WASHINGTON _ With the Senate's majority leader speaking out for an early end to the prolonged investigation of President Clinton, Republicans appeared at odds Saturday over the party's strategy toward the president.
GOP leaders have remained largely noncommittal since independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr's investigation turned seven weeks ago to allegations that Clinton had sex with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, then urged her to lie about it.
But Saturday, after Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott suggested that Starr wind up his investigation and that evidence against Clinton might support punishment no greater than congressional censure, House Speaker Newt Gingrich strongly disagreed with Lott.
"I don't think (Starr) should move a step faster than he needs to or a step slower," Gingrich said in his hometown of Marietta, Ga. "I think he ought to go at the pace that justice dictates, not the pace that public relations dictates."
Asked to explain Lott's comments, Gingrich said: "I don't know why Trent said what he said yesterday."
Another leading Republican, former Education Secretary and presidential hopeful Lamar Alexander, lambasted Clinton, demanding that Republicans make the president's conduct the central political issue in this year's congressional election campaign.
"The president's conduct is a national embarrassment," Alexander said in Des Moines, Iowa, where he is testing his chances for another run in 2000 for the GOP presidential nomination. "All he has to do is give us a day of honesty, to come out and say this is what happened, and then try to reclaim his moral authority."
"Censure would be no substitute for impeachment," said Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga. "It would actually be much worse than doing nothing at all because it sends a clear message that serious abuses of power have taken place, but that no penalty will result."
Starr, meanwhile, told reporters outside his home Saturday: "Grand juries are working very hard in both cities (Washington and Little Rock) and we are making great progress. They're working very hard and they're moving very quickly. I have a job to do and I'm doing my job."
In another development, Lewinsky's attorney, William Ginsburg, who for weeks has courted the press with multiple television talk-show appearances and social outings with TV news commentators, made it clear Friday he's fed up with media attention. "I want some space," he barked at photographers, pushing a camera trained on him and cursing television camera crews.
In an interview on CNN's "Evans and Novak" show taped Friday night for broadcast during the weekend, Lott responded to a question on whether Congress could take a lesser action than impeachment to show displeasure with Clinton's conduct:
"I don't think we know yet what might be alleged. ... But, yes, you could go with a lesser action, and censure certainly would be one."
He said the House could say the evidence was not serious enough for impeachment, "but this is clearly conduct that is on the margin and (that) we don't approve of."
No such effort has arisen in the House, and experts say a resolution of censure would have virtually no legal effect on Clinton.
Asked if the president should resign, Lott said: "It depends on what ... turns out to be true. I think all of it's very serious, even just if ... a sexual relationship did exist, that does demean the office."
"But if it goes beyond that, if it does involve perjury or obstruction of justice, then certainly he should consider resigning," he added.
Meanwhile, Lott, R-Miss., said Starr has had enough time to wrap up his investigation.
"It's time to show his cards," Lott said. "If he's got something, go forward with it. But at the same time, I think he needs to wrap it up, show us what he's got, indict, convict people. Or if he doesn't, close it out."
But Lott also defended Starr against what he called "malicious, vicious attacks" by Clinton supporters, saying they are "totally uncalled-for."
Commenting Saturday on Lott's remark about an early end to the investigation, White House spokeswoman Nanda Chitre said: "Senator Lott has acknowledged what the American people realized a while ago. It is time to end this $40 million, four-year investigation that seems to have no end in sight."
The Washington Post reported Saturday that U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson chastised Lewinsky lawyer Ginsburg during a closed-door hearing in her office on Thursday, complaining that his statements to the press were not helping his client's case or the government.
Ginsburg left town Friday in a huff, heading for California after having lunch with David Kendall, a Clinton lawyer. Ginsburg yelled at photographers and cameramen at Dulles International Airport to get away as his client watched from the back seat of a limousine with a slight smile on her face.
"I want some space. ... I'm telling you get back now, I want some privacy," Ginsburg said, peppering his remarks with expletives.