End `nightmare,' Senate is urged

Clinton's legal team relentlessly dissects prosecution's case

Senators' questions next

In closing, Bumpers says presiden, U.S. have suffered enough

January 22, 1999|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's legal team ended yesterday a three-day defense that appeared to turn the tide decisively in his favor, concluding a relentless dissection of the charges with a personal, passionate appeal for senators to end a national "nightmare."

In an extraordinary, emotional conclusion, retired Arkansas Sen. Dale Bumpers alternately humored, flattered and entertained his former Senate colleagues, asking them not only to leave the president in office but to show a touch of compassion for a man and his family who have suffered through "nothing but sleepless nights and mental agony."

By day's end, senators from both parties indicated that the White House legal team had deeply damaged the case for Clinton's removal from office.

House prosecutors protested that they should have been given time to rebut the defense's case, even as their leader, Rep. Henry J. Hyde, an Illinois Republican, insisted that they were "not trying to drag this out."

"We're going to see this through until they shut the door on us," Hyde vowed.

But Bumpers' concluding words may have carried the day.

"Don't leave a precedent from which we will never recover and almost surely will regret," he concluded. "If you vote to acquit, you go immediately to the people's agenda, but if you vote to convict, you can't be sure what's going to happen."

White House lawyers used just 10 of the 24 hours they were allotted to defend the president against two impeachment articles charging that Clinton lied under oath and obstructed justice to hide his affair with Monica Lewinsky. The proceedings today and tomorrow will be taken up by questions for House prosecutors and the president's lawyers, posed in writing by the still-silent senators.

`Reasonable doubt'

But even now, senators appear to be scrambling for a way to end the trial. Some Republicans were already talking about voting for acquittal.

"I think they damaged the case for perjury," said Sen. Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican. "They've raised reasonable doubt in my mind."

And Democrats hinted that they might shelve a planned vote to dismiss the impeachment case, and instead push for a quick vote next week on the two articles of impeachment. If that gambit fails, they could push as early as Monday for a vote for dismissal.

Only 51 senators are needed to defeat a dismissal motion, and Republicans hold 55 of the Senate's 100 seats. If, as expected, the Democratic motion were to fail, senators would then decide whether to call witnesses, such as Lewinsky, Clinton confidant Vernon Jordan and presidential secretary Betty Currie. Republicans expressed confidence yesterday that they would prevail over Democrats who oppose witnesses. But several GOP senators hinted strongly that they would allow witnesses only to be deposed, not appear in the well of the Senate.

`End to this nightmare'

Senators appear overwhelmingly certain that the trial must end soon, a point driven home by Bumpers when he invoked the wishes of a weary public.

"The American people for some time have been asking for a good night's sleep. They are asking for an end to this nightmare," Bumpers said. "It is a legitimate request."

White House lawyers continued their relentless attack on the House prosecutors' case yesterday. David E. Kendall, the president's personal lawyer, took the stage, mercilessly deconstructing what House prosecutors called the "seven pillars of obstruction" and White House counsel Charles F. C. Ruff dismissed as the "seven shifting sand castles of speculation."

Kendall repeatedly invoked Lewinsky's now-famous statement that "no one ever asked me to lie, and I was never promised a job for my silence," finally asking: "Is there something difficult to understand here?"

And he attacked each of the obstruction counts with scorn.

There is no evidence that Clinton asked Lewinsky to lie in an affidavit filed for the Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconduct lawsuit, he said, and no evidence that Clinton was particularly concerned about it. The president discovered Lewinsky's name on the Jones lawyers' witness list Dec. 6, but did not alert Lewinsky until he called her Dec. 17.

"There's no explanation for this delay which is consistent with intense concern on the president's part," Kendall said. "The main reason for his phone call on December 17 to Ms. Lewinsky, the unrebutted evidence shows, is that he wanted to tell Ms. Lewinsky that Betty Currie's brother had died. Indeed, three days after that telephone call, Ms. Lewinsky attended the funeral."

Only cover stories

Kendall did not deny the charge that Clinton and Lewinsky had invented cover stories to hide their affair, but he said those stories were not evidence of illegal obstruction, as House prosecutors contend. They were not hiding their relationship from the Jones lawyers. They were hiding it from everyone, a contention that Lewinsky agreed with under oath, Kendall noted.

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