Resigned to losing, managers pin blame

GOP-led Senate `hamstringing' them

January 28, 1999|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- With a Senate acquittal of President Clinton all but inevitable, House Republican prosecutors are starting to blame the restrictions imposed on them by the Senate for the likely failure of their case.

Conviction would take a two-thirds majority of the 100 senators. Even if all 55 Senate Republicans voted for conviction, the prosecutors would need 12 Democratic votes to reach the necessary 67.

"It doesn't take a genius with a crystal ball to realize how difficult it would be to get 12 votes," one of the prosecutors, Rep. Chris Cannon of Utah, said yesterday.

The prosecutors forcefully rejected the notion that they had a weak impeachment case -- the argument advanced by Democratic senators who sought unsuccessfully yesterday to dismiss the charges.

Cannon responded angrily to the contention of Sen. Tim Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat, that the prosecution's case against Clinton was not legitimate.

"It is illegitimate because the Senate has not allowed us to put on the case," Cannon argued.

Asked about the efforts of Republican senators to come up with a process that promises a relatively quick resolution of the trial, the lead House prosecutor, Rep. Henry J. Hyde, grimaced and replied, "I'm glad they were not at the Alamo or Valley Forge."

Another prosecutor, Rep. George W. Gekas of Pennsylvania, added: "It's all very strange. Those of us who have been involved in normal discovery procedures and normal depositions find we have to fit ourselves into procedures that are a first anywhere."

The House prosecutors have a long list of complaints. They were not given a chance, they said, for a formal rebuttal of the opening statement by the White House.

Perhaps most significant, they were not allowed to call their full list of witnesses: They wanted up to 15 but were told they could call only three.

Live or videotaped

In the end, the prosecutors might not be permitted to question the witnesses in person on the Senate floor. The prosecutors argue that live witnesses are needed to bring their case -- and the evidence -- to life in front of the Senate.

Under a Republican proposal being considered, the witnesses' depositions would be videotaped, perhaps with a small delegation of senators present to settle disagreements among lawyers. Videotapes and transcripts of the sessions then would be distributed to senators, who would vote on whether to bring those witnesses to the Senate floor.

"Every time you turn around, they're placing restrictions on us," said Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, another of the prosecutors.

If their case does fail, some prosecutors said yesterday showing more than a trace of feeling betrayed, the fault would not lie in the evidence supporting the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice against Clinton.

Instead, the prosecutors complained, an acquittal would be the consequence of trial procedures that made it all but certain they would fall short -- though that process was largely dictated by their Republican colleagues in the Senate.

Rep. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, another prosecutor, complained that the procedures adopted by the Republican-led Senate were "hamstringing" the prosecutors in their efforts to make their case as convincing as possible.

"This ain't over yet, but I'm not living in a dream world," Graham said. "It's the Senate's show."

`Do my best'

The 13 House prosecutors -- all conservative Republicans who served on the Judiciary Committee that drafted the impeachment articles against Clinton -- say that all they can do is present as powerful a case as they can.

"My responsibility is to do my best in the presentation of the case," said Rep. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas. "The outcome is the Senate's [responsibility]."

The Senate, Hutchinson contended, made the political decision to place bipartisanship over the rights and privileges normally accorded to each side in a trial.

"When you do that, you have to make adjustments and compromises, and that is to our disadvantage," Hutchinson said.

A look to future

During a wide-ranging interview yesterday, Graham looked past the Clinton trial, which he seemed almost resigned would end in acquittal.

He called for a review of the independent counsel's role in impeachment proceedings. And he said prosecutors in future Senate trials must be given much more leeway to present their cases.

"Our conduct as House managers will be viewed by our constituents," Graham said. "We are politically accountable."

And, he added, other "people involved in the impeachment process will have to go home and face the consequences."

Pub Date: 1/28/99

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