Democrats reject idea of witnesses

Testimony will extend Clinton trial, shed no new light, senators say

`This is not Perry Mason'

Republicans praise House prosecutors, see `powerful case'

January 18, 1999|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- As the White House prepared to launch a vigorous defense of President Clinton before the Senate this week, Democrats insisted yesterday that witnesses were not necessary and would only prolong the president's impeachment trial, to the dismay of the country.

With Clinton's lawyers hoping to deflate the case for removing the president made last week by the House managers, administration allies argued yesterday that the Republican call for witnesses such as Monica Lewinsky -- and the president himself -- was politically motivated and would shed little new light on the facts.

"Be real! This is not Perry Mason. This is not something where somebody suddenly comes running in the courtroom and says, `Oh, my God! I did it!' " said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, speaking on ABC's "This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts."

Former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell of Maine, who has been working with the White House on the president's defense in the Senate, agreed, arguing that "in this case, there is more than an ample record."

"The notion that if these people are called in, after having testified under oath already, Monica Lewinsky on many occasions the notion that it will all then become clear is a total myth," Mitchell said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Echoing the sentiment of White House aides, the former majority leader said he would discourage Clinton from testifying before the Senate as some Republicans have requested, calling the demand a "purely political" move to "make it look like he won't come."

The Senate trial is scheduled to resume tomorrow with the president's lawyers.

Yesterday, on the first anniversary of Clinton's deposition in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconduct case, the president's counselors huddled at the White House to work on their presentation.

"We will make the case that the allegations are not supported by the facts or by the law, and they do not warrant nullifying the results of a national election and removing the president from office," White House spokesman Jim Kennedy said.

Clinton spent the day preparing for his State of the Union address, which is also scheduled for tomorrow, hours after the Senate trial ends for the day.

And during what one lawmaker called "halftime" in the impeachment trial, nearly one-fifth of the Senate -- 19 senators in all -- appeared on TV talk shows yesterday morning.

Republicans applauded the performance by the House prosecutors last week, saying the White House would have a difficult time knocking down the case that the president committed perjury and obstructed justice.

In their three days of arguments, said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the House managers "presented a powerful case" against the president. "The White House has a heavy burden of coming forward and rebutting some of the things that the House has presented," Hatch said on "Meet the Press." "I don't think you can just sweep away the House's case. I think a lot of people were very impressed."

But Democrats, while acknowledging the House put on a "decent" presentation, said the Republicans were still far from having the two-thirds majority in the Senate -- 67 votes -- needed to convict the president and remove him from office. At least 12 Democrats would have to join the 55 Republicans to get to a two-thirds majority.

Of 10 Democrats interviewed on the news programs, not one signaled a shift toward conviction. "We've sat for three days and haven't heard anything new," Sen. Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota said on "Fox News Sunday." "I don't think we'll hear anything new when the White House makes a presentation."

Democrats said they did not believe Clinton should appear before the Senate and, in fact, "resented" the GOP suggestion that, if he has nothing to hide, he should voluntarily testify. Republicans acknowledged that there is no precedent for calling the subject of an impeachment trial to appear.

"We have had 15 impeachments by the House. We've had 15 trials, we've rendered 15 verdicts," said Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas on ABC's "This Week." "We've never compelled the accused to testify. So the president's not going to be compelled to testify."

But Republicans insisted that the House presentation last week highlighted the need for witnesses such as Lewinsky, Clinton secretary Betty Currie and Clinton confidant Vernon E. Jordan because of conflicts over the facts.

Before the impeachment trial began, senators agreed to delay a decision on calling witnesses until both sides had presented their opening arguments.

"I think it will be pretty tough under these circumstances not to have witnesses," Hatch said yesterday.

But Democrats cautioned that calling witnesses could drag the trial out for months, with both sides taking depositions and with Democrats requesting witnesses of their own.

"If you go that route we may be talking May or June before we finish this trial," Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut said on "Meet the Press."

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