Mikulski says she may not vote to oust Clinton if he's convicted

She has twofold strategy for deciding fate of ally

January 14, 1999|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said yesterday that she might not vote to unseat President Clinton even if the allegations against him are proved "beyond a shadow of a doubt."

If they are proved during his Senate trial, only then will the Maryland Democrat decide whether they amount to the "high crimes and misdemeanors" that the Constitution requires to remove a president.

Some Republican senators have declared that the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice against Clinton, if proved, warrant his conviction, which would trigger his removal from office.

FOR THE RECORD - A headline on Page 4A yesterday suggested that a vote to remove the president from office would follow a conviction in the Senate impeachment trial. In fact, as the accompanying story about Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland said, conviction would automatically trigger the president's removal. The Sun regrets the error.

Not Mikulski. While she said she is keeping an open mind, she laid out a two-tiered test to determine whether she would vote to convict Clinton, a political ally.

First, did he commit the crimes "beyond a shadow of a doubt"?

"I would be following the same standards to be used if Gertie Glockenspiel were on trial," Mikulski said during a 20-minute interview last night.

Second, do the offenses, once proved, constitute high crimes and misdemeanors worthy of removing a president from office?

"A high crime would be an action that greatly injures the constitutional system of government," Mikulski said, citing the constitutional debates of 1787. That standard could, however, include "criminal conduct that was of serious or egregious nature," she said.

At a time when many senators have gravitated to the microphones, Mikulski has had little to say publicly, saving her most expansive remarks for yesterday. "I have been deeply respectful of my role as a juror," Mikulski said.

Studying history

Mikulski said she has been spending recent days reviewing legal precedent and constitutional history with Martha Rogers, a former assistant U.S. attorney under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Rogers is taking leave as a partner of the Baltimore firm Ober, Kaler, Grimes & Shriver to assist the Maryland lawmaker.

"The other night, I actually had a dream in Colonial costume," said Mikulski, who has also been fighting the flu. "Can you see the work that I've been doing?"

She addded, "Unlike Senator [Paul S.] Sarbanes, I'm not a lawyer," Mikulski said.

Sarbanes, a Democrat who is Maryland's senior senator, served on the House Judiciary Committee that approved articles of impeachment against President Nixon in 1974.

"I'm going to use a standard legal definition for perjury: a false statement made under oath about a material matter. There is a test for determining when a false statement is material -- whether it had a tendency to influence the fact-finder or the investigator."

Obstruction of justice, Mikulski said, occurs when an act is meant to influence a witness. It is a corrupt effort, she said, "to endeavor to influence or obstruct the administration of justice. You could bribe a witness, threaten a witness. That goes to the promise of jobs."

Specificity needed, she says

Like Sarbanes, Mikulski said she was leery of the House case on perjury, which lumps together several alleged instances of lying under oath in a single impeachment count.

White House lawyers argue that the impeachment article fails to specify which alleged false statements are perjurious.

She was sympathetic to the White House argument that each alleged incidence of perjury should be a separate impeachment article.

And she remained skeptical -- although, she said, open to persuasion -- about the need to call witnesses on the Senate floor. House prosecutors said they need some key witnesses to testify in person to make a more compelling case.

"I, at this point, would be surprised if I felt the need to listen to someone in person," Mikulski said. "It is so enormously documented. [If witnesses were called], I would still wonder why, when there is so much evidence."

Pub Date: 1/14/99

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