the largest circulation newspapers in America.

"The time for the President to leave is not after months of continued national embarrassment but now. Clinton should resign," it said in an editorial.

But the latest opinion polls show that the President has lost little ground as a consequence of the Starr report.

More than 70 per cent of those polled by the Los Angeles Times said that the Starr report had not changed their view of the President. And 41 per cent said that Congress should drop the matter immediately, while 34 per cent said he should be censured, and only 18 per cent thought he should be impeached.