Senate caution urged on censure Conservatives suggest review of records on Clinton, other women

December 24, 1998|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun staff writers Karen Hosler and Jonathan Weisman contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Some conservative lawmakers sought to put the brakes on an accelerating movement in the Senate toward censure yesterday, urging senators to first review documents that detail President Clinton's alleged relationships with women

other than Monica Lewinsky.

Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee who would serve as prosecutors in a Senate trial have not ruled out using that evidence to make their case for conviction, said Michelle R. Morgan, a committee spokeswoman.

The committee had not explicitly cited those documents in drafting the impeachment charges of perjury and obstruction of justice that the full House approved Saturday. And Democrats argue that it would be unfair to the president for the senators to review the documents now, just as they prepare for a trial to determine whether to remove Clinton from office. A conviction on either count would take a two-thirds majority, or 67 votes.

Yesterday, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay called on senators to examine the documents, which have so far been available only to House members and staff lawyers.

"Before people look to cut a deal with the White House or their surrogates who will seek to influence the process, it is my hope that one would spend plenty of time in the evidence room," said DeLay, who pushed for the House to impeach Clinton. "If this were to happen, you may realize that 67 votes may appear out of thin air."

Several influential senators, including a few Republicans, have said they would prefer to censure Clinton rather than stage a full trial. An informal poll conducted this week by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle indicated that Republicans could not muster the votes needed to convict Clinton on either of the two impeachment counts.

House Judiciary Committee aides maintained that the rushed pace of the proceedings had made it impossible to fully develop the evidence involving the other women before the impeachment hearings concluded and that the material might now prove relevant.

But Clinton's defenders denounced such talk as a smoke screen for trying to keep the trial alive.

James Kennedy, a spokesman for the White House counsel's office, said: "Having put the hammer on his colleagues in the House, Tom DeLay is trying to do the same in the Senate. We believe the senators will reject this kind of politics of personal destruction."

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, pointedly rebuked both DeLay and White House aides for exchanging fire over the future of Clinton's trial.

"The 100 senators are completely capable of determining how this will end without being told by either the House or the White House," Leahy said.

Relevance of evidence

Yet DeLay was joined by some conservatives who say the additional evidence may prove important to the Senate trial.

"It's not being looked at as information relevant to sexual relationships," said Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Baltimore County, a DeLay deputy whip who said he has not seen the evidence. "From what I understand, it's relevant to the issue of obstruction of justice."

Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, said, "For the Senate to rush into some compromise on censure without looking at the evidence -- whether it's damaging or exculpatory -- would be a miscarriage of justice."

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and has suggested that censure be considered, said senators should review the additional documents but make sure to look at them with a skeptical eye.

'Troubling' allegations

"If these allegations are true, they're very troubling," Hatch said yesterday. "They may have happened in times past, but they are tough to tie into the current difficulties, other than to show past practice."

But Abbe Lowell, the chief Democratic counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, denounced DeLay for trying to use documents shielded from public scrutiny to convince others that Clinton deserved to be tried and convicted in the Senate.

"It's only if you show somebody bits and snippets that can you convince somebody of something that isn't accurate," Lowell said. "We all know that there have been people over the past 25 years who have made allegations against this president that did not prove true."

"I've seen every scrap of paper," added Lowell, who said confidentiality rules precluded him from specifically rebutting allegations made in the evidence at issue, now sealed in the Ford House Annex Building.

"There is nothing in the Ford building that would cause any public official any more discomfort than what's on the Internet" -- in independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report to the House, Lowell said.

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