Trial's Managers Chart an Uncertain Course
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 22, 1998; Page A16
Rep. Robert L. Barr Jr. (R-Ga.) studied the century-old Senate impeachment rules on the plane ride home Saturday night. Rep. George W. Gekas (R-Pa.) has been strategizing since he left the Capitol following the impeachment vote about how to conduct a streamlined trial without a flood of salacious testimony. Rep. Charles T. Canady (R-Fla.), late for a Lamaze class yesterday, is worried about how preparing for a trial could collide with the birth of his first child, due Jan. 19.
Two days after President Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives, 13 members of the House are far from finished with the matter. They are the managers named by the House to prosecute the case against the president, veterans of the House Judiciary Committee proceedings who must now move into a new phase and prepare for the first Senate trial since Andrew Johnson's in 1868.
The group, headed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), are all white, all men, all lawyers, and all Republicans a given since none of the Democratic members of the panel broke ranks to support impeachment.
They include three veterans of judicial impeachments Hyde, Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) and Gekas and several former prosecutors, including Rep. Asa Hutchinson, who was U.S. attorney in Arkansas when Clinton was the state's governor; Barr, a former U.S. attorney in Georgia who was pushing for Clinton's impeachment even before the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal broke; Rep. Edward G. Bryant (R-Tenn.); and Rep. James E. Rogan (R-Calif.), a former Los Angeles deputy district attorney.
Now they are in the odd position of having to get ready for a trial that may not proceed, or that could be suspended at any time, but that is also destined for the history books. And, although they have had months to study the record of FBI interview statements, grand jury transcripts and other material, they have yet to interview any of the people who would presumably be the central witnesses in their case against the president: Lewinsky, presidential secretary Betty Currie; Clinton confidant Vernon E. Jordan Jr.
In interviews yesterday with several of the newly minted managers, two things emerged clearly: how unclear the next steps in the process are to those who will be making the case, and how divergent the group's views are on the best way to proceed.
Some said that after proceeding in the House on the cold record of transcripts and other paper evidence, it was time to hear from the people involved and cross-examine them.
Others said they wanted to keep the trial to a minimum and that the best course would be to have the Senate decide the matter on the record already accumulated, if the presidents' lawyers could be convinced to agree. And others said it was too early to discuss the future just two days after the House approved two articles of impeachment accusing Clinton of committing perjury before the grand jury and obstructing justice in seeking to cover up his affair with Lewinsky.
"The thing that we know at this point is that we don't know very much about how it's all going to come together," said Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah).
Surveying the landscape of possible trials in a proceeding that the Senate "could cancel at any moment," Cannon said, "it can go all the way from having Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp [testify] to presenting the evidence the way we have it." But Cannon said he favors hearing directly from the key players, although he said some of the more "salacious" testimony could take place behind closed doors.
"This is not like the House," he said. "This is weighing the evidence and I think we ought to have witnesses. We ought to be able to get the evidence out and the president ought to be able to cross-examine because these are very serious allegations. . . . If I were a senator and judging this I would want to know what those people were thinking and I'd like to see cross-examination."
He also cautioned that the process could take "several months" and that the managers might not be limited to the evidence the House relied on in its impeachment report. He cited, for example, Clinton's encounter with White House volunteer Kathleen E. Willey and whether Clinton was involved with any effort to convince Willey not to go forward with her account. "If there's evidence the president was involved in that, that could come into play," he said. "There's things out there we may not even know about yet that we may look at."
Hutchinson agreed with Cannon about the desirability of live witnesses. "This is the opportunity to accomplish what we didn't do because of time constraints in the House that is bring all witnesses forward that give us a better opportunity to present a case and to change opinions."
"If this were an ordinary case in Arkansas it would be done in a week without any difficulty at all," Hutchinson said. But "whenever any evidentiary question can be appealed to the Senate and require a vote of the 100 senators, it would be hard to predict" how long the trial might take.
Gekas took another view, saying he would like to see if the House managers could secure an agreement from Clinton's team to go forward on the evidence already accumulated and avoid the need for embarrassing and lengthy hearings a departure from recent impeachment trials in which the Senate has heard extensively from the witnesses involved.
He said that would mean that the dispute between the two sides "would be reduced to arguments about the meaning of the facts rather than about the facts themselves."
Canady, like Clinton a Yale Law School graduate, said it was too early to discuss potential witnesses and said that proceeding without live witnesses is "an option that should be considered." But, he said, "At this point it is premature for us to be laying out exactly what the shape of the presentation of the case will be."
Barr agreed, saying it would be "presumptuous" to discuss the trial beyond saying he wanted to "get it moving quickly and get it over with."
Some veterans of previous impeachment trials said the large number of managers there have been only four or five in recent judicial impeachments could make that unwieldy. "They'll trip all over themselves," said David O. Stewart, who represented former Judge Walter Nixon. "You need one chief and several Indians. They have 13 chiefs."
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