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Senators Divided on Key Issues

Daschle, AP Senate Minority Leader Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) talks about the impeachment trial on "Face the Nation" Sunday. (AP)

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  • By Peter Baker
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, January 11, 1999; Page A1

    While celebrating their unanimous agreement on impeachment trial rules, the senators now sitting in judgment of President Clinton made clear yesterday that they still divide along the same partisan lines as their House colleagues when viewing the basic elements of the case.

    For all of the talk of bipartisanship, Republicans and Democrats remain split not only on key issues such as whether to call witnesses or to consider censure but also on the more fundamental questions about whether the allegations against Clinton are serious enough to remove a president from office for the first time in history.

    The disagreements that became clear on the television interview shows yesterday forecast serious trouble ahead for the presidential jurors as they attempt to maintain the sort of civility that brought them together for a 100 to 0 approval of procedures on Friday. To achieve that accord, the senators postponed the critical decision on whether to hear live testimony on the floor from Monica S. Lewinsky and others involved in the case and are likely to face off again on that in weeks to come.

    "We're in a bipartisan mode for the opening kickoff," said Sen. John Breaux (D-La.). "Halftime is questionable. If we go into overtime, all bets are off."

    With the procedures in place for the moment, the substantive debate will begin today as the White House files its formal response to the two articles of impeachment alleging that Clinton committed perjury and obstructed justice to cover up an Oval Office affair with Lewinsky.

    The written response is likely to be brief and not break new ground, according to sources close to the defense team, and the White House probably will not file any significant motions by today's 5 p.m. deadline either. Clinton lawyers had prepared to file a motion to dismiss the case outright but likely will defer to Senate Democrats such as Breaux, who said on ABC's "This Week" that such a move should wait until after the initial round of arguments by both sides.

    Those presentations will start Thursday with House Republican prosecutors, called "managers," who will have 24 hours spread over several days to make their case. Clinton's lawyers will follow and have the same amount of time.

    The format presents distinct challenges. Unlike the House Judiciary Committee, where lawyers had brief opening statements and then answered five minutes of questions from each member, the prosecution and defense presentations to the Senate will occur without interruption and amount to days of filibuster-like speeches with no interaction between anyone. Senators will not be allowed to pose questions until after both sides have been heard and then must submit them in writing.

    In preparing for such long presentations, both sides were firming up their lineups and tactical approaches yesterday, assigning different parts of the case to different members of their teams.

    The Clinton team, according to sources, plans to use six lawyers, led by White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff and including three members of his staff – Gregory B. Craig, Cheryl D. Mills and Lanny A. Breuer – as well as the president's private attorneys David E. Kendall and Nicole K. Seligman.

    The White House case is tentatively set to begin Jan. 19, just hours before Clinton is scheduled to deliver the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. Aides indicated over the weekend that Clinton would proceed with the speech despite the awkwardness of the encounter, although several senators, including Democrats Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), called on him again yesterday to postpone it.

    In preparing for their arguments, House managers yesterday were reevaluating initial plans to have Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) open the case. Judiciary Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), the head of the 13-member team, now is likely to deliver some opening remarks, with Sensenbrenner still participating in the initial arguments, according to a source familiar with the planning.

    Four other members – Reps. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), Robert L. Barr Jr. (R-Ga.), Edward G. Bryant (R-Tenn.) and James E. Rogan (R-Calif.) – will handle the presentation of facts for different parts of the case.

    Given the discomfort among many senators about live testimony, House prosecutors were streamlining their list to propose no more than a half-dozen witnesses, according to Hutchinson. Several prosecutors said that in addition to Lewinsky, Clinton friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr., Oval Office secretary Betty Currie, White House Chief of Staff John D. Podesta and communications aide Sidney Blumenthal could be witnesses.

    In deference to senatorial sensibilities, prosecutors do not plan to ask Lewinsky about sexual encounters, but only to reaffirm her grand jury testimony, which conflicts with Clinton's on the details. Instead, she would be asked about episodes such as her conversation with the president about her false affidavit in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case, Jordan's attempts to find her a job and Currie's retrieval of presidential gifts that were under subpoena.

    Aides such as Podesta and Blumenthal would be called to establish Clinton's "state of mind" to show that when he told them early in the scandal that he had no sexual relationship with Lewinsky, he was not excluding oral sex as he later claimed to be during his sworn testimony, prosecutors said.

    Hutchinson, appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation," said he might also want to hear from U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, who presided over the Paula Jones lawsuit and attended the Jan. 17, 1998, deposition in which Clinton first denied his affair with Lewinsky. A prosecution source said later, however, that Wright likely would not be called.

    Other disagreements among prosecutors were aired yesterday as well, most prominently whether they might call witnesses who are not directly related to the Lewinsky case to establish what they see as a pattern of obstruction by Clinton. Rogan and Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said they were interested in whether women such as Kathleen E. Willey were pressured about their testimony in the Jones case, while Hutchinson said he was reluctant to ask that such evidence be admitted.

    While senators of both parties expressed unease about witnesses, Democrats generally opposed them outright while Republicans generally said House managers should be given the opportunity to build their case and said no one could imagine Clinton's being denied the chance to call witnesses in his defense.

    The conflict on censure was similar, with Democrats calling it a reasonable compromise and Republicans deeming it unconstitutional. Feinstein, an early critic of Clinton's deception about Lewinsky, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that she was drafting a censure proposal.

    In a significant statement, Graham, appearing on two shows, said that he did not believe the Senate would convict Clinton and that he was open to censure as long as a "meaningful trial" takes place first and such a resolution concludes that Clinton committed a crime.

    Underlying those issues, though, was a larger schism on the merits of the case. Although most senators said they wanted to weigh the evidence, several Democrats argued that Clinton's misdeeds did not justify ouster while Republicans said they could rise to that level.

    Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said on "Fox News Sunday" that the House case was "a pile of dung" and distinguished between a violation of the law and the high crimes envisioned by the Constitution. "Just because a president commits a crime does not mean, ipso facto, that he should be removed from office," Harkin said.

    Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), appearing on NBC, offered a contrasting view: "You can certainly argue the fact that someone who breaks the law in . . . not telling the truth under oath and someone who obstructs justice does in fact threaten the public."

    Staff writers Juliet Eilperin and Helen Dewar contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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