By Keri P. Mattox and Amy Jeter
WASHINGTON – Maryland Democratic Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes defended their votes Wednesday to drop the impeachment trial of President Clinton and bar witnesses, saying prosecutors failed to make their case.
Both motions failed on 56-44 votes that fell largely along party lines. The only Democrat to vote for continuing the trial and calling witnesses was Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.
But Mikulski and Sarbanes said they voted on the issues, not on party lines.
“The weight of the evidence does not justify President Clinton’s removal from office,” Mikulski said in a prepared statement.
The facts in the record and the presentation by House managers are not enough to keep the trial going, she said.
Both senators said calling witnesses is not necessary and will only prolong the trial.
“I felt very strongly that we should not bring in any witnesses,” Sarbanes said.
He called it “absolutely astounding” that the Republican House managers want to bring witnesses to the Senate, after the House voted to impeach without hearing their testimony.
Sarbanes said Wednesday’s vote showed that there is not enough support in the Senate to convict — 67 senators would have to vote to remove the president.
Calling witnesses would be a “tremendous disservice” to both the American people and the Senate, Mikulski said in her statement. She said their testimony would not shed new light on the case, and that “there are no substantial differences among witnesses about any key evidence.”
“We have more than ample evidence on which to render impartial justice,” without continuing the trial, she said.
Political analysts said the positions staked out by the two Maryland senators on the issue were hardly surprising.
“The surprising thing would have been if there were a large number of defections,” in either party, said Larry J. Sabato, a professor at the University of Virginia.
American University history professor Allan J. Lichtman said Maryland’s senators were among the least likely to break ranks.
“Both Sarbanes and Mikulski are loyal Democrats — liberal Democrats — and it’s not likely that they are going to defect on a case pushed by conservatives,” Lichtman said.
“Mikulski and Sarbanes certainly are not known as mavericks,” Lichtman said of the Maryland senators’ adherence to the party line.
American University government professor James Thurber, director of AU’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, said the vote was partisan, despite what the senators claimed.
“The Senate has become more partisan in its vote and more solidified in its position. It’s now just as partisan as the House, just not as mean-spirited,” Thurber said.
But Sarbanes said the Senate has handled the trial in a bipartisan fashion, splitting “unfortunately” Wednesday.
“I think it’s the House people that have infected the Senate with that partisan virus,” Sarbanes said.