Republicans who voted against Clinton urge options short of removal

 

Four Republican congressmen who voted to impeach President Bill Clinton joined with those seeking presidential censure yesterday by urging the Senate to consider options short of removal from office.

The Senate faces the prospect of the second presidential trial in history - the last was 130 years ago. Senators were debating how to go about trying Mr Clinton on two articles of impeachment.

The White House was preparing a trial defence, while indicating a willingness to compromise short of removal from office.

Adding to the compromise effort was the letter the four moderate Republican representatives - Mr Michael Castle of Delaware, Mr Jim Greenwood of Pennsylvania and Mr Sherwood Boehlert and Mr Benjamin Gilman of New York - sent to the Senate Republican leader, Mr Trent Lott, released yesterday.

The legislators said they did not want their votes to impeach Mr Clinton "interpreted to mean that we view removal from office as the only reasonable conclusion of this case". They said the Senate should consider options that included "a tough censure proposal, which would impose a fine and block any pardon".

The House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment on Saturday, each saying Mr Clinton's actions warrant "removal from office". They allege perjury and obstruction of justice in Mr Clinton's handling of the Monica Lewinsky affair.

The White House spokesman, Mr Joe Lockhart, said the letter showed that Republican leaders had rammed impeachment through the House and if they had allowed a vote on censure it would have passed. "This letter is a positive sign that members on the Hill . . . don't believe that the President should be removed from office and want to find a bipartisan way to put this behind us in a prompt manner," he said.

Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat, was less charitable, telling CNN the letter shows "how partisan that process was".

The Senate would need a two-thirds majority, or 67 votes, to remove Mr Clinton from office and since there are only 55 Republicans that appears unlikely.

Mr Clinton has refused to resign, despite calls to do so from some Republicans. His job approval ratings approach or exceed 70 per cent in several major public opinion surveys.

Senator Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat admired for his 40 years in the Senate and for his knowledge of its history and procedures, left open the possibility of censure but said it must originate with the senators.

The other impeachment trial was in 1868, after the Civil War. Andrew Johnson was acquitted by one vote.

The US film-maker Woody Allen yesterday dismissed President Clinton's troubles as "silly". In Paris to show his new film, Celebrity, he said: "We have a good president persecuted for having an affair between consenting adults that his wife accepts. The political atmosphere [in the US] is silly and sad."