New hope for Clinton in Senate

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The Independent Online
SUBTLE CHANGES of position by a key Democratic senator and a group of influential Republicans fuelled speculation yesterday that President Bill Clinton might be able to avoid a trial in the Senate.

The reports came as poll ratings and stock markets remained unmoved by the President's predicament and the Clintons pursued their business-as-usual round of meetings and partying.

Potentially the most significant development was a statement by Senator Robert Byrd, a Democrat from West Virginia, who intimated that the Senate might be open to a compromise and that the Constitution would allow it. He is respected by politicians on both sides as an authority on the history of the Senate and a guardian of the Constitution.

He said: "Whether there is a trial or whether there is some other solution, that decision must be made by senators and it must be bipartisan or it will have absolutely no credibility with the public." His reference to the possibility of "some other solution" and his call for "bipartisanship" seemed to open ever so slightly a door that had seemed tightly shut. Sticklers for constitutional purity had maintained hitherto that a trial, at least the opening of a trial, was the inevitable consequence of a House vote to impeach.

While Mr Byrd also insisted the decision should rest entirely with the Senate and warned others, specifically the White House, against trying to make deals, the White House appeared pleased.

A spokesman agreed that "the best solution for this matter would be made by senators and on a bipartisan basis" and expressed the hope "that such a resolution can be reached expeditiously, so that we can get back to the business of the country as soon as possible".

Soon after Mr Byrd's statement, four Republican representatives who on Saturday had voted to impeach Mr Clinton published a letter clarifying their intent. They had voted to impeach, they said, because "we believe that the President lied under oath and that such conduct was serious enough to merit impeachment and consideration by the Senate".

But, they went on, in what must have been music to the ears of the White House: "We are not convinced and do not want our votes interpreted to mean that we view removal from office as the only reasonable conclusion to this case", and they called for "strong censure as a remedy". All four were among the so-called "moderate" Republicans whom the White House had tried, and mostly failed, to win over before the vote. Their letter lent support to the view that some House Republicans, perhaps even a majority, regarded their vote as a vote to indict, not convict, the President, confident that the Senate would not vote to remove him. It was unclear whether their letter was intended purely as clarification, or whether it reflected fears that the requisite two-thirds of senators might, in the end, vote to remove Mr Clinton from office.

Despite these hopeful signals, however, the White House made clear it was leaving nothing to chance and was working simultaneously on two tracks: sounding out support in the Senate, and preparing the President's judicial defence.