`Senators, how say you?' `Not guilty on all counts'

BILL CLINTON could breathe easily last night for the first time in 13 months, after the incubus of the Monica Lewinsky affair was finally lifted from his presidency.

In only the second such impeachment vote in its history, the US Senate handsomely acquitted William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States, of the two Articles of Impeachment against him, making him not only the second President to be impeached and tried, but the second to prevail. He also avoided any formal motion of censure, which was rejected by the Senate without a vote.

The final votes - 55-45 against conviction on the charges of perjury, 50-50 on the obstruction of justice charges - in a Senate where Mr Clinton's Republican opponents enjoy a majority, constituted a triumph for the President and his legal team, falling well short of the two-thirds majority required for conviction. But the 50-50 vote on the obstruction charge (with five Republican not-guilty votes) seemed an eminently fitting conclusion to a case that had divided legal minds across the US.

It was another day of drama and history on the Capitol, the culmination of the constitutional process of presidential impeachment not seen since the trial of Andrew Johnson in 1868. At midday, after three days of closed debate and as many weeks of open argument, the heavy doors of the Senate chamber were swung open, and reporters, Congressional staff and visitors crowded into the galleries for the final vote.

The presiding judge, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, ordered the reading of the first Article of Impeachment, and then commanded: "Senators, how say you? Is the respondent, William Jefferson Clinton, guilty or not guilty?"

Called by name, in alphabetical order, each senator rose from his or her seat to deliver their verdict. For the half-hour duration of the two votes, the Senate was in utter silence, but for the single questions and answers called across the chamber.

The Democrats' vote held solid for "not guilty"; but with nine Republicans defecting on the perjury charge, and five on the obstruction of justice charge, Mr Clinton was acquitted even more convincingly than expected, and considerably more than Andrew Johnson, who survived removal from office by a single vote.

At the close of proceedings, the Chief Justice was presented with a "golden gavel" - an award reserved for Congressional chairmen who have presided for 100 hours - and given a standing ovation. In a closing speech, Mr Rehnquist spoke of the "more free-form environment" he had found at the Senate compared with his own Supreme Court, but said he was leaving "a wiser, but not a sadder man".

A Senate trial, a splicing of politics and justice, is one of the rare times when the three branches of the United States system come together. Hailed as a living "civics" lesson for Americans, it was also a demonstration for the world of American democracy at its limits.

The President was expected to make some form of address after the vote, acknowledging once again the pain he had caused his family and colleagues.

The presidential line is that the White House will be a "gloat-free zone" after impeachment is swept away, with the President expected instead to give the impression that he wants business as usual to resume. Spokesmen said there was a "sense of relief", but were not even sure whether the President would watch the key moment on television.

The White House has discounted reports that it will use every opportunity to get back at the Congressional Republicans who led the impeachment assault, saying that would be counterproductive.

Of the Republican senators who gave public explanations of their decision to break with their party's "guilty" consensus, a majority cited legal considerations, including the fact that in their view the evidence was exclusively circumstantial. Political considerations were not far away, however, as the majority represent states where pro-Clinton sentiment is strong.

Arlen Specter, from Pennsylvania, distinguished himself by calling out "not proven" when asked for his vote, a non-constitutional option that was recorded, after a frisson, as "not guilty".

Even though the last elections are only three months past, Washington is already gearing up for the 2000 elections, with presidential candidates emerging from the Republican Party, fund-raising activity getting into high gear and lists of vulnerable Congressional districts being drawn up.

The Democrats will try to capitalise on their lead in the polls, which is partly derived from public antagonism towards the Republican stance on impeachment.

The final public chapter of the Bill and Monica affair closed a year that had seen comedy and tragedy in equal measure and tested every pillar of American society and its democracy.

It had augmented American discourse at every level, from high political and constitutional argument through inspirational rhetoric, to ribald anecdotes and coarse innuendo.

It had also seen the return of some of its leading characters in the final week: the filmed testimony of the leading lady, Monica Lewinsky, in the Senate chamber, and yesterday, in the press and on television, the self-defence of Linda Tripp, the woman whose tape-recordings of her young friend started the whole sorry scandal.

While the public aspects of the Monica Lewinsky affair are now closed, the private pain will probably persist. There has been only speculation about the harm that Mr Clinton has caused to his family.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Developer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a world leader ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future