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The End is Near in the Senate Impeachment Trial

February 11, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: Before senate deliberations resumed this morning, majority leader Trent Lott said his original hope of holding the two impeachment votes later in the day had dimmed.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: Our best guess at this time leaves approximately 37 senators still intending to speak. It’s possible that we could conclude and have the final votes this afternoon or late this evening, but I don’t think that’s going to be possible at this time.

KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon, Lott said the votes would be held near mid-day tomorrow. Since yesterday, a number of senators chose to go public with the impeachment statements they delivered during the closed deliberations. The Republican statements are significant because they give an early indication of the ultimate vote counts. Several moderate Republicans, including Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, announced their intentions to acquit the president.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Under Scottish law, there are three possible verdicts: Guilty, not guilty and not proved, and I intend to vote not proved as to both articles. That is not to say that the president is not guilty, but to specifically say that the charges, in my judgment, have not been proved.

KWAME HOLMAN: John Chafee of Rhode Island made a similar statement.

SEN. JOHN CHAFFEE: Now the first decision we must make is: Does perjury, as charged in Article I, and the obstruction of justice, as charged in Article II, meet the standards of high crimes and misdemeanors as conceived by the framers? I believe, if satisfactorily proven, these two crimes do meet the standards that the framers were thinking of. The difficulty with each of the charges in Article II is that circumstantial evidence in each of these cases is rebutted by direct evidence or by confusion that leaves us saying this is very murky and makes me question whether it warrants removing the President of the United States from office. Absent the proof that I find necessary to justify the removal of a president, I will vote to acquit on both articles.

KWAME HOLMAN: And Vermont’s Jim Jeffords said he, too, would vote to acquit. “The facts and circumstances of this case are lowly and tawdry but these circumstances do not, in my opinion, cause his offenses to rise to the level of impeachable acts.” However, Washington State’s Slade Gorton said he would vote to acquit the president on the perjury charge, but to convict on the obstruction of justice charge. “It is clear that he obstructed justice. Because of that, he should be removed from office, and I will vote this week to do just that.” Dick Lugar of Indiana will vote to convict the president on both counts. He stated: “The crimes committed here demonstrate that he is capable of lying routinely whenever it is convenient. He is not trustworthy.” Today Wayne Allard of Colorado announced his intentions.

SEN. WAYNE ALLARD, (R) Colorado: I’ve decided to vote guilty on both the articles of impeachment. I think that the fact the president lied under oath is quite evident. I also believe the evidence is very strong that there was an obstruction of justice. And it’s after a good deal of deliberation and thought on my part. I truly went into this process with my mind open, and I do believe that I kept my oath to stay impartial through the trial. I listened carefully to both sides, looked at the facts, spent a good deal of time studying what was part of the record, and I came to the final conclusion that I needed to vote guilty on both those articles.

KWAME HOLMAN: Also this afternoon, Gordon Smith of Oregon said how he would vote.

SEN. GORDON SMITH, (R) Oregon: I do not believe for a minute that the president is going to be removed from office. But when the chief justice calls my name and asks, “Senator, how say ye,” I will say guilty twice, because I refuse to say that high political polls and soaring Wall Street indexes gives license to those in high places act in low and illegal ways. Perjury and obstruction of justice are high crimes and they are utterly inconsistent with any federal office, but especially with the office of President of the United States. Everywhere I turned, I just had to suspend my common sense too much too often, on too many turns in this road to find him innocent. And I deeply regret, but I feel deep peace in the conclusion that I have made to find him guilty.

KWAME HOLMAN: And Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said he too will vote for both articles. Hagel wrote: “How can the rule of law for every American be applied equally if we have to standards of justice in America – one for the powerful and the other for the rest of us?”. Only one Democrat read his statement today. In arguing against both impeachment articles, Jack Reed of Rhode Island sounded a conciliatory note, calling tomorrow’s votes the end of a wearisome road.

SEN. JACK REED, (D) Rhode Island: The journey emanated from the reckless conduct of William Jefferson Clinton. But the passage has also exposed vicious political partisanship and the reckless and relentless exploitation of the powers of the independent counsel. In the midst of this dishonor, deception, and rancor, we could have easily lost our way, but we have reached this moment because we have been guided by the constitution, and inspired by the common sense and common decency of the American people. And with such a guide, and such inspiration, we will do justice with our votes, whether they be to convict or to acquit.

KWAME HOLMAN: With the expectation of near- perfect Democratic solidarity against conviction, the focus now is on whether either article of impeachment will receive even a simple majority vote.