Videotapes apparently sway no one

Excerpts of Lewinsky, Jordan, Blumenthal add little for either side

Dec. 1997 phone call debated

February 07, 1999|By Paul West and Karen Hosler | Paul West and Karen Hosler,Sun National Staff

WASHINGTON -- House Republican prosecutors unleashed their strongest potential weapon against President Clinton yesterday -- Monica Lewinsky, on videotape -- but made no perceptible change in the seemingly inevitable outcome of his impeachment trial.

After a day of viewing video footage of a coolly composed Lewinsky, plus clips of Clinton's friend Vernon Jordan and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal, the Senate remains on track to acquit the president by the end of this week.

Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky praised the House presentation as "very helpful to anybody in the Senate who had an open mind. But all the open minds here are on the Republican side. I think the Democrats have made up their minds" to acquit."

Closing arguments are scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, with a final vote on the articles of impeachment set for no later than noon Friday.

House prosecutors, their case effectively lost, concentrated nearly their entire three-hour presentation on the obstruction-of-justice charge. That charge is expected to draw more votes for conviction than that of perjury, though not enough to force Clinton's removal.

As they offered testimony from three witnesses loyal to the president, the prosecutors described them as pawns of Clinton, the mastermind of the obstruction-of-justice scheme.

Clinton was "the only individual who had the complete picture. He had all the facts, and he did not always share those facts with others," said Rep. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, "until he determines that the time is right to do so."

The House Republicans seemed to be aiming their arguments as much at the public as at the Senate, whose members were able to watch the taped depositions last week. Indeed, the relatively small television monitors on the Senate floor, combined with technical glitches with the sound system in the chamber, made the viewing much easier at home.

'A political facade'

Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, an outspoken Clinton defender, called the airing of Lewinsky's testimony a "political facade," part of "a blatant and flagrant partisan effort to demean the president, embarrass the president, humiliate the president, poison the political atmosphere."

For the first time, and probably the last, too, the president's accusers had a box-office lure: More than a year into the sex scandal that bears her name, Lewinsky could finally be seen and heard publicly.

At least in the extended excerpts that were aired, the 25-year-old former White House intern, wearing a dark outfit accented with a string of pearls, came across as a practiced witness who was in control of herself throughout the five-hour deposition, recorded Monday at a Washington hotel.

Republican Rep. James E. Rogan of California portrayed her as the House's star witness, "the one person whose testimony invariably leads to the conclusion that the president of the United States committed perjury and obstructed justice."

Repeatedly, he and other House prosecutors urged the Senate to "listen to Monica Lewinsky."

Clinton's defense lawyers, however, found her equally effective as a defender of the president. And near the end of the day, Republican Rep. Ed Bryant of Tennessee, who had interrogated Lewinsky on behalf of the House, conceded that she remains loyal to Clinton. During her deposition, "where there were things that could be bent [in his favor], she did so," Bryant said.

There were no major revelations -- transcripts made public Friday confirmed reports that no bombshells would be found in the depositions. There were also only glancing references to the sexual nature of the events at the center of the scandal.

Still, the public airing of testimony by Lewinsky and company could have been only embarrassing to Clinton. Those excerpts can now be recycled endlessly on TV as well.

For example, House prosecutors twice showed footage of Jordan's testimony about the "alarming and stunning" question Lewinsky asked him, during a Dec. 19, 1997, meeting in his Washington law office: "whether or not the president at the end of his term would leave the first lady."

'An extraordinary question'

Jordan, who seemed far less haughty on tape than the transcript of his testimony might have made him appear, also testified that he questioned Clinton at the White House that evening about whether Clinton had had sexual relations with Lewinsky. Clinton denied it.

"It appears to me that this is an extraordinary question to ask the president of the United States," says Hutchinson, Jordan's questioner.

Perhaps the most contentious arguments by lawyers for both sides concerned a late-night telephone call from Clinton to Lewinsky on Dec. 17, 1997, in which he informed her that her name had appeared on a witness list in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual-misconduct case.

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