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House Managers Warn of Trial's Future Impact on Presidency

By Ruth Marcus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 12, 1999; Page A06

As they expanded their case against President Clinton, House prosecutors warned the Senate yesterday that failure to convict the president would doom the nation to a system in which future presidents would operate free from fear of being removed from office.

In a 105-page trial memorandum submitted yesterday, the 13 House managers called the Senate impeachment trial "a defining moment for the presidency as an institution" and declared that "no House of Representatives will ever be able to impeach again and no Senate will ever convict" if Clinton is able to escape conviction.

"The bar will be so high that only a convicted felon or a traitor will need to be concerned," the managers wrote. "If this is not enough, what is? How far can the standard be lowered without completely compromising the credibility of the office for all time?"

Such sharp rhetoric about future impeachment cases was one of several new wrinkles in what was otherwise a strong recapitulation of the case against Clinton, as outlined in the House Judiciary Committee's lengthy impeachment report last month.

For the first time, the prosecutors also cast Clinton's allegedly perjurious statements when he was deposed in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case as part of a "devastating" pattern of obstruction of justice. And the brief invoked, as part of the obstruction-of-justice case, what it said were efforts by Clinton and White House aides to undermine Monica S. Lewinsky's credibility in the days after the story broke last January.

In its brief answering the impeachment charges yesterday, the White House clashed with the House on both fundamental questions of constitutional law and the facts underlying Clinton's efforts to conceal his relationship with Lewinsky. The White House asserted that the two articles of impeachment "do not permit the conviction and removal from office of a duly elected president."

The two filings highlighted what are certain to be contentious issues in the trial that resumes later this week. In voting on the articles of impeachment last month, the House defeated an article, approved by the Judiciary Committee, accusing Clinton of lying in the Jones deposition.

The House managers have argued previously that Clinton's statement in his later grand jury testimony that he testified truthfully in the Jones case would allow them to present proof during the trial of all of his allegedly false statements during the deposition as well. By casting his alleged deposition perjury as obstruction of justice, the managers would have another potential avenue for bringing in Clinton's deposition testimony, which even some White House aides view as problematic.

In its filing yesterday, the White House attacked the ability of the managers to raise the matter of Clinton's deposition testimony. The White House said that Clinton "was not asked to and did not broadly restate or reaffirm his Jones deposition testimony."

Noting that the full House rejected an article accusing the president of perjury in the Jones case, the White House said, "The House managers should not be allowed to prosecute before the Senate an article of impeachment which the full House has rejected."

The House brief also argues, as part of its obstruction case, that "the president and his representatives orchestrated a campaign to discredit Ms. Lewinsky in order to affect adversely her credibility as a witness, and thereby attempted to obstruct justice both in the Jones case and the grand jury."

Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) raised this line of attack during the Judiciary Committee debate on the impeachment articles, but it has not been previously cited by the House in making its obstruction case.

In fact, the White House served notice in its filing yesterday that it would attack both the obstruction-of-justice and grand jury perjury articles as overly vague and failing to give Clinton adequate notice of the exact charges he is facing.

"Without such fair warning, no one can mount the defense to which every person is entitled," the White House said. "Fundamental due process is the right of the president to be adequately informed of the charges so that he is able to confront those charges and defend himself."

The two sides also disagreed about how the Senate should approach the evidence about to be laid before it.

The White House urged a microscopic view, saying a detailed examination of Clinton's precise statements at the grand jury would undermine the perjury case against him. Similarly, it argued, a careful look at the president's actions would show that, while not admirable, they do not amount to obstruction of justice.

The House, on the other hand, stressed that the Senate should consider the entire pattern of Clinton's actions. "It is essential to avoid considering each event in isolation, and then treating it separately," the managers said. "Events and words that may seem innocent or even exculpatory in a vacuum may well take on a sinister or even criminal connotation when observed in the context of the whole plot."

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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