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Senators stay silent on Clinton trial

December 22, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

U.S. senators from Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia are keeping mum about how they would vote in the impeachment trial of President Clinton next year.

For only the second time in history, the House of Representatives on Saturday approved articles of impeachment against a president.

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The 100 senators will sit in judgment of charges that Clinton committed perjury in a grand jury investigation into whether he lied about having sex with a White House intern and then obstructed justice by covering it up.

To be removed from office, at least 67 senators would have to vote for a conviction.

For now, Tri-State area senators are sticking to their roles as jurors.

"As a juror, it would be inappropriate for me to comment any further on the matter," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., said in a statement. "I will reserve judgment until I have reviewed the evidence and until all the facts are presented to the sitting members of the Senate. I do not want to prejudge a matter on which I will cast a vote."

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Mikulski said she regards the House impeachment vote seriously. But she added that she will not let it affect her day-to-day duties as a senator.

Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., said in a statement that he, too, will continue to work on issues that matter most to his constituents.

Rockefeller criticized both Clinton's actions and what "Republican leaders in Washington have so clearly done to exploit it." But he said he would withhold final judgment until the Senate trial.

"I must also say that I believe that the constitutional test for impeachment of a president is very high, and there is a heavy burden on those who would seek to overturn a presidential election," he said. "If that burden is not met, and the impeachment process is used to remove a president purely for political purposes, our nation will suffer dramatic consequences."

Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said the impeachment of a president is "a sad and regrettable day for America."

"I will be a juror in a trial of most grave proportions," he said in a statement. "Under the rules of the Senate, I am required to take an oath to 'do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws; so help me God.' I am prepared to take that oath and consider the issue as the Constitution prescribes."

Santorum said the length and schedule of the trial depend greatly on Clinton's legal team, which will be given time to prepare and present a defense.

Santorum also said he will focus on saving Social Security, improving education and reducing taxes while senators consider the impeachment charges.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., who has been harshly critical of Clinton, said in a press release, "To a very large degree, we are now navigating in previously unchartered 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 U.S. Senate."

Whether there is a trial or whether there is some other solution, that decision must be made by seantors, and it must be bipartisan or it will have absolutely no credibility with the public, '' Byrd said in the release.

Earlier this year, Byrd warned Clinton not to "tamper with this jury."

Aides to Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., did not return telephone calls on Monday.

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