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Senate Subpoenas 3, Ponders New Plan

Clinton on Trial

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  • By Eric Pianin and Edward Walsh
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Saturday, January 30, 1999; Page A1

    The Senate yesterday delivered subpoenas to Monica S. Lewinsky and two other witnesses in President Clinton's impeachment trial, as senators of both parties raised concerns about a budding GOP plan to condemn Clinton's behavior without removing him from office.

    A day after the Senate broke into partisan blocs over rules for the rest of the trial, preparations were made for the next, less public phase of the proceedings: the private, videotaped deposition of Lewinsky, presidential friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr. and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal.

    Sergeant at Arms James Ziglar hand-delivered a subpoena to lawyers for Blumenthal, while summonses for Lewinsky and Jordan were sent by fax. The outcome of their testimony next week will determine whether any of the three will be called before the Senate, whether additional witnesses may be summoned and finally whether the trial can be finished by a Feb. 12 target date sought by the Republicans and Democrats.

    Although House prosecutors maintained hope that the secret depositions would help change the course of a trial that seems headed toward Clinton's acquittal, many senators of both parties were seeking a consensus plan to prevent the president from claiming vindication.

    But one proposal that had gained some currency earlier this week seemed to run into problems. At least a half-dozen Republicans across the ideological spectrum voiced reservations about adopting "findings of fact" detailing Clinton's wrongdoing in his affair with Lewinsky without convicting the president or removing him from office.

    Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) and other moderate Republicans are promoting the approach as a way of expressing the Senate's outrage over Clinton's behavior. But Republican Sens. Richard C. Shelby (Ala.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Phil Gramm (Tex.), Rod Grams (Minn.), Slade Gorton (Wash.), and Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) oppose the approach or have expressed serious reservations about it.

    Some, like Gramm and Grams, worry that by offering the findings, GOP leaders may drain support from the impeachment articles themselves. Others, like Shelby, argue that the approach is unconstitutional.

    "That is a bifurcated process," Shelby said. "That is not what we have done before. It's questionable whether that comes within the confines of the Constitution. ... I think we ought to vote this up or down, guilty or not guilty, and then go on."

    Grams said he's "more interested in hearing from the witnesses, to take a look at the depositions, to find out if there's anything new in their testimony, and then have a final vote on the articles, up or down. ... What the findings of fact would do, I'm not sure."

    Cochran added, "We should find the president guilty or not guilty and if we find him guilty he is removed from office. ... The finding of fact that would say he has committed crimes of perjury and obstruction of justice . . . is the responsibility of a court at law in my view."

    Such views dovetail with the interests of the White House, which has voiced alarm over the finding-of-fact approach upon which some GOP leaders have looked favorably. Aides complained that it would set a terrible precedent that would allow future Congresses to punish chief executives with whom they disagreed.

    They also charged that it was a back-door vehicle for extracting retribution from a president without having to meet the two-thirds majority requirement for conviction and removal set forth in the Constitution. There is also concern among some that findings of fact could be used against Clinton in a criminal proceeding after he leaves office.

    "There is an attempt here by the Republican majority to play out this process in a way that can inflict maximum political damage on the president," White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said yesterday. "That was the game plan in the House, and I think we're seeing some of that in the Senate now."

    But Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) has insisted the Democrats were being "overly nervous" and that it was far from certain the Republicans would press for adoption of the findings. The Republican plan for ending the trial, approved on a mostly party-line vote Thursday, would allow the Senate to consider a findings-of-fact resolution before the vote on the two impeachment articles.

    Under the plan, depositions will begin at 9 a.m. Monday with Lewinsky, who will be questioned at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel by House Republican prosecutors and White House lawyers splitting up to eight hours of time. Two senators, one from each party, will preside over that and the subsequent depositions of Jordan and Blumenthal.

    After senators privately review deposition transcripts and videotapes, they will resume the trial formally on Thursday and begin considering a motion by the prosecutors detailing how much of the material they wish to introduce on the Senate floor for public consumption. The managers also could ask that the witnesses be subpoenaed to testify in person, although it remained uncertain that they could muster the majority vote required.

    With the Senate divided between 55 Republicans and 45 Democrats, it would take only a handful of GOP defections to scuttle the findings-of-fact idea, since most Democrats already dislike the plan. "You can't be a little bit pregnant," complained Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), a close ally of the president. "Either you're guilty or not guilty. Some people are trying to have it both ways, but with conviction comes a sentence."

    If the approach fails, as some on both sides of the aisle are predicting, the only remaining option would be to censure Clinton after the trial, a step that is favored by most Democrats and some Republicans. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) are promoting a sternly worded bipartisan resolution of censure.

    However, some Republicans favor the findings-of-fact approach because they believe that by making such a judgment as part of the impeachment trial they would deliver a stronger message of condemnation of Clinton's behavior than would a censure passed after the Senate's expected vote not to remove him from office.

    Feinstein said yesterday that she would "keep an open mind" on a findings-of-fact motion and "could conceivably support it" as long as it tracked her thoughts on censure. She has not released the text of her censure resolution, but said it condemns the president's behavior that "brings disrepute to the presidency."

    Collins, a freshman, first suggested a version of the findings-of-fact approach that would enable the Senate to go on record as accepting the essential facts in the impeachment case but without convicting the president and removing him.

    Lott, who was intrigued by the idea, appointed a seven-member task force, including co-chairs Collins and Sens. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), to try to develop language that would appeal to Democrats as well as Republicans. The task force met several times this week and will try to come up with a final draft by Monday to be circulated to senators before the trial resumes Thursday.

    "There's a very considerable number of senators in our caucus who continue to speak of this as something desirable," said Domenici. "We've told the caucus we're convinced it can be done without infringing upon the Constitution's words on impeachment."

    "Where this all goes, I don't know," he added.

    Dave Lackey, a spokesman for Snowe, said the findings would be relatively brief and would not be "a laundry list" of allegations against Clinton. Rather than cite specific crimes such as perjury and obstruction of justice, he said it would be "a broad statement of areas where the Senate believes wrongdoing occurred. It would put the Senate on record as not condoning wrongdoing."

    With an eye to attracting Democrats, one draft of the proposal would describe Clinton as "intentionally misleading a grand jury" but not accusing him of perjury or lying in sworn testimony.

    Sen. Bob Graham (Fla.) was one of the few Democrats to express interest in the findings-of-fact idea. He said it is important for the Senate to express its opinion about Clinton's conduct so that a vote for acquittal "is not interpreted as a statement of acceptance." Such a vote, he said, should occur during the impeachment trial, not after it.

    "I'm personally uncomfortable with something defined as censure because the Constitution doesn't provide for that," Graham said. "You don't have the option of keeping the president in office and throwing mud at him. The idea of doing it through whereas clauses, a statement of finding of fact, appeals to me, but like most things the devil resides in the details."

    Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) said he could vote for a finding of facts if it was written carefully to conform with the facts as he saw them. He said he was skeptical at first and remains somewhat skeptical that it could wind up being an effort to convict without removal. But if it is not, he added, "I'm open to it. ... If I agree with what the findings saw, I may vote for it."

    Staff writers Peter Baker and Guy Gugliotta and researcher Ben White contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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