Senate GOP passes own trial plan

Lott's muscle-flexing follows 24 hours of fruitless negotiation

Depositions begin Monday

Witness videotapes including Lewinsky's, could become public

Trial In The Senate

January 29, 1999|By Karen Hosler and Paul West | Karen Hosler and Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Rejecting Democratic protests, Senate Republicans imposed rules last night for President Clinton's impeachment trial that could lead to testimony by Monica Lewinsky before the Senate -- at least by videotape.

The rules, approved by a mostly party-line vote, set the stage for the public release of videotaped depositions of the witnesses approved Wednesday, including Lewinsky.

The procedures also leave open the prospect that the Senate could approve a "findings of fact" motion that would say Clinton lied under oath and "obstructed and impeded justice" when he testified to a federal grand jury and took certain actions in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconduct case.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi resorted to partisan muscle yesterday after more than 24 hours of exchanging proposals for a procedural road map with Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. By the end of the day, that exchange had ended in stalemates on several critical issues.

"We have a constitutional responsibility here to get through this process and get to a final vote," said Lott, who predicted that if no major surprises develop, the final vote on the two articles of impeachment would be held Feb. 12.

Republicans also used their majority last night to defeat a Democratic proposal to immediately advance the trial to a vote on the articles of impeachment.

"Democratic senators want this matter ended," Daschle said. "We believe very strongly about the need to bring this matter to an expeditious close. Unfortunately, that failed."

The Democrats had also demanded a quick and sure end to the trial: no release of videotape, no witnesses testifying in person to the Senate, no "finding of facts" about Clinton's actions and a guaranteed vote on acquittal or conviction by Feb. 12. Some Democrats expressed anger about the tactics of the Republicans, who hold a 55-45 majority in the Senate but are far short of the 67 votes needed to convict the president.

"They're just desperate to get Monica Lewinsky, whether it's on video or in person or on the floor of the Senate, and they're obsessed by it," said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, a West Virginia Democrat.

House prosecutors had hoped to begin formal questioning this weekend of the three witnesses -- Lewinsky, presidential adviser Vernon Jordan and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal. But under the Republican proposal approved last night, the depositions will begin Monday with Lewinsky and continue Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Senate is scheduled to vote late next week on whether to call any of the witnesses for live testimony and how to handle the videotapes.

Rules for depositions

During the depositions, each side -- the House prosecutors and White House lawyers -- will be given up to four hours to question each witness. One senator from each party will be assigned to oversee the testimony.

Lewinsky, Jordan and Blumenthal will be allowed to have their lawyers with them. Any objections to questions will be ruled on, initially, by the senators presiding over each deposition. Then the witnesses will be asked to answer anyway. The objections could ultimately be submitted to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist for a final ruling when the trial resumes Thursday.

Videotapes and transcripts of these question-and-answer sessions will be made available for all 100 senators to study, starting Tuesday.

When the trial resumes, the Senate will vote on a request by the House Republican prosecutors to call the witnesses to testify in person. Should that fail, there will be a vote on whether to show portions of the videotape to the Senate -- and to Americans watching on television.

More embarrassment

The Senate is also expected to approve a motion to make the entire videotaped testimony public, giving the public its first look at Lewinsky as she discusses events surrounding her intimate relationship with the president.

The White House wants to avoid that embarrassment. But the Republican majority in the Senate is expected to approve the release of the testimony, just as the House made public thousands of pages of evidence gathered by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, including the videotape of Clinton's grand jury testimony in August.

Republican Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said that, in the end, the videotapes will be made public.

Many senators in both parties have made clear their eagerness to finish the trial as soon as possible, and no later than Feb. 12 -- which marks the beginning of a long-scheduled weeklong break.

But the Republicans are under enormous pressure from the House prosecutors -- as well as from conservative forces within their party -- to give the House every reasonable chance to make its long-shot case for conviction, which would require a two-thirds vote of the Senate.

"We're just looking for a process that is honorable, appropriate and constitutional -- something the Democrats should not resist," said Paul McNulty, a spokesman for the House prosecutors.

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