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Six Senators Named to Gauge Witnesses

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  • By Guy Gugliotta
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, January 30, 1999; Page A10

    A half-dozen senators will get the first crack at evaluating the only witnesses so far summoned for President Clinton's impeachment trial as they sit in on closed-door interviews of Monica S. Lewinsky and two presidential advisers next week.

    Senate Republican leaders yesterday assigned Sens. Mike DeWine (Ohio), Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) and Arlen Specter (Pa.) to represent them at the depositions, while the Democrats will send Sens. Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.), Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.) and freshman John Edwards (N.C.).

    Under the rules for the depositions put in place this week, two senators one from each party will serve as twin "presiding officers" during each deposition. They will swear in the witness and make initial rulings on any objection arising out of the questioning. John Czwartacki, a spokesman for Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), said the other two senators from each party will be allowed in the room during the deposition, although only one may preside at any given time.

    The rest of the senators will be granted access to the deposition transcripts and videotapes only afterward and on their own, probably the day following each interview. When the Senate resumes the trial on Thursday, it will then consider a proposal from the House Republican prosecutors outlining how much, if any, of the testimony they want to introduce on the floor, making it public.

    Subpoenas for Lewinsky, presidential confidant Vernon E. Jordan Jr. and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal went out yesterday. Senate Sergeant at Arms James W. Ziglar left the U.S. Capitol at 2:30 p.m. to hand-deliver a subpoena to Blumenthal attorney William A. McDaniel, who was with his client at the time, while the other two were faxed to lawyers for Lewinsky and Jordan.

    Lewinsky will go first, starting at 9 a.m. Monday at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel, where she met with three House "managers" last weekend under court order obtained by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr on behalf of the prosecution. Jordan and Blumenthal are tentatively scheduled to be interviewed Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, in the Senate's secure briefing room on the Capitol's fourth floor, according to Czwartacki. Under ground rules set by Lott and Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), each session can last no more than eight hours.

    The senators will be serving in an unusual role, essentially as judges designated to settle disputes among the lawyers. If they cannot agree, the deposition will continue and the unresolved objections will be taken up by the full Senate when the trial resumes Thursday.

    "My understanding is that our role is that of a judge," Edwards said in an interview. "We maintain decorum and procedures and rule on objections in the first instance. We do not raise objections."

    The Republicans assigned DeWine as presiding officer for the Lewinsky deposition, Thompson for Jordan and Specter for Blumenthal. Edwards said the Democratic team was taking a somewhat different approach. Leahy will preside during Lewinsky's deposition but may be relieved by Edwards and Dodd, and "we'll divvy up the remaining responsibilities."

    "I've sat in on eight-hour depositions and it's no fun, plus we need some continuity to tell the caucus our impressions and recommendations," Leahy said. Besides, he added, both he and Dodd were impressed with Edwards's recent experience and stature as a trial lawyer.

    "I tried an awful lot of cases," said Leahy, a former prosecutor, "but not for 27 years. John says it's like riding a bicycle, but I told him 'you've been riding a lot more recently than me.'"

    Edwards said he was "studying hard" to prepare for the depositions. "What I'm doing now is going over the Starr report, the House Judiciary Committee reports, majority and minority, and working through the grand jury testimonies of each of the three witnesses," he added. "I just want to make sure when I walk in there Monday morning, I'm going to be prepared."

    Under the rules, the House managers and the White House defense team may have two people conduct each deposition, but Lott and Daschle agreed that the managers also will be allowed to have "several" staff members present, according to Czwartacki.

    The two parties also agreed that Lott and Daschle would each be allowed to send up to three staff members to the deposition, Czwartacki said. In addition, the Senate legal counsel, his Democratic counterpart and assorted technical staff would attend, plus lawyers for the witnesses.

    The resolution restricts the scope of the questioning to "subject matters reflected in the Senate record," thus ruling out of order any discussion of issues external to the Lewinsky matter.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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