Senate won't call Lewinsky

House prosecutors are dealt defeat in bid for live questioning

25 Republicans vote no

Managers will be able to present excerpts of videotaped testimony

February 05, 1999|By Jonathan Weisman and Karen Hosler | Jonathan Weisman and Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The Senate resoundingly rejected yesterday an appearance by Monica Lewinsky at President Clinton's impeachment trial, instead allowing House prosecutors to present portions of the videotaped depositions of Lewinsky and two other witnesses when the trial resumes tomorrow.

Twenty-five Republicans joined a unanimous Democratic front to deal House prosecutors their first real defeat since the trial began last month, signaling that the yearlong impeachment process will draw to a close by the end of next week.

Sen. Strom Thurmond, the 96-year-old Republican from South Carolina, nearly leaped out of his seat to answer "no" when the roll was called on having Lewinsky as a witness.

"She's a pretty flashy woman," he later explained. "I'd like that, but from the standpoint of what's best for the Senate, I think she shouldn't come."

A last-ditch effort by Republicans to push a vote on Clinton's guilt without removing him from office also collapsed yesterday in the face of united Democratic opposition and waning GOP support.

"The way to end this is to vote guilty or not guilty, and live with it," said Sen. Phil Gramm, a Texas Republican who opposes any censure-like effort to attach some further message to Clinton's almost certain acquittal.

But senators also dealt White House lawyers an important defeat when nine Democrats joined 53 Republicans toallow prosecutors to present the videotaped depositions.

Tomorrow, for the first time, Americans will see and hear Lewinsky discussing her relationship with the president and their efforts to hide it.

The president desperately wanted to avoid that. White House special counsel Gregory B. Craig argued strenuously against even placing the videotapes into the official record of the trial, warning that the images of Lewinsky, presidential confidant Vernon Jordan and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal "will be forced, hour after hour, unbidden and uninvited, into the living rooms and family rooms of the nation."

But having denied House prosecutors their motion to present just one witness in the well of the Senate, senators from both parties decided that depositions taken secretly this week should not be hidden indefinitely from the public.

"It was just a matter of principle with me," said Minnesota Democrat Paul Wellstone, who has been trying in vain to open all the Senate's private deliberations in the trial. "I want everything in this trial to be as open as possible."

In another slap to the president's lawyers, Republican senators rejected a plea from the White House to be told in advance which portions of the videotape would be shown.

The president's lawyer, David E. Kendall, argued that such notification is routine and only fair if Clinton's defenders are to adequately respond to the House's presentation.

But House prosecutor James Rogan, quoting a former California Supreme Court justice, said flatly, "It's none of your damned business" what prosecutors plan to present.

His remark sent a shock wave through the staid and proper Senate chamber.

"I thought it was arrogant and inappropriate," said Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry. "As a matter of fairness, everything that the code of civil procedure tries to do is eliminate surprise. That answer ran counter to it."

After nearly a month, senators of both parties made it clear to House prosecutors yesterday that they have had enough.

"The whole tone is different," remarked New York Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer. "The feeling on both sides of the aisle is, let's finish this up. Let's not let the House managers continually drag this out."

Even before the proceedings began yesterday, Senate Republican leader Trent Lott laid out just how the trial will move to closure:

* Deposition transcripts will be released today;

* House prosecutors and White House lawyers will have three hours each tomorrow to present evidence from the videotapes;

* Six more hours will be allotted Monday for closing arguments;

* Beginning Tuesday, senators will have 16 to 25 hours of final deliberation;

* Thursday or Friday, they will vote whether the president should be convicted and removed from office for perjury and obstruction of justice.

Conviction and removal would require the votes of two-thirds of the senators.

Lott had already given up on bringing to a vote "findings of fact," which would have declared that the president "willfully provided false and misleading testimony" to a federal grand jury and "wrongfully engaged in conduct to delay the discovery and to cover up the existence of evidence and to alter testimony related to a federal civil rights lawsuit."

That GOP gambit had been offered as a way to ensure that Clinton could not claim exoneration after his expected impeachment acquittal.

But Democrats, the White House and some Republicans protested that the findings would violate the Constitution and set a dangerous precedent by allowing a simple majority of the Senate to, in effect, convict a president without removing him from office.

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