BILL CLINTON could breathe easily last night for the first time in 13 months, after the incubus of the Monica Lewinsky affair was finally lifted from his presidency.
In only the second such impeachment vote in its history, the US Senate handsomely acquitted William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States, of the two Articles of Impeachment against him, making him not only the second President to be impeached and tried, but the second to prevail. He also avoided any formal motion of censure, which was rejected by the Senate without a vote.
The final votes - 55-45 against conviction on the charges of perjury, 50-50 on the obstruction of justice charges - in a Senate where Mr Clinton's Republican opponents enjoy a majority, constituted a triumph for the President and his legal team, falling well short of the two-thirds majority required for conviction. But the 50-50 vote on the obstruction charge (with five Republican not-guilty votes) seemed an eminently fitting conclusion to a case that had divided legal minds across the US. It was another day of drama and history on the Capitol, the culmination of the constitutional process of presidential impeachment not seen since the trial of Andrew Johnson in 1868. At midday, after three days of closed debate and as many weeks of open argument, the heavy doors of the Senate chamber were swung open, and reporters, Congressional staff and visitors crowded into the galleries for the final vote. The presiding judge, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, ordered the reading of the first Article of Impeachment, and then commanded: "Senators, how say you? Is the respondent, William Jefferson Clinton, guilty or not guilty?" Called by name, in alphabetical order, each senator rose from his or her seat to deliver their verdict. For the half-hour duration of the two votes, the Senate was in utter silence, but for the single questions and answers called across the chamber. The Democrats' vote held solid for "not guilty"; but with nine Republicans defecting on the perjury charge, and five on the obstruction of justice charge, Mr Clinton was acquitted even more convincingly than expected, and considerably more than Andrew Johnson, who survived removal from office by a single vote. At the close of proceedings, the Chief Justice was presented with a "golden gavel" - an award reserved for Congressional chairmen who have presided for 100 hours - and given a standing ovation. In a closing speech, Mr Rehnquist spoke of the "more free-form environment" he had found at the Senate compared with his own Supreme Court, but said he was leaving "a wiser, but not a sadder man". A Senate trial, a splicing of politics and justice, is one of the rare times when the three branches of the United States system come together. …