'Managers' Put Brave Face on Bitter Loss
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 13, 1999; Page A1
It was a bittersweet moment. They had mortgaged their political futures, endured abuse from the American public and brought their party disaster in the polls and at the ballot box. They were certain losers yesterday, had known it for weeks -- maybe months, if the truth be told.
But as the Senate sergeant-at-arms walked the 13 impeachment "managers" down the Capitol's long central hallway for the last time, a small crowd of visitors burst into spontaneous applause and a tourist reached out to shake the hand of lead manager Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.).
There was a spring in their step then, and a few grins, and as Hyde stepped onto his home turf on the House side of the Capitol Rotunda, a sunburst of a smile stretched across his tired face: "You're looking at a free man!" he said.
As the managers began to digest the acquittal of President Clinton on impeachment charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, a confusion of different emotions chased across their faces and permeated their words.
Hyde was by turns defiant and conciliatory: "We could have studied the polls and listened to the pundits," he said. "But we didn't do that. Instead, we studied the Constitution, reviewed the precedents, and proceeded forward according to the law. I have no regrets."
Yet he expressed no interest in punishing Clinton through the legal system, as some have urged. "I think for the good of the country, probably forget it," Hyde said. "I don't think it would be good for the country to have an ex-president locked up in jail."
Rep. James E. Rogan (R-Calif.), implacable as one of the team's lead prosecutors, signaled that he was ready to do battle with those in his swing district who may seek to oust him in 2000: "We did our constitutional duty," he said, and "if nothing else, the American people got a chance to meet and see political leaders who will stand for conscience and principle and not for polls."
Rep. Robert L. Barr Jr. (R-Ga.), one of Clinton's earliest enemies and the only manager who had remained in his seat in sullen silence after the verdict was announced, thawed perceptibly when the tourists clapped. "That to me, more than anything that happened in the Senate chamber over the last month, including today, tells me that we did the right thing," he said.
Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), Rogan's partner on the Senate floor through much of the trial, said "one of my main goals in coming to Congress was to reduce cynicism and build confidence in our institutions of government." He felt he had succeeded, "and now I'm looking forward to taking a long walk in the Ozark hills."
As senators began their final day of secret deliberations, the managers by ones and twos straggled over to the Marble Room, their makeshift office off the Senate floor, to await the ceremonies accompanying the verdict. They sat quietly, talking and autographing trial memorabilia for staffers. Rogan asked Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist to sign a photo for his twin daughters.
As the verdict was taken, several managers, including Rogan and Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), kept their own tally on the old-fashioned paper ballots that the Senate uses to record its votes.
After the vote, the managers -- except Barr -- stood. Some smiled politely. Hyde made his customary back exit to the Marble Room only to be summoned back so everyone could be formally escorted out the front door.
As they left, Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) stepped forward to shake their hands. Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) shook some hands as well, but hung back. He was the opposition, and although he could be cordial at the finale, it was not a backslapping moment.
Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), a fast-talking dynamo most days, was suddenly struggling for words. "I'm not sure I've ever really felt like this before," he said. "There's a burden lifting . . . but as we leave here, Democrats are going on TV to express their dissatisfaction with the president's behavior."
For Cannon, it was enough that America now believes that Clinton had sinned abominably. Rep. George W. Gekas (R-Pa.) acknowledged that the polls had killed them throughout the impeachment exercise, but "we take great satisfaction . . . that there was one that showed that 75 or 80 percent of the people of the United States recognized that the president had committed falsehoods under oath."
But for a few of the managers, the rancor showed through. Buyer said his "gut kept turning over and over" as he listened to a vote tally in which not a single Democrat voted to convict.
Republicans were accused of rank partisanship throughout the impeachment ordeal, but Buyer turned the tables on the Democrats, saying they had demonstrated that future presidents could "flout the law in a more egregious manner" and skate free, simply by closing ranks with their party colleagues.
And Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), whose folksy charm had contributed most of the trial's sparse humor, wasn't smiling yesterday when he revisited the managers' seething resentment over the Senate's refusal to allow live witnesses:
"You need to tell that story persuasively, and you could only do it with live witnesses," Graham said, noting with a hint of bitterness that "it's within their constitutional authority to run the trial the way they see fit. We're disappointed in that regard."
And in an interview with a few reporters Thursday, Hyde described the procedural gulf that exists between the House, where the most votes always wins, and the Senate, where any senator regardless of party can tie the entire chamber in knots for days.
"If I have to criticize senators, Republican senators, which I'm loath to do, they do make bipartisanship the ultimate ethic over there," he said. "The genuflection to bipartisanship has a certain ring of civility to it, but it means one side is disadvantaged, and we were."
Finally, in another of the outbursts that has caused him to be reviled by many Democrats, investigative counsel David P. Schippers claimed the Constitution had been "irrevocably harmed," and scored senators for saying there were not 67 votes to convict the president after taking the oath to do impartial justice. "It's like somebody telling you there's no Santy Claus," he said.
And although ripping the process may have been easy for someone like Schippers, a staff person who is going back to Chicago, some managers were already anticipating that history may cause them to pay a price.
"To me there's nothing I'm ever going to do politically that's going to change the first line in my political obituary," Graham said. "There is a definite taste of regret in that regard."
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company