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Key GOP Senators Urge Trial's End

House Managers, AFP Republican House managers Bill McCollum, Ed Bryant (center) and Asa Hutchinson speak to reporters after interviewing Monica Lewinsky. (AFP)

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  • By Peter Baker and Guy Gugliotta
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Monday, January 25, 1999; Page A1

    House prosecutors interviewed Monica S. Lewinsky yesterday as part of a last-ditch effort to persuade the Senate to call witnesses at President Clinton's impeachment trial, even as several key Republican senators signaled opposition to such a move and urged a quick end to the proceedings.

    A day after winning a court order forcing her to cooperate, three House Republican "managers" met with Lewinsky for nearly two hours in the presidential suite of the downtown Renaissance Mayflower Hotel and later characterized the session as "very constructive." But the former White House intern gave them no explosive new information that would alter the dynamics of the trial, and her lawyer implored the Senate to end her "long nightmare" by not calling her.

    By prearrangement, the managers asked nothing about the sexual details of Lewinsky's affair with the president that make up part of the perjury charge against him. Instead, they focused on the events that led to the obstruction of justice count, such as Lewinsky's conversations with Clinton about how she would respond to a subpoena in the Paula Jones lawsuit.

    Lewinsky clarified one key point in dispute at the trial, according to sources familiar with the session. White House lawyers have seized on a cellular telephone record as proof that Oval Office secretary Betty Currie called Lewinsky only after retrieving subpoenaed gifts and therefore could not have been acting at Clinton's direction. Lewinsky, who has testified that she thought Currie collected the gifts around 2 p.m., told the managers that was still her recollection. But she said that Currie called at least three times that day and she allowed for the possibility that the pickup took place after the 3:32 p.m. call, sources said.

    The Lewinsky interview took place a day before the Senate trial reconvenes to consider two key decisions it put off in a bipartisan deal earlier this month: a Democratic motion to dismiss the case and the prosecutors' plea to call witnesses such as Lewinsky. The House team will have three hours of floor time to make the case for witnesses, but their prospects appeared gloomy as a handful of Senate Republicans yesterday declared they were not convinced they should do so.

    "I don't think at this point we should have witnesses," Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) said on NBC's "Meet the Press," expressing unease about what might become an unseemly spectacle. "We want to make sure it doesn't turn into 'The Jerry Springer Show.' " On the same program, Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) said that "for my purposes I believe I have enough evidence before me now to listen to final arguments and go to a final vote."

    At least four other Republicans have expressed some misgivings publicly or privately: Richard C. Shelby (Ala.), James M. Jeffords (Vt.), Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Colo.) and Larry E. Craig (Idaho). With the Senate's 45 Democrats almost solidly opposed to calling witnesses, the motion to allow them could fail if as few as six Republicans cross the aisle.

    Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), though, made clear that he wants to hear from at least one key player, if only in writing. Lott said yesterday that he plans to send a letter to Clinton "in hopes that the president will respond to the senators' interrogatories," as a White House lawyer appeared to suggest he would during the trial on Saturday. The lawyer, Gregory B. Craig, later said he meant that attorneys would answer, but Lott said that was "not a substitute for the president answering the questions."

    Still, Clinton aides repeated yesterday that he would not respond. "There's nothing in the [Senate's] procedural resolution that calls for the president to answer questions," said White House press secretary Joe Lockhart.

    When the trial resumes at 1 p.m. today, Lott may allow senators to pose more questions on the floor to the White House lawyers and House prosecutors, but the Senate plans to then move to the more critical decision-making phase. Under the trial rules, senators will hear debate from both legal teams on the motion to dismiss the case and then the managers' request for witnesses.

    The consensus among the 21 senators who appeared on the talk-show circuit yesterday held that dismissal has no chance of passing. But the fact that the motion will be proposed by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), the self-appointed guardian of Senate tradition, makes it likely that the vast majority of Democrats, if not all, would vote for it. Such a result would send an unmistakable signal that the two-thirds majority needed to convict the president and remove him from office did not exist.

    "The defining moment, I believe, on the trial, will be the Byrd motion to dismiss," Shelby said on ABC's "This Week." "After that, if he gets 45, [or] he got 46, 47 votes, the trial is crystallized and we know it, if we hadn't already known that."

    Both the White House and the managers will be given an hour to debate the motion to dismiss today. Handling the president's side will be Nicole K. Seligman, one of his longtime private attorneys who will be making her public debut in the trial. Seligman, 42, a partner at Williams & Connolly, represented Oliver L. North during the Iran-contra scandal and has worked for Clinton alongside David E. Kendall on everything from Whitewater to the Lewinsky case.

    The vote on the dismissal motion could take place late today, but it seemed unlikely that there would be any votes before tomorrow at the earliest. Under the trial rules, the Senate also is supposed to hear a combined six hours of debate from the two sides about witnesses before taking votes on either motion. If the dismissal motion is defeated as expected and the witness proposal also goes down, the trial presumably would move to closing arguments and a possible up-or-down vote on conviction or acquittal.

    With sentiment once again on the rise for an early resolution of the case, senators appeared to be putting pressure on House prosecutors to produce fresh and convincing arguments why witnesses are needed.

    "We've got over 6,000 pages of sworn testimony," Shelby said. "I don't believe we need any more information, unless . . . the House managers can show us it will be a new dynamic that will change the trial. If it's going to be redundant, I'd say no. There are a lot of people that believe like I do."

    Craig, a member of the Senate GOP leadership team, likewise appeared skeptical that the managers could persuade a majority. "I'm not sure the Senate will vote for witnesses," he said on NBC, adding that "it is possible we could see an end to this [trial] by the end of next week."

    House prosecutors still hope to forestall that and last week, in what numerous Senate Democrats called a "hail-Mary pass," enlisted independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr to go to court to win a judge's order compelling Lewinsky to talk with them. Months after she escaped Washington, Lewinsky flew back on Saturday from California to comply.

    Reps. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.), Edward G. Bryant (R-Tenn.) and Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) questioned her yesterday afternoon in the Mayflower's 2,200-square-foot, $5,000-a-night presidential suite, which boasts a backlit presidential seal etched in glass on the floor and an atrium with stained-glass windows commemorating the American colonies. Snacks included a plate of cookies and brownies, along with a collection of sodas.

    For the first hour after lawmakers and attorneys from Starr's office arrived, the managers negotiated the terms of the session with Lewinsky's lawyers. Only then did Lewinsky enter. Two Starr lawyers left, leaving behind deputy independent counsel Michael J. Emmick, who sat silently throughout the questioning along with Lewinsky's lawyers, Plato Cacheris, Sydney Jean Hoffmann and Preston Burton.

    According to a source, Bryant and Hutchinson did most of the questioning, although McCollum participated as well. The managers were focused on making sure Lewinsky "has no intention of changing her testimony," a prosecution source said afterward, which she does not. In fact, Lewinsky reaffirmed her grand jury statement that no one ever asked her to lie or offered her a job in exchange for a false affidavit in the Jones case.

    Although Senate Democrats had demanded a transcript of the session, none was made and the House lawmakers and their staff did not even take notes, according to people informed about the meeting.

    "It went really very well," Cacheris said in an interview afterward. "She was her usual honest self. She answered all their questions. They were impressed with her. There was nothing new. She adds nothing more to what's in the record in the Senate, and therefore our pitch is she shouldn't be called to testify."

    Departing the Mayflower after the session, the managers agreed with that assessment of Lewinsky's credibility, praising her "intelligence and poise," as Hutchinson put it, but they drew a different conclusion on the need to call her as a witness.

    "We found that she might be a very helpful witness to the Senate if she's called," said McCollum. Added Bryant, "It was a very, very productive meeting. She is, I think, an impressive person. If she has the opportunity to testify before the Senate, it certainly would be a benefit to the case."

    The prosecutors plan to meet this morning to finalize the witness list they will present to the Senate, focused mostly on Lewinsky, Currie, presidential confidant Vernon E. Jordan Jr. and White House aides John D. Podesta and Sidney Blumenthal. The prosecution team also interviewed former Clinton political consultant Dick Morris yesterday about his conversations with the president in the days after the Lewinsky scandal first broke a year ago.

    But managers are still debating the final list. Some have suggested calling other women who have allegedly had sexual encounters with Clinton to try to prove a pattern of obstruction, while sources said others are proposing winnowing down the list even further, perhaps to Lewinsky alone.

    Prosecutors also have suggested that they may call a witness to testify that, contrary to his assertions, Clinton was paying attention during his deposition in the Jones case when his attorney denied that the president had sex with Lewinsky. They also are considering bringing in an expert on sexual harassment or perjury laws.

    While opposing any witnesses, the White House has warned that if testimony is taken it would want months to collect evidence and interview its own possible witnesses to rebut the prosecution. The president's team, however, will not present its own list of witnesses today if the Senate does agree to hear testimony.

    But the Senate parliamentarian maintains that the White House must present a witness list prior to debating the motion just as the prosecutors do, according to Republican leadership sources. The sources said Lott, perhaps with an assist from Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), needed to resolve this confusion before the trial resumes.

    Staff writer Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.


    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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