The Final Week

The Senate trial of President Clinton on perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges opens what is likely to be its final week today. Both sides will present up to three hours of closing arguments, followed by several days of Senate deliberation. Look for a final vote Thursday or Friday.

The trial's final act follows a series of bipartisan votes last week, which evidenced, again, the Senate's moderating, balancing role in the impeachment process. In a small nod to the House managers, Senators agreed to allow both prosecutors and White House defense lawyers to present excerpts of videotaped depositions of Monica Lewinsky, presidential friend Vernon Jordan, and presidential adviser Sydney Blumenthal. But by a 70-to-30 margin, the Senate decided against allowing the House managers to bring Ms. Lewinsky onto the floor to testify in person.

That vote, like earlier ones, kept the managers from presenting the case in the extended manner they feel it warrants. Increasingly, it's clear that a majority of senators want to bring the matter to a timely close - while allowing a fair airing of evidence. In any case, it's doubtful even live-witness testimony could have changed many senatorial minds.

Senators now face two more key decisions before voting on the articles of impeachment. First is whether to conduct their deliberations in public. Senate impeachment rules call for closed discussions.

It takes 67 votes to change the rules. A bipartisan group of senators wants to do so but faces an uphill struggle. Despite the possibility senators may play to the cameras, the Senate, the president, and the public would be best served by open deliberations.

Second, senators must decide whether to censure the president if, as appears certain, they don't convict and remove him. Several Republicans had floated the idea of a "finding of fact," in which the Senate would set forth the president's wrongdoing before it voted on the articles of impeachment. But Democrats (and some Republicans) rightly spurned that idea as unconstitutional.

Now a bipartisan group is crafting a censure motion to be voted on after the trial ends. Some Republicans, however, also oppose censure as unconstitutional, or ineffective.

We disagree. A tough censure resolution agreeable to both sides of the aisle is possible and appropriate. It is the best way to conclude these historic proceedings.

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