House Republicans prosecuting trial lack broad diversity

13 Judiciary members are white, male lawyers with conservative records

January 10, 1999|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- As the trial of President Clinton gets under way in the Senate this week, 13 House Republicans who played a prominent role in his impeachment will formally become prosecutors, pressing the Senate to convict him on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

The 13 "trial managers," all House Judiciary Committee members, are an intense group who have repeatedly criticized the president's agenda.

In office, they have largely stressed a conservative social agenda, promoted a hard line on law enforcement issues and advocated significant cuts in government spending.

And, in recent weeks, they have replaced independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr as the chief public face in the case against the president.

"Everybody knows where these guys come from," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Delaware Democrat who has criticized the Judiciary Committee's handling of the impeachment process. "They do not represent the majority of the public. They do not represent the House. But they do represent the case."

House prosecutor George W. Gekas, a veteran 69-year-old lawmaker from Pennsylvania who has championed the death penalty for much of his career, told reporters that the team was selected for its "intellectual diversity." But there are many attributes that unify the members of this team.

Led by Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, a 74-year-old Illinois lawmaker, the House Republicans are all white, male Christian lawyers. Seven were prosecutors before entering Congress. Although the team includes a few senior congressmen, they are a relatively junior lot: Seven were first elected in 1994 or 1996.

But they are sharp, colleagues on both sides of the aisle say, and they are committed to the fight against Clinton.

Each has received his assignment for the trial, but committee aides cautioned that those responsibilities could shift as the trial unfolds.

The opening statement will be offered by Wisconsin Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the second most senior Republican on the committee. The 11th-term congressman, a 55-year-old career politician who has homed in on ethical wrongdoing by Democratic lawmakers, occasionally took the gavel when Hyde left the room during the fall impeachment hearings.

Under the guidelines approved by the Senate on Friday, the House Republicans will have 24 hours to make their case -- possibly three eight-hour days. They would need approval from the full Senate for more time.

The Senate has delayed a decision on whether they will be allowed to depose witnesses or question them at Clinton's trial. The House prosecutors say they can't make a compelling case without calling witnesses to repeat testimony that would otherwise be submitted in written form.

If the managers are allowed to call witnesses, they will be questioned by Reps. Ed Bryant of Tennessee, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and James E. Rogan of California. All three are among the most junior members of the Judiciary Committee.

"A live witness is more impressive to a juror than a piece of paper," declared Bryant, 50, who said the team hoped to call 15 to 20 witnesses.

The former U.S. attorney was propelled to prominence in 1992 when he resigned to protest a Justice Department decision that overruled him on the handling of the prosecution of former Democratic Rep. Harold Ford on bank, mail and tax fraud charges.

Hutchinson is a 48-year-old former U.S. attorney who has prosecuted Clinton's half-brother, Roger, on drug-related charges, and a neo-Nazi group in Arkansas. Before filing charges against Roger Clinton, Hutchinson informed then-Gov. Bill Clinton of his plans.

Rogan, 41, is a former assistant district attorney of Los Angeles County who became California's youngest sitting judge at the age of 33.

Even though he represents a swing district that strongly supported Clinton in 1996, Rogan forcefully argued on the House floor for impeaching Clinton.

The Republicans who will concentrate on preparing prosecution witnesses, if there are any, include Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia; Chris Cannon of Utah; Steve Chabot of Ohio; Gekas; and Bill McCollum of Florida.

Barr, a conservative former U.S. attorney, began calling for Clinton's ouster long before Monica Lewinsky's name became public. Barr gained brief notoriety last fall when Harvard law Professor Alan Dershowitz, with whom he jousted during impeachment hearings, revealed that the three-term lawmaker had given a speech before a white-supremacist group.

Reps. Steve Buyer of Indiana, Charles T. Canady of Florida, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are studying how to handle procedural motions in the arcane thicket of rules that are to guide the Senate trial. Sensenbrenner and Barr will review how to deal with any objections to evidence. And Hyde, along with Rogan, plans to present the closing arguments.

Managers of the House's case against the president

Henry J. Hyde

His reputation for even-handedness was sorely tested during the impeachment hearings, and his personal life came under press scrutiny.

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