By John Schwartz
Legislators from both parties, however, said that impeachment hearings were increasingly likely after this year's congressional elections.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that censure was "not likely" in Clinton's case. Lott said a censure is meaningless, and "I don't think the circumstances now call for something that could be interpreted by anybody as nothing."
Lott said he wanted to see the final report from independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr before making a final judgment.
Starr has been investigating whether Clinton lied under oath when he denied in the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit that he had a sexual relationship with the former White House intern. Starr is also examining whether Clinton encouraged others to lie, and he is to make a report of his findings to Congress soon.
Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) also said that a congressional vote of censure was not the proper course and that "we have to do our duty here" and decide whether Clinton should be impeached.
Moynihan said Clinton had committed impeachable offenses by lying in depositions in the Jones case. He also said that lying to the American people -- as Clinton did in a televised statement last January when he denied having a relationship with Lewinsky -- was an impeachable offense. But on ABC's "This Week," Moynihan declined to speculate whether a House impeachment inquiry would end with removal of the president by the Senate. He said he too wanted to read the Starr report and review any House action. The senator said he did not know how he would vote.
Under the Constitution, the House of Representatives must decide whether the president should be impeached, the equivalent of issuing an indictment. The Senate, with the chief justice of the Supreme Court presiding, must then conduct a trial.
Starr, Moynihan said, has "had enough time" and "God knows, enough staff" to complete the report. If an impeachment proceeding fails, Moynihan said, Clinton "will be able to govern . . . he will be in full powers."
Unlike Lieberman, who has been a strong supporter and friend of the president, Moynihan and Clinton have long had a frosty relationship.
Lieberman told the Senate last week that Clinton's behavior was not simply a private matter and "compromised his moral authority." He urged Clinton to accept responsibility. He said that giving the speech was "the hardest thing I've ever done in my political career, because the president is my friend."
The next day, Clinton twice said he was sorry for his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, going further than his initial statement, a mixture of feistiness and regret.
Lieberman said yesterday on "Meet the Press" that the statement Clinton made during a visit to Ireland began the work of repairing the damage "admirably." Lieberman said he was "confident" that Clinton "can restore the full moral authority of his presidency and go on to finish his presidency."
But. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) said Clinton's "credibility is obviously severely diminished. I don't know how he can ever recover the strength of the bully pulpit that he needs." Moran, on "Fox News Sunday," called the current controversy "the most serious crisis he has ever faced and I don't really see any way out of it."
Censure, Moran said, is not "really an option. I think we're bound to go through with impeachment proceedings."
Longtime Clinton friend and supporter Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) said he continued to stand by the president. Bumpers, on CNN's "Late Edition," said "I think the president has apologized. I never believed that if he had worn sackcloth and beat his chest with chains that that would put the thing to rest by any means. It might have given a little respite if he had been, what should I say, more contrite."
Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) also on CNN, said that "we were sent to Congress as legislators and not as marriage counselors."
In an apparent reference to the revelations last week that Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), a Clinton critic who chairs the House panel investigating campaign finance irregularities, had fathered a child out of wedlock, Rangel said "I do believe that lying about adulterous acts are things that members of Congress really ought to say, 'those without sin cast the first stone.' "
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