For Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a funny thing happened on the way to "Face the Nation."
As he traveled to that CBS Sunday show to opine about President Clinton's scandals, who should happen to call on his cell phone but the president himself."He had checked the schedule with CBS and knew I was scheduled to appear," Hatch said. "We talked for about 25 minutes. . . . Bob Schieffer ("Face the Nation" host) had to come get me out of the car."
Did Clinton try to persuade Hatch to soften any attacks that might come? Hatch won't say much about their conversation - only that he offered plenty of advice, and "I told him what I thought - and I didn't pull any punches."
Hatch then on national television - and in interviews afterward - continued his approach of recent weeks that is more conciliatory than many other Republicans.
He did not say that Clinton is finished. Instead, he said Clinton still has a chance to survive. Hatch added that he'd like to avoid a painful impeachment process if possible - and that censure may be appropriate. But he said Clinton's legal hairsplitting over what happened with Monica Le-win-sky must cease.
"He is being very badly served with this legal hairsplitting," Hatch said on CBS. "I think the president has a chance of getting through this, if he'll quit splitting legal hairs, if he'll quit playing this legal game."
George Stephanopolous, former Clinton communications director, even said later on ABC that the White House is pinning much of its hopes on avoiding impeachment on persuading Hatch specifically - and hoping others will follow - to push for censure.
Hatch said his phone call with Clinton "was a private conversation . . . between two people who have been friendly over the years. It was constructive."
Hatch did say that Clinton "thanked me for the measured and decent way I have been approaching this. He thanked me for being so kind to his daughter" and for defending her in a "Larry King Live" interview earlier in the week.
Hatch said that when the interview turned to whether some of Chelsea Clinton's college classmates might make fun of her for the president's troubles, "I told (King) that they'll have to deal with me if they do. She's a wonderful young woman. When you look at her, you know the Clintons must have done something right."
Regarding his phone call with Clinton, Hatch said, "I offered advice because he seemed to want it, and I didn't mince any words."
Hatch also said, "I think he still has a chance (to survive politically), because polls still indicate that most people do not want him impeached."
But he added, "Other polls show he's lost an awful lot of respect and people are turning against him as an individual."
Hatch said, "I just want to be as fair and decent to the president as possible. And the bottom line is, what is best for the people and for America?"
Hatch said, "There's no question there is going to be a sanction. The question is what: impeachment, censure, condemnation, rebuke or whatever." He added he thinks it may be best for America to avoid long impeachment proceedings if possible - but if necessary they should still be pursued.
In contrast, however, Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, chairman of the House Ethics Committee, said Friday that he would urge the House to avoid censure because his years of work on ethics cases have taught him "that it doesn't amount to anything," and it is simply a slap on the wrist.
Hatch said Monday, "I disagree. (Censure) is a very, very serious thing. It has caused senators to resign. . . . It is something that would hang a cloud over this presidency from henceforth to history."