GOP refines plan for witnesses

White House asserts Republicans just seek to damage president

Senators will be mediators

January 30, 1999|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The White House stepped up its criticism yesterday of Senate Republicans for their handling of President Clinton's impeachment trial, as subpoenas were formally issued for Monica Lewinsky and two other witnesses and some ground rules were set for their depositions next week.

Clinton's spokesman, Joe Lockhart, accused the Republican senators of needlessly prolonging the trial, even though an acquittal is all but certain. He asserted that they were insisting on videotaped testimony from Lewinsky and others to try to embarrass Clinton and force his ouster.

"There is an attempt here by the Republican majority to play out this process in a way that can inflict maximum political damage on the president," Lockhart said, suggesting that there could be "an endless proceeding" of new witnesses and evidence.

"We're making up the rules literally on the back of an envelope right now," he said. "What we need is a process where, if it goes in a way that doesn't suit the majority, they won't rip up that envelope and write a new one."

Senate Republicans defended their move to continue the trial, pointing to their announcement of Feb. 12 as a target date to end it. They also explained their need to hear new testimony from Lewinsky, Clinton confidant Vernon Jordan and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal as necessary to resolve contradictions in earlier evidence. Lawyers for the three witnesses received subpoenas yesterday.

"We've been going for two weeks, and we've set up a process that could well be wrapped up in the next two weeks," said Sen. Spencer Abraham, a Michigan Republican. "It's far shorter than many had claimed."

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott jokingly indicated yesterday to a conference of mayors that he took no joy from the trial: "Do you realize how really difficult it is, how extremely exhausting it is for United States senators to sit in one place for six hours at a time and listen to others speak? I mean, there's no vent, no way to let off steam."

The outlines of the deposition process became clearer yesterday. Despite pleas by House prosecutors for the presence of a judge at each interview, Senate leaders announced that bipartisan pairs of senators would serve as mediators for disputes that arise during the testimony.

The Republicans have named Sens. Mike DeWine of Ohio, Fred Thompson of Tennessee and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania as mediators. DeWine is to be the Republican arbiter for the Lewinsky deposition, Thompson for Jordan and Specter for Blumenthal.

The Democrats selected Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, John Edwards of North Carolina and Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont. Leahy will observe the Lewinsky deposition, but Senate Democrats had not decided last night which depositions Dodd and Edwards would attend.

All three depositions will be videotaped, starting with Lewinsky's on Monday. The rules allow for eight hours of questioning for each witness, split evenly between the Republican House prosecution team and lawyers for Clinton.

Lewinsky will be deposed at a suite at the Mayflower Hotel, just a few blocks from the White House. Rep. Ed Bryant of Tennessee will lead the prosecution's questioning.

Tuesday, Jordan will face questioning from Rep. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas. Blumenthal will be interviewed by Rep. James E. Rogan of California on Wednesday. The depositions of Jordan and Blumenthal will take place in a highly guarded office in the Capitol that is home to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Republican prosecutors say the testimony of Lewinsky and Jordan will allow them to demonstrate a pattern of illegal behavior by Clinton that was intended to conceal his relationship with the former White House intern.

Blumenthal has previously testified that Clinton denied the affair to him and claimed instead that Lewinsky was a "stalker" who had pursued a sexual involvement with him. Blumenthal told this account to others.

House prosecutors rest part of their case for obstruction of justice on the contention that Clinton intentionally lied to people who he knew were likely to be called to testify.

The taped records of the depositions are to be held by the secretary of the Senate and will be considered confidential documents available only to senators, designated aides and Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

The videotaped testimony -- presumably to include Lewinsky discussing her sexual relationship with Clinton -- will be shown to senators privately next week. Once the trial resumes, senators will vote on whether to call the witnesses to testify in person or to show some of the videotape to the Senate. Eventually, the Senate is expected to make the entire videotaped testimony public.

Republicans have not ruled out the possibility of calling additional witnesses should the testimony raise further questions.

Though they have participated in arranging some of the logistics of the depositions, Senate Democrats were still smarting yesterday over the continuation of the trial.

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