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Byrd: Clinton guilty, but should stay?

WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 1999 (UPI) -- A prominent Democratic senator says he believes President Clinton's actions in the Monica Lewinsky scandal rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, but he says for the sake of the country perhaps Clinton should The comments of Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., came in an interview taped Saturday and broadcast today on ABC's ''This Week.'' Two weeks ago, Byrd had offered a motion to dismiss the case against Clinton.

Clinton's Senate impeachment trial is scheduled to resume at 1 p.m. EST on Monday, although Sens. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Pat Leahy, D- Vt., will be part of the U.S. delegation to the funeral of Jordan's King Hussein.

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Six hours of closing arguments by the prosecution and defense are scheduled Monday. Beginning Tuesday, senators will hold their final debate for about three days. Byrd said he believes the final deliberations should be public.

Byrd said censure after the trial would allow senators to express their condemnation of Clinton's actions. Asked about language of a censure, Byrd said Clinton's actions had hurt the country and ''all of the institutions of government.'' He added, ''The question is does this rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors? I say 'yes.' No doubt about it, in my mind. But the issue is, should the president be removed? Should this president be removed? That's the issue.''

Byrd said the Constitution requires that if Clinton is convicted, he is automatically removed from office -- so the way to vote on the impeachment articles is to consider what's best for the country.

''I have no doubt that he has given false testimony under oath and that he has misled the American people. And that he has -- there are indications that he did, indeed, obstruct justice,'' Byrd said. ''But having said all of that, under the circumstances -- he has less than two years to serve, he has done a lot of good things, and the American people don't want him removed. And in the interest of our country, I may come to the conclusion that we should not remove him. For these reasons.''

Byrd said Clinton will be judged by history if he remains in office.

''He won't be getting off scot-free,'' Byrd said. ''People a hundred years from today will talk about this. I'm not going to be at all light in my excoriation of William Jefferson Clinton.

''What he did was deplorable. Inexcusable. A bad example. It undermined the system of justice when he gave false testimony under oath. He lied under oath,'' Byrd said. ''But, I can close that chapter. I can work with the president.''

Byrd said he thought history will judge the Senate as having done a good job handling the impeachment trial -- and that the vote will be wrenching for all senators.

''The most heart-wrenching of any vote that any senator will ever be called on to make is the vote to convict or to acquit,'' he said. ''It would be very difficult to stand and say 'not guilty.' Very difficult. Who's kidding whom here? I have to live with myself. I have to live with my conscience. And I have to live with the Constitution. And that Constitution is just like the Bible. You can't write it over.''

Asked whether he will be able to stand and say ''not guilty,'' Byrd replied: ''Next Friday or before, we will know.''

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