GOP group asks for censure
Many hope to avoid Senate trial

BY JAMES BENNET and ALISON MITCHELL
The New York Times

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WASHINGTON — A handful of moderate Republicans who voted to impeach President Clinton appealed to the Senate on Monday to consider censuring the president instead of convicting him, as many lawmakers scrambled to find a way to avoid a lengthy, embarrassing Senate trial.

Because most senators, used to deciding things in clubby cau cuses, are away and the only precedents for a presidential trial are 130 years old, there was no evidence that a consensus existed, nor any clear idea if Senate rules would hamper or assist one if it emerged.

The White House, through Vice President Al Gore, continued to demand that the Senate quickly “forge a fair bipartisan compromise.” For his part, the president publicly ignored the issue and turned to the sym bolic duties of his office in a holiday season.

GOP letter

But the day's most striking development was the letter from Reps. Sherwood Boehlert and Benjamin Gilman of New York, Mike Castle of Delaware and Jim Greenwood of Pennsylvania, which they prepared to send to Trent Lott, the Senate majority leader. They released its text on Monday night, and plan to send it today.

“We are not convinced, and do not want our votes interpreted to mean, that we view removal from office as the only reasonable conclusion of this case,” they wrote, although the articles of impeachment for which they voted each conclud ed: “Wherefore, William Jefferson Clinton, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial and removal from office.”

They argued in their letter that while it was “questionable” whether the House had authority to deal with censure, the Senate clearly “does have the authority and the precedents to consider a range of options. Those options should include a tough censure proposal, which would impose a fine and block any pardon.” The congressmen all voted Saturday against allowing the consideration of a Democratic move to allow a House vote on censure.

Another House Republican who voted for impeachment, W. J. Tauzin of Louisiana, was consulting with colleagues on Mon day about asking the Senate to avert a trial. His spokesman, Ken Johnson, said, “The feeling is the president paid a terrible price for his actions. The Clinton presidency has been indelibly stained by impeachment.”

He said House Republicans could vote only up or down on impeachment. “That was a lousy choice, but the only one allowed under the Constitution,” he said. “Our hands were tied. Too much blood has been spilled already and there's a time to begin the healing process.”

Obstacles remain

But despite a rising clamor among past and present politicians for censure, the alternatives put forward so far face formidable obstacles.

Most such proposals, including the one offered on Monday by former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, require that Mr. Clinton concede he lied under oath, a step his aides insist he will not take. With that in mind, or perhaps merely as a bargaining tactic, some White House aides say censure may be unworkable.

“It just may be there's no acceptable form of censure, so why go through that?” said one Clinton adviser. A trial, he said, would provide the country with a “definitive end to this thing.”

“No one is going to fault us for mounting a defense,” he said. “And believe me, we're going to mount one. Believe me.”



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