Rules authority warns Senate against dealmaking

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WASHINGTON — Sen. Robert Byrd, the Senate's leading authority on its history and rules, said Monday the Senate should not make any deal with President Clinton to avert an impeachment trial.

“To a very large degree, we are now navigating in previously uncharted waters, but one thing is clear: For the good of our nation, there must be no "deal' involving the White House or any entity beyond the current membership of the Senate,” said Mr. Byrd, D-W.Va., who has served in the Senate for 31 years.

In a sense, that is a blow to Mr. Clinton and others who had hoped to end the crisis with a so-called censure-plus agreement, under which Mr. Clinton would agree to some penalty such as paying a fine.

Yet Mr. Byrd also gave comfort to the White House by pointedly declining to join the growing number of senators insisting that a Senate trial is unavoidable.

“Whether there is a trial or whether there is some other solution, that decision must be made by senators, and it must be bipartisan or it will have absolutely no credibility with the public,” Mr. Byrd said.

What Mr. Byrd is saying is that whatever action the Senate takes, it should do so without any bargaining with or agreement from the White House.

His opinion is likely to carry weight with other senators. A former majority leader, Mr. Byrd has written books on the history of the Senate and is the recognized expert on its arcane rules and procedures.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is among the senior GOP senators who have said that they have a constitutional duty to at least begin a trial.

“Otherwise it just completely makes short shrift of the action of the House,” said Mr. McConnell, who is likely to play a prominent role in any trial as Senate Rules Committee chairman.

He would like to see the Senate vote on the two articles of impeachment approved on Saturday before considering any alternatives, although he believes this could be done quickly.

Mr. Byrd's statement underscored the delicate nature of the next phase of the struggle. In the House, the White House and Democratic allies mounted a broad, grassroots effort to lobby members — although it was unsuccessful with moderate Republicans. But White House officials acknowledge that members of the Senate might balk at such tactics.

“The Senate's a different place than the House — the way it does its business, the culture, the members,” one senior official said. “It's a very personal institution in the way the members conduct their affairs. Carpet-bombing indiscriminate senators is not the most effective way to deal with them.”

Mr. Byrd's statement came as former Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter lent their prestige to finding a speedy conclusion to the constitutional drama unfolding in Washington by urging the Senate to censure the president, rather than put the country through a lengthy and divisive trial.

Mr. Ford and Mr. Carter outlined their censure proposal in a jointly written statement published on the Op-Ed page of Monday's New York Times.“We believe the time has come to put aside political difference and plant seeds of justice and reconciliation,” they wrote.

Under the Ford-Carter plan, Mr. Clinton would be required to acknowledge that “he did not tell the truth under oath” in exchange for a pledge that that admission could not be used against him if he is later prosecuted for perjury. They also raised the possibility of having Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr announce that his office would not bring charges against the president after he leaves the White House.

White House officials praised the Ford-Carter article for its eloquence, but refused to indicate whether Mr. Clinton would agree to its terms.

The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post and The New York Times contributed.

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