Clinton off the hook without even a rebuke

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The Independent Online
AFTER MORE than a year ofanxiety, President Bill Clinton looked set last night to be liberated from the Monica Lewinsky scandal. As the US Senate prepared to vote on his fate within hours, all the signs were that a majority of senators would vote to acquit him.

With three Republican defections announced and others still possible, the prospect that there might not be even 50 votes for conviction was causing the right of the Republican Party to quake. Democrats forecast that a third of the 100 senators might vote to convict on the first of the two Articles of Impeachment, perjury. The vote on the second count, obstruction of justice, was expected to be closer.

But, if the 55 Republicans cannot muster even 51 of their own, the President will not only be secure, he will be vindicated. And some Democrats have already drawn their conclusions. "I think it sends a very loud message to the House of Representatives: Don't ever, ever send to the Senate again Articles of Impeachment that are this weak and partisan," said Senator Tim Johnson, from South Dakota.

The comprehensiveness of Mr Clinton's expected victory was reinforced by reports that the move for a formal censure was fading fast. With deliberations held behind closed doors, there was little information about the mood of the Chamber. But the fierce lobbying for and against censure heard earlier in the week was not in evidence.

The White House, meanwhile, mindful of the criticism that followed their defiant rejection of the House impeachment vote before Christmas, has pledged to be a "gloat-free zone" once the trial is over. That promise, however, does not extend to other Democrats, who plan a series of celebrations around Washington. Mr Clinton himself planned to make a televised statement immediately after the verdict to acknowledge the pain the Lewinsky affair caused, and outline plans for the remainder of his term.

He will also meet Republican Congressional leaders to stress the need to work together and let bygones be bygones.

Starr to face inquiry, page 16

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