White House calls for quick solution

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The Independent Online
SAFE IN the knowledge that the Senate lacks the votes to convict and remove President Bill Clinton, the White House yesterday called for a rapid end to the impeachment trial and revived the idea of a formal censure.

The White House intervention, one of its most upbeat and aggressive since the trial began two weeks ago, came as Senate Republicans and Democrats wrangled over how to proceed to conclude the trial.

Having voted on Wednesday in a straight party-line vote to summon Monica Lewinsky and two other witnesses for questioning, the Senate was concerned to restore at least the appearance of cross-party cohesion for the rest of the trial.

Republicans fear the trial will otherwise appear purely political, fostering the sort of Democratic defiance seen in the White House Rose Garden after the impeachment vote in the House of Representatives.

Even after hours of closed-door discussions, separate meetings in party caucuses and multiple exchanges of notes, there was still no agreement between the two parties on precisely what should happen next.

Ms Lewinsky and the two other witnesses - Vernon Jordan, Mr Clinton's businessman friend who assisted Ms Lewinsky's job search, and the White House adviser, Sidney Blumenthal - are liable to be summoned to testify immediately, but who does the questioning and where, and whether Senators should view the recordings or merely read the transcripts has still to be decided. So does the timetable for what should follow.

Democrats see no point in dragging out the trial, given that Republicans lack the two-thirds majority to convict Mr Clinton.

Republicans, however, are divided, with some - including the House prosecutors - intent on examining as much more information as possible in the hope of finding a "smoking gun".

Exploiting the uncertainty in the Senate, the White House sprang into the controversy yesterday, demanding that the Republicans explain why they were intent on pursuing the President, despite Wednesday's votes.

"They are trying to construct a procedure where they can convict, but not remove," the spokesman, Joe Lockhart, speculated, suggesting that they were simply trying to save face for the House prosecutors.

"Every time things seem to move on, they [the Republicans] seem to change the rules," he protested, continuing: "The burden is on the Republican majority to articulate why they are still doing this."

He reiterated President Clinton's readiness to accept a formal censure, but questioned the Senate's Constitutional right to pass a censure in the framework of the trial.

Behind the revival of the censure possibility, however, could be read signs of another disagreement, this time in the White House. Mr Clinton's top-flight lawyers were sending sharply diverging messages about how they wanted the trial to conclude.

The White House chief counsel, Charles Ruff, and the special counsel, Gregory Craig, were calling openly for a rapid end to the trial. Mr Clinton's personal lawyer, David Kendall, however, was still demanding access to all the thousands of pages of evidence and favouring what could be a lengthy period of "discovery".

Mr Kendall was said to be concerned that if the Senate decided on a "convict but not remove" strategy, his client could be liable for criminal prosecution after he leaves office. As the President's personal lawyer, this is an eventuality he is obliged to prevent.

t Incirlik, the Turkish airbase used by British and US aircraft to patrol northern Iraq's no fly zone, was put on full alert yesterday after tracking systems identified a possible missile attack. The false alarm followed the bombing of an anti-aircraft position near Mosul by US aircraft.