Senate Acquits Clinton, Ending Impeachment Trial
Posted February 11, 1999 6:00 a.m. EST
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate today acquitted William Jefferson Clinton of perjury and obstruction of justice, ending a 13-month drama that catapulted an affair with a White House intern into only the second presidential impeachment trial in history. Permitted to finish his term, the 42nd president declared he was ``profoundly sorry ... for what I said and did.''
``This can be and this must be a time of reconciliation and renewal for America,'' Clinton said in a brief statement from the White House Rose Garden about two hours after the historic verdict.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist pronounced Clinton's acquittal at 12:39 EST. ``It is therefore ordered and adjudged that the said William Jefferson Clinton be and he hereby is acquitted of the charges in the said articles,'' he intoned.
Senators voted 50-50 on the impeachment article accusing Clinton of obstruction of justice in concealing his affair with Monica Lewinsky, far short of the two-thirds required for conviction. Earlier, senators rejected the charge of perjury by a 55-45 vote, as 10 Republicans joined the Democrats.
Shortly after the votes, Rehnquist banged his gavel to end the five-week trial.
Senators then rejected an effort by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to force a vote today on her recommendation to censure the president for ``shameful, reckless and indefensible'' behavior. The symbolic effort, which several Democrats said would not be revived later on, 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. Later he expressed his remorse.
``Now that the Senate has fulfilled its constitutional responsibility, bringing this process to a conclusion, 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,'' the president read.
The votes were broadcast by the networks to a nation long since weary of the proceedings. Ms. 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.
In defeat, the lead House prosecutor said his team had nothing to be ashamed of, rejecting any idea that the GOP House's effort - which proceeded despite public opposition - tarnished its credibility. ``All Americans can take great comfort,'' Rep Henry Hyde, R-Ill., said. ``Congress has strengthened, not weakened the ties that bind our nation together.''
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.
Senators ended two final hours of closed door debate on Clinton's transgressions this morning shortly before noon.
``Senators, how say you? Is respondent William Jefferson Clinton guilty or not guilty?'' Rehnquist asked 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:
GOP senators opposing the obstruction article were:
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.
The president's legal team was also relieved. They left the White House shortly after the verdict to have dinner together at a restaurant.
Several key Democrats said they do not want the Senate to discuss censuring Clinton after the return from the break. ``I don't want to go back into it. It's over. Let's move on,'' Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said. Added Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.: ``I don't think censure will come back. It's time to stop ... the censuring, stop the debating.''
Many Americans were just as relieved that the impeachment crisis with its tawdry tale of sex and lies was finally over.
``Hallelujah. We have to get on with our lives,'' Margit Noro of Harrisburg, Pa., declared.
``He's had a decent presidency ... but this is going to overshadow everything he's done that's good,'' said A.J. Cardounel, of Richmond, Va.
Senators thanked the chief justice for presiding over the trial and presented him with a gavel on a plaque. He said he was leaving the Senate chamber a ``wiser but not a sadder man.''
House managers exited the chamber, shaking hands with senators of both parties.
Even with the inevitable acquittal, senators wanted the public to know they abhorred the president's conduct in concealing his affair with Ms. Lewinsky.
``While it may not be a crime, he exploited a very young, star-struck employee whom he then proceeded to smear in an attempt to destroy her credibility, her reputation, her life,'' said Sen. Collins.
Clinton is not free from 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 GOP-controlled Congress that wanted him evicted from the White House.
The trial featured for the first time videotaped testimony on the Senate floor and provided the world its first good look at Ms. Lewinsky, the former White House intern. A national TV audience was able to watch as 13 House impeachment managers, all Republicans, argued that Clinton deserved to be thrown out of office, while White House lawyers said he should not.
Throughout the impeachment proceedings, opinion polls showed that most of the public gave Clinton low marks for personal trust and morality - and were repulsed when Clinton's now-famous televised, finger-wagging assertion, ``I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky'' proved less than truthful. 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.
Still, a Republican-controlled House in December voted virtually along party lines to send to the Senate for trial an impeachment case based almost entirely upon a voluminous report by Starr.