Serving as a Clinton juror: The trial Sen. Mikulski dreads

October 23, 1998

Give U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski a community problem that needs to be solved or a Maryland industry that needs a hand and the diminutive dynamo is ready for action, relishing the clash of opinions and compromise that will lead to action and eventually to a solution.

But now the senator faces a problem that can't be resolved with a cleverly drafted bill or a jawboning session with the parties involved - the possible impeachment and trial of the president of the United States.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the House of Representatives draws up the articles of impeachment - something akin to an indictment. Then the president would face a trial in the U.S. Senate, presided over the by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, with Mikulski and her fellow senators as the jurors. As she noted during a Hagerstown visit Friday, it is not something she's looking forward to.

"It's not something you can really prepare for," she says, explaining that there are so many unknowns that it's uncertain what will happen next.


"Does the House proceed? If so, what are the articles of impeachment?" Mikulski said.

As a potential juror in the case, Mikulski said she couldn't really comment on the president's situation at this time, but when pressed, she said that what the president did with Monica Lewinsky "was absolutely wrong, from where he violated his marriage vows. But whether what he did comes across as high crimes and misdemeanors, I don't know."

To get additional insight into that, Mikulski said the senate will have a series of briefings on historic and contemporary thinking on the impeachment process.

"We'll be looking at the Federalist Papers and the original definition of impeachment, and what occurred in the time of Andrew Johnson," the successor to Abraham Lincoln who was impeached and avoided conviction in the Senate by a single vote.

"The preparation only comes in terms of what the Founders thought and contemporary thinking," Mikulski said, because if there is a trial, the president will have his own lawyers in the chamber to argue his case.

Given the American public's strongly stated desire to get this matter behind them, as opposed to having it dragged out on the public stage for another six months to a year, is there any prospect of some kind of expedited solution?

"The only expedited solution is if the House chooses not to impeach and chooses another sanction," she said.

And what might that be?

Mikulski said the House could choose to publicly censure the president, bringing him before Congress, not to the podium where he stands during the State of the Union address, but to the well, or lower part of the House, where he would stand while members rebuked him prior to a censure vote. Perhaps a fine might even be levied, Mikulski said, to cover part of the cost of the investigation.

There are good reasons not to drag the matter out for six months to a year, Mikulski said.

"From (next) January to June, we have to focus our attention on the long-term solvency of Social Security. And then in March, the Medicare Commission's report comes due. These are two big juggernauts to deal with," she said.

"If we are involved in an extended impeachment inquiry, how are we going to provide this safety net for seniors?" she asked.

Mikulski says the polls and the comment that's some to her office have convinced her that Americans don't want the matter dragged out, in part because they believe independent counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation was excessive.

"What happened to all these other matters?" Mikulski asked, referring to Whitewater, Filegate and Travelgate, matters that Starr's team has apparently investigated without turning up much in the way of evidence.

And how should the average working person feel about his or her president now?

"Aspects of his behavior were very wrong. But he kept a robust economy going and made some big decisions on the budget without any Republican votes that resulted in a $70 million surplus," she said.

But, Mikulski said, not all of the lack of progress on domestic issues can be blamed on the president's problems.

"We did not have a chance to vote on campaign reform and we voted to pass legislation to reform HMOs. On five separate occasions, we voted a motion to proceed, but because we're not the majority party, we didn't have the votes," she said.

Asked whether she found it ironic that the Republicans seemed so eager to investigate alleged campaign-finance violations, but reluctant to pass any reforms that would curtail those abuses, Mikulski said the question should be directed to Republicans.

"You'll have to ask (Senator) Fred Thompson and (Representative) Mitch McConnell about that," she said.

Mikulski said her preference on reforms would be a pre-set limit of, for example, $3 million, based on a state's population. Those who agreed to accept the limit would be eligible for an assortment of freebies, including TV time.

Reform is needed, she said, not just because it would keep members honest, but because fund-raising now consumes valuable time that could be spent on other important matters.

For now, however, the senator is waiting to see what happens with the president's case.

"Everybody says we should listen to the polls, but when you have to vote on the possibility of overturning an election, you've got to vote your conscience."

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