Clinton trial likely to end in censure

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MOMENTUM IS building for a vote of censure against President Bill Clinton rather than his removal from office. But it will still involve a trial in the Senate on two articles of impeachment, which could take two months.

"We have to start the process. The Constitution lays out a procedure by which we ought to begin and I think the Senate will follow that," said Tom Daschle, the leading Senate Democrat. "I think the votes aren't there for impeachment." The Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said: "We ought to vote on these articles of impeachment, and that is the appropriate time to consider a censure."

After the House of Representatives voted to impeach the President, the decision passed to the Senate and a number of eminent senators are preparing the ground for a solution that would be acceptable both to the White House and its Republican enemies. Leading the initiative for censure is Senator Pat Moynihan, a veteran Democrat from New York who will retire at the next election.

He is working with Republicans, including the Senate Majority Leader, Trent Lott, to draft a censure motion. It is unlikely to include a fine, one element that had been suggested. The censure debate would probably come after a Senate trial, which, it is presumed, would not result in a vote against the President.

The timing of the Senate trial is still in question. Leading members of both parties have said that they want the trial to open soon after the Senate reconvenes on 6 January. The trial is expected to last at least a couple of months, allowing the "prosecution" and "defence" to mount their cases. But there are unlikely to be any witnesses.

One big issue will be whether the President is prepared to acknowledge, as part of the censure process, that he lied under oath. So far he and his legal advisers have insisted that he did not and, although many Republicans and Democrats see this as a way out of the political bind, there is no sign that Mr Clinton will change his tune. "The President has already indicated he strongly believes that he didn't," Mr Daschle said. "I don't think the Senate can resolve that."