Monica phobia may bring trial to end

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The Independent Online
AT THE start of the most crucial week in the Senate trial of the President - perhaps the final week - the air on Capitol Hill was thick with the swirl of plans and initiatives designed to bring Bill Clinton's impeachment to an end. With the 67 votes needed to convict and remove Mr Clinton clearly not there, pressure was mounting from both sides, and public opinion, to halt an exercise increasingly deemed to be futile.

Many Senators feared the trial could descend into an ill-tempered slanging match no different from the impeachment debate in the House of Representatives. But they also had party political concerns. With the row about witnesses back on the agenda and crystallised around Monica Lewinsky, the need for a compromise was urgent.

Democrats, like the White House, fear the unpredictability that witnesses might bring, while Republicans fear loss of face from a premature compromise or the public opprobrium that could come from prolonging the trial. The big question was how to end it all, on constitutionally and politically acceptable terms.

The figure of Ms Lewinsky, who remained in Washington yesterday, seemed to loom over discussions as a warning of the perils ahead if the witnesses dispute was not resolved.

Her precipitate return to Washington under a court order obtained by the House prosecutors had upset careful moves towards compromise, and brought no clarity either. The prosecutors had wanted to explore whether she had more evidence that would support or clarify their case that Mr Clinton committed perjury and obstructed justice in his efforts to keep their relationship secret.

After a two-hour meeting with her and her lawyers, they affirmed that she did. Describing Ms Lewinsky as "impressive and poised", they said that she might be "a very helpful witness, if called". Ms Lewinsky's lead lawyer, Plato Cacheris, begged to differ, saying that his client had "added nothing to the record sitting before the Senate". The New York Times yesterday reported Ms Lewinsky as having told a friend: "I gave them nothing", a clear message to the White House that the President had nothing to fear.

Weekend polls indicated that almost 60 per cent of Americans - and half of all Republicans asked - wanted the trial over,and several senior Senators had offered olive branches along the lines of conviction without removal (Republicans) and a return to the idea of censure.

The most promising planwas proposed yesterday by the leader of the Senate's Democratic minority, Tom Daschle, who called it a "mutual withdrawal of forces". This would entail the abandonment by the Democrats of the motion to dismiss the case, and the agreement of Republicans not to require witnesses. With the House prosecutors given what Mr Daschle called "a fair opportunity to make their arguments", the Senate would then debate the charges and vote.The plan was rejected.