Lewinsky ordered to appear

Former intern returns to D.C. for questioning by House managers

Democrats outraged

Senate might vote tomorrow to dismiss trial or depose witnesses

Trial In The Senate

January 24, 1999|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Acting at the behest of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, a federal judge ordered Monica Lewinsky yesterday to submit to a high-stakes interview before House impeachment prosecutors, enraging Senate Democrats and deepening the partisan divide at President Clinton's trial.

Hours later, the former White House intern flew into Dulles International Airport and was whisked off to a downtown hotel with camera crews in pursuit. After two weeks of often-dry trial deliberations, the order to Lewinsky re-introduced an element of melodrama, overshadowing the second day of questioning by senators.

Indeed, Democrats used that prospect as a partisan club in their push to wrap up the trial.

"I really worry about the Senate," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat. "This is turning into a three-ring circus."

U.S. District Court Judge Norma Holloway Johnson sent shock waves through the proceedings yesterday when she ordered Lewinsky to return to Washington from Los Angeles to submit to questioning -- either by House prosecutors themselves, or by Starr's staff, with prosecutors in attendance.

Lewinsky's lawyers last week turned down a House prosecutor's request for an interview, saying she would respond only to a Senate subpoena. The prosecutors then asked Starr to seek a court order to force the interview under terms of the immunity agreement that requires her cooperation with the independent counsel. Johnson ruled that Lewinsky could either submit to an interview or lose her immunity from prosecution.

As the Lewinsky drama was unfolding, Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott moved to quell momentum toward a dismissal of the trial, declaring that senators would not be allowed to debate either a Democratic motion to dismiss or a Republican motion to depose witnesses before pivotal votes are taken on both matters -- possibly as soon as tomorrow.

"I don't believe the American people would be satisfied if we just stopped in the middle of the game," the Mississippi Republican declared. "It would be a mistake to vote to dismiss at this point."

After Democrats insisted that they were being "gagged," Lott appeared to soften his stance, saying that "many options" were being discussed.

Partisan divide deepens

As the partisan divide grew deeper, the prospects for a quick end to the Senate trial began to fade. The announcement by respected senior Democrat Robert C. Byrd, Friday that he would move to dismiss the charges tomorrow had buoyed Democratic hopes that the trial could be brought to a close as early as tomorrow. They had hoped Byrd's stature would coax enough Republicans to join them in a vote for dismissal.

Both sides began to take on the appearance of armed camps yesterday. While the 55 Senate Republicans do not have the two-thirds majority they would need to convict the president along party lines, they do have sufficient votes to keep the proceedings going -- first with depositions, then possibly with witnesses.

Senate Republicans appeared ready to stretch the trial with their search for evidence. Lott said yesterday that GOP leaders planned to draft written questions to submit to Clinton.

"There is nothing in the rules that provides for senators to put questions directly to the president and it won't happen," White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said. "Been there, done that."

White House lawyer Gregory Craig told senators that Clinton's attorneys would answer the questions.

Back-room pressure by GOP leaders appeared to solidify Republican opposition to a motion to dismiss. Republicans who voiced strong misgivings about witnesses, such as Sen. Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, suddenly changed their minds, while one of Clinton's most staunch Democratic defenders asked Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, the impeachment trial's presiding judge, to block Lewinsky's interview. Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin insisted that Johnson's order violated the Constitution's mandate giving the Senate the sole power to conduct impeachment trial.

Prosecutors waver

The jousting on the Senate floor took on a tone of biting partisanship.

Senate Democrats repeatedly used their questioning time to demand to know why House prosecutors had enlisted the independent counsel to interview a key witness before the Senate has voted to allow witnesses.

"It is mind-boggling. It is absolutely mind-boggling, this arrogant disregard of the United States Senate," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat. "The House Republican managers go to Republican prosecutor Kenneth Starr to act in total disregard of the United States Senate as though we're irrelevant. Well, you know what? We're not irrelevant."

House prosecutors were at turns defiant and apologetic, saying they did not believe they violated Senate rules but insisting they would go forward with their planned interview, probably today. Tennessee Rep. Ed Bryant characterized the impending interview as a "meeting" and a polite "conversation."

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