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  • By Howard Kurtz
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, January 18, 1999; Page A8

    A Democratic senator who is consulting regularly with President Clinton during the impeachment trial said yesterday that if the Senate insists on calling witnesses, the White House would seek to cross-examine independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.

    The remarks by Sen. Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.) came as 19 senators, nearly a fifth of the jury, blitzed the Sunday talk shows, dividing sharply along party lines on the strength of the case House managers made against Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice last week and the need for witnesses after the president's lawyers complete their opening arguments this week.

    If the required 51 senators vote to allow witnesses, "front and center is going to be Kenneth Starr, and we will go through prosecutorial abuse, how he came by information, who he talked to, and we're going to put the system of justice on trial," Torricelli said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

    "I'd be very interested in having Linda Tripp . . . and Ken Starr," Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said on NBC's "Meet the Press," referring to the former friend of Monica S. Lewinsky whose secret tape recordings triggered the Starr investigation.

    Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), offering a view echoed by several Republicans, said on NBC: "I think it's going to be pretty tough under these circumstances not to have witnesses, and I think the House made a fairly good case that it would be helpful."

    The White House has strongly argued against the need for witnesses on grounds that such a move could drag out the trial. Clinton strategists are privately concerned that extensive questioning of such witnesses as Lewinsky, the president's secretary Betty Currie and his longtime friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr. could change the dynamics of the case. But administration officials are in the uncomfortable position of warning that they too might be compelled to call witnesses, thus adding to the length of a trial they now insist should be brought to a swift conclusion.

    Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) noted on CBS that if the White House wants to summon Starr, "we'd like to know why. We still have to vote. . . . We're not going to let this spin out of control." But Torricelli said he "cannot imagine circumstances" in which the House Republican prosecutors are allowed to call witnesses and senators "tell the president of the United States you cannot bring Kenneth Starr."

    Assessments of the three days of presentations by the House managers split along party lines. Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) called it "a very strong, very persuasive case," while Sen. Paul D. Wellstone (D-Minn.) said he believed "that the House has not made its case."

    Lawmakers of both parties agreed, however, that a majority of the Senate is unlikely to vote to dismiss the trial after opening arguments. And a Republican senator, Larry E. Craig (Idaho), said on "Fox News Sunday" that while Clinton would be invited to testify, he would oppose any attempt to subpoena the president.

    Whether by design or not, GOP lawmakers sounded similar themes yesterday, as did their Democratic counterparts. A number of Republicans compared Clinton's situation to those of impeached judges who have been convicted. "The Senate has been very consistent over the years when federal judges perjured themselves over the years . . . they were consistently voted out," Craig said. Hatch noted that "Judge [Walter] Nixon was removed for perjury."

    Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.), one of the House managers, said on NBC that key witnesses must be "tested" for "credibility," adding: "If you believe Monica Lewinsky, you can't believe the president. If you believe Monica Lewinsky, the crimes of perjury and obstruction were committed."

    But Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said on ABC's "This Week" that because of the grand jury proceedings "the witnesses have already been heard in this case. Monica Lewinsky, 22 times. I think Mrs. Currie, nine times. Vernon Jordan, five times." Torricelli also said on CBS that Lewinsky had testified "22 times, Betty Currie nine times, Vernon Jordan five times."

    Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) said on "Fox News Sunday": "This is the most thoroughly investigated, widely reported scandal in history. We've sat for three days and haven't heard anything new. . . . And I don't want to see us for the next three or four months in a trial in the Senate bringing Monica Lewinsky to the well of the Senate." Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) also emphasized the possible delays, saying that with witnesses "we could be talking May or June before you finish this trial."

    But Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said on Fox that the Senate could limit any testimony for time reasons. And House manager Charles T. Canady (R-Fla.), on CNN's "Late Edition," said Clinton's lawyers are trying to create the impression that the only options are "no witnesses" or "an extended trial that will go on for month after month. And that's just a silly proposition."

    In dismissing the need for witnesses, another Democrat, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), said: "Are we all going to come down and say, 'I want to check again, did you fidget? I want to look into your eyes.' Be real! This is not Perry Mason. This is not something where somebody suddenly comes running into the courtroom and says, 'Oh my God! I did it!'"

    Some Republicans appeared to be ratcheting up expectations for the president's legal team as a way of limiting its potential effect. Hatch said the president's lawyers were "the best lawyers in the country" and "much more skilled" than the House managers, while Kyl called them "very competent lawyers."

    While the impeachment trial dominated the airwaves, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) released a letter to Clinton in which they challenged him to submit a plan on buttressing Social Security by March 1, and to make proposals on education, cutting taxes and national security.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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