Crisis In Washington: Ford and Carter in compromise plea

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THE FORMER US presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter came to the aid of Bill Clinton yesterday, appealing for a bipartisan compromise that would save him from a trial.

Their intervention came as President Clinton's most faithful ally, American public opinion, again rallied to his cause, producing his highest approval ratings on record. The stock market also joined in, closing almost 100 points higher in the first day of trading after Saturday's impeachment vote.

Mr Ford and Mr Carter made their plea in a joint article for the New York Times in which they set out the framework for a compromise that would entail an admission of guilt yet keep Mr Clinton in office. The impeachment vote by the full House of Representatives, they said, had already brought "profound disgrace" on Mr Clinton and would stand for ever. What was now needed was a compromise that would heal a "grievous and deepening national wound" in the American body politic.

If Mr Clinton agreed to acknowledge publicly that he failed to tell the truth under oath, they suggested, the Senate should pass a censure resolution and leave the matter there. In return, Mr Clinton could be granted immunity from subsequent prosecution for such an admission.

The Ford-Carter proposal was similar in outline to a more complex suggestion made by the former presidential candidate Bob Dole before last week's impeachment debate, and it added more influential voices to the calls of mainly Democratic politicians for a solution that would pre-empt a trial.

New opinion polls published yesterday, however, showed that Mr Clinton might not actually need such highly placed support. A CBS-New York Times poll showed Mr Clinton's job approval up 5 points since last week at 73 per cent, equalling his previous record just after the first revelations about Monica Lewinsky last January and also equalling Ronald Reagan's popularity at its height.

A CNN-USA Today poll showed a jump of 9 points in the President's popularity, also to 73 per cent, and an ABC News poll also showed Mr Clinton's approval at 67 per cent, 3 points higher than the previous week. By a two-thirds majority, those polled said they favoured a swift compromise that would keep Mr Clinton in office.

The Republicans languished meanwhile with some of their worst ratings of recent years - approval of only 36 per cent, according to the CBS poll.

Fears that uncertainty about the presidency might damage share prices were soon banished yesterday. In New York, the two main Wall Street indices, the Dow and the Nasdaq, shot up during the first hour of trading, and the Dow closed more than 80 points higher than Friday.

Calls for a compromise short of a trial came also from editorials in newspapers across America, which were almost unanimous in their disapproval of the impeachment vote.

The White House yesterday came out with outspoken contempt of the impeachment vote, calling the process illegitimate and unfair.

"I think the President believes that what went on in the House brought no credit to the House," said the White House spokesman, Joe Lockhart.

presidents' words

THESE ARE edited excerpts from an article in yesterday's `New York Times' co-written by former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

We are convinced that the public good requires a prompt and fair resolution of the impeachment issue. Fortunately, senate procedures ... provide the means to end this national ordeal in ways that can uphold the rule of law without permanently damaging the Presidency ...

In addition to dismissal of the charges against President Clinton, there are four alternatives for the Senate to weigh: a trial followed by acquittal; a trial followed by conviction; a trial followed by censure; or censure without a trial ...

Impeachment has already brought disgrace to President Clinton. Whatever happens in the near future will do little to affect history's judgement.But he is not alone before the bar of judgement. Our political system, too, is on trial.

We personally favour a bipartisan resolution of censure by the Senate. Under such a plan, President Clinton would have to accept rebuke while acknowledging his wrongdoing and the very real harm he has caused.

The Congressional resolution should contain language stipulating that the President's acceptance of these findings - including a public acknowledgment that he did not tell the truth under oath - cannot be used in any future criminal trial to which he may be subject.

Clearly, the American people expect and desire an outcome that is firm, fair and untainted by partisan advantage... How we meet that challenge will go a long way toward healing our divided nation.