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Senate Records a Vote With Dispatch Against 'Managers'

Clinton on Trial

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  • By Guy Gugliotta
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, February 5, 1999; Page A23

    Since they first strode the length of the Capitol's great central hallway in early January, they have seemed like unwanted guests bringing an unpleasant task into the hallowed chambers of the U.S. Senate. Yesterday the Senate finally showed them the door.

    For the 13 House "managers" prosecuting the impeachment trial against President Clinton, the Senate's ringing refusal to allow live witnesses into the chamber was only their latest frustration in pressing their case, but none of the team evinced any particular chagrin.

    "We were asking for 10 days to two weeks to present our witnesses live," said Rep. James E. Rogan (R-Calif.), a frequently outspoken critic of the Senate's procedural mysteries. "Unfortunately, it just didn't work that way, so we'll do the best we can in the next week, and give the Senate closure on this as they so rapidly seek."

    Rogan's not-so-subtle dig was a good reflection of the diminishing measure of tact the managers can muster in the last politically charged days of the impeachment trial.

    For five weeks they have ground their teeth in frustration as the Senate, as is its way, has moved with deliberate speed to surround them with rules restricting their ability to hold their trial as they saw fit. Now, the mask is slipping.

    First, they were given 24 hours for opening statements. They wanted eight. Then they were allowed to depose three witnesses. They once wanted a dozen or more. And yesterday the Senate slammed the door on any live witnesses. They wanted one.

    "I regret the implications that there is friction between us. They have a very tough job, I'm sympathetic to their plight," lead manager Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) said yesterday in another lukewarm effort to smooth things over. "But we have a job to do, too, and there isn't a very gentle way to impeach a president."

    Throughout this ordeal, the managers were getting plenty of advice from Republican senators, none of it encouraging. "Everybody was saying if you get witnesses it will be a small number," said Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), who sometimes has to calm himself when he discusses the Senate's peculiarities. "It's as if the presentation of a case turns on the number of witnesses. What a silly argument."

    It was not so much silly the first time they heard it as infuriating. One House manager who asked not to be identified by name said the only times the team members have argued among themselves has been out of frustration with the Senate rules.

    There were early skirmishes with the Senate, but serious seething began in the first week in January when the Senate was struggling to come up with the bipartisan resolution that would outline the format of the trial and include the now fateful provision requiring a separate vote to depose witnesses before voting again to allow them to testify live.

    There were two camps within the team, the manager said. The grin-and-bear-it camp believed that "whatever the Senate rules are, we must try to put on the best case possible." The take-your-rules-and-shove-them camp held that "it is beneath the dignity of the House to submit to the rules of the Senate."

    Because the Senate was running the trial, the ultimate outcome of the last view was that at some point the managers would have to decide that they didn't want to play the game any longer and walk out. "I think the phrase was 'take our marbles and go home,'" the manager recalled.

    And they talked about doing exactly that on at least two occasions. The first time was in early January in a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) to discuss the procedural resolution.

    There were a lot of things wrong with it. The hard-liners objected to calling the proceeding "a trial." "A trial is where you present your case," the manager said. Instead, the Senate "offered us 24 hours of dry argument by a bunch of attorneys. That wasn't a trial."

    They didn't want 24 hours. They figured senators would argue, as they subsequently did, that if the managers had the opportunity to develop their case in a massive opening statement, they wouldn't need a lot of witness time. The managers wanted eight hours, rebuttal time and witnesses.

    They didn't get any of it. "There was a raging debate internally," the manager said. "Some of us initially felt we should not go forward."

    But they went along. Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he also knew there was trouble when Lott told them there would be two votes on witnesses. "We knew then it [the trial] would be over," Graham said. "But at least one [witness] had to be asked for. It was important not to let it be said that we didn't ask for witnesses."

    Some managers didn't think so. Last week, when they were getting ready to ask the Senate to depose witnesses, an argument arose over whether they should add a fourth former presidential adviser Dick Morris to the "pitiful three," as Hyde put it, they eventually requested. They took a vote on Morris and split 6 to 6. Hyde didn't vote. They sent in three names.

    Since then, "we've been trying to focus on making the best case we can given the tools at our disposal," Graham said. "We aren't beating on Senator Lott. He's got a tough job."

    Others took refuge in black humor. Asked yesterday if he thought the managers were getting the bum's rush, Rogan recalled that "Henry Hyde at one point said, with a large smile, to a senator: 'You know, you view us as reformed alcoholics; you're very proud of what we've attempted to do in our life, you just don't want us hanging out on your porch all that long.'"

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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