Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah - who has been a rare friendly Republican voice for President Clinton - toughened up on him Monday after seeing his grand jury testimony, and amid criticism of Hatch's earlier moderate stances by GOP colleagues.
"There's no question there's been abuse of the White House," Hatch said. "There's no question there's been abuse of the American public."Hatch - a former trial lawyer - said he figures any trial jury watching Clinton's performance would have "reluctantly found him guilty . . . No one believes his story that only Monica Lewinsky had sex and he didn't."
Such comments come as Hatch acknowledges that at least one Republican senator upset with his moderate stances on Clinton had called for him to be stripped of his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee - a move Hatch says wasn't really serious.
Roll Call, a twice-a-week newspaper covering Congress, reported Monday that several GOP senators talked about removing Hatch as Judiciary chairman during a meeting of the Steering Committee, an informal lunch group of Senate conservatives.
"They didn't do it while I was there," Hatch told the Deseret News Monday. "But I was a little late." He said such talk among a "few hotheads" is not uncommon but also not truly serious.
Hatch said only one GOP senator - whom he did not name - had "popped off" to him and suggested in anger that he could lose his chairmanship. "He apologized later," Hatch said.
Still, GOP leaders - including Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. - made clear last week that they disagree with comments by Hatch on weekend TV shows that Clinton might escape with just censure if he stopped legal hairsplitting in his explanations.
Hatch avoided such TV talk shows this weekend - even though he says he was invited to several. He said he avoided them not because of pressure from GOP colleagues, but "because I had nothing new to offer."
He said now that new developments have occurred with release of the video of the grand jury testimony, he may return to such shows "because I have something more to give me some new insights."
Hatch also said he believes his GOP colleagues misconstrued many of his statements. And he said he will always do what he feels is right - and is not being bullied by outside pressure.
He explained, "I always start from a position of sympathy and empathy" for people in difficult situations, and tries to give them the benefit of the doubt - but also counsels them to make necessary corrections including accepting consequences of bad behavior.
In fact, friends say it is easier to predict his actions when dealing with people in distress by thinking of him first as a former Mormon bishop and second as a politician.
However, Hatch said evidence is mounting strongly against Clinton - so his criticism of Clinton's actions is toughening. However, Hatch said he is still reserving judgment on whether Clinton should stay, resign or be impeached.
Hatch said, "It's clear that what happened here shouldn't have happened, and it's pathetic."
Hatch said he was unhappy that Clinton appeared to have conveniently lost his memory when questioned before the grand jury about key events and failed to answer other key questions.
"I don't think he did really well," Hatch said. "How could he? How could he justify what happened?"
Hatch added that his guideline for determining what stance he will take is, "I do what I feel is right," and he added, "The bottom line is: What is best for America?"