U.S. Senators Find Clinton Not Guilty
- By Larry Margasak
- Feb. 13 1999 00:00
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate acquitted William Jefferson Clinton of perjury and obstruction of justice Friday, ending a 13-month drama that catapulted an affair with a White House intern into only the second presidential impeachment trial in history.
The vote allows America's 42nd president to finish his term in office.
"It is therefore ordered and adjudged that William Jefferson Clinton be and hereby is acquitted of the charges in the said articles," Chief Justice William Rehnquist declared.
Senators voted 50-50 on the impeachment article accusing Clinton of obstruction of justice, far short of the two-thirds required for conviction.
Minutes earlier, senators rejected the charge of perjury by a 55-45 vote, as 10 Republicans joined the Democrats.
Both charges would have required 67 votes for conviction, a threshold that senators have known for weeks would not be met.
About two hours after the Senate votes, Clinton appeared in the Rose Garden of the White House and said his acquittal should begin "a time of reconciliation and renewal for America."
Speaking solemnly and plainly, Clinton began with an expression of remorse. "I want to say again to the American people how profoundly sorry I am for what I said and did to trigger these events, and the great burden they have imposed on the Congress and the American people," Clinton said. "Now I ask all Americans, and I hope all Americans here in Washington and throughout our land will rededicate ourselves to the work of serving our nation and building our future," he said.
He answered one question: "In your heart, sir, can you forgive and forget?" "I believe any person who asks for forgiveness has to be prepared to give it," Clinton said, then walked back into the White House.
Shortly after the votes, Rehnquist banged his gavel to end the five-week trial. Senators then rejected an effort by Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, to force a vote Friday on her recommendation to censure the president for "shameful, reckless and indefensible" behavior.
Her proposed censure, which Democrats may try to resurrect after a mid-February recess, would rebuke Clinton for giving false or misleading testimony and "impeding discovery of evidence in judicial proceedings."
The symbolic effort was a reminder that, acquittal aside, Clinton remains forever tarnished as only the second president in history to be impeached.
Clinton was in the White House residence during the vote but did not watch it on television. The White House press staff watched on TV, displaying no emotions. The votes were broadcast by the networks to a nation long since weary of the proceedings.
Lewinsky, who testified earlier this month by videotape, watched on television, according to associates.
Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said Clinton's acquittal should not be seen as vindication for his behavior. "This was a rebuke. There is no question," Daschle said of the impeachment.
After the vote, the second and third floors of the Senate side of the Capitol were evacuated by police checking a bomb threat, officials said. In defeat, the lead House prosecutor said his team had nothing to be ashamed of, rejecting any idea that the Republican impeachment effort - which proceeded despite public opposition - tarnished its credibility. "All Americans can take great comfort," Representative Henry Hyde said. "Congress has strengthened, not weakened the ties that bind our nation together."
"Senators, how say you? Is respondent William Jefferson Clinton guilty or not guilty?" Rehnquist said to a hushed chamber, beginning the vote.
One by one, senators rose from their seats and declared "guilty" or "not guilty."
The Republicans who voted against conviction on perjury were: Slade Gorton of Washington, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, John Chafee of Rhode Island, James Jeffords of Vermont, Richard Shelby of Alabama, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Ted Stevens of Alaska, Fred Thompson of Tennessee and John Warner of Virginia.
Republican senators opposing the obstruction article were: Collins, Chafee, Jeffords, Snowe and Specter.
Senators on both sides relished the opportunity to end the unpopular trial and get back to legislative business after a mid-February break. "I really think the Senate will be able to work better because of this," Lott said. Several key Democrats said they do not want the Senate to discuss censuring Clinton after the return from the break.
Even after acquittal, Clinton does not remain without troubles: He could face indictment, while in office or after his term, by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, and must finish his remaining months in office facing a Republican-controlled Congress that wanted him evicted from the White House.
Throughout the impeachment proceedings, opinion polls showed that most Americans gave Clinton low marks for personal trust and morality. But they approved of the job he was doing in a time of peace and a booming economy and did not think the sex and cover-up scandal was serious enough to warrant his removal from office.
After the Senate voted to acquit Clinton, the 13 House Republican prosecutors beat a hasty exit before impatient senators could eject them "at the end of a bayonet," joked Representative Bob Barr.
The ultra-conservative Republican who pushed for Clinton's impeachment even before Lewinsky became a household name, half-expected to find "a sign tied to our backs saying, '...and don't come back!'"