Hyde opposes preliminary vote on impeachment
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, December 30) -- As plans for President Bill Clinton's Senate trial begin to take shape, House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde is objecting to procedures Senate leaders are considering that he says "would unwisely short-circuit the process."
Hyde, chief prosecutor of the 13 House managers in the trial, wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, that he is concerned the Senate may call no witnesses and "might foreclose any trial" if a preliminary motion on the House-approved Articles of Impeachment fails to gain a two-thirds majority vote. That is the margin that would be needed to remove Clinton from office.
"I agree that we must move with all deliberate speed to resolve this matter," Hyde wrote. "However, we must not act so hastily that the president and the House of Representatives do not have a fair opportunity to present the case and the Senate does not have a fair opportunity to review a meaningful factual record."
Proper presentation of the evidence probably would "require the appearance of a limited number of witnesses," he wrote.
With the Senate out of session this week, Lott and Minority Leader Tom Daschle have been conferring by phone on the trial's details.
Though no final decisions have been made, the two have been mulling over various scenarios, including one that would begin the trial January 11, after preliminaries a few days earlier, and end it perhaps as early as Friday of the following week.
Another plan would be to take a preliminary vote on whether either Article 1, charging perjury, or Article 3, charging obstruction of justice, is provable and rises to the level of high crime or misdemeanor. If two-thirds of the Senate said yes, a full trial with witnesses would be held. Otherwise, the trial would recess, and the Senate would move to a censure resolution.
But Hyde said the Senate should hear witness testimony to perform its duty "to determine the guilt or innocence of President Clinton." And he said a full trial could move quickly.
"We need not sacrifice substance and duty for speed," he wrote.
A short timetable could mean delaying the president's State of the Union address to Congress, set for January 19. For now though, the White House is resisting such a move.
The question is whether a short trial could meet every one's expectations. Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) says he wants a final verdict. "I think the most important thing here is following the constitutional process and that constitutional process is a trial -- hopefully, a fair and speedy trial -- and the rendering of a judgment," Gramm said.
It might also put a crimp in the plans of the House managers -- the 13 Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee who will serve as the prosecutors of the case during any Senate trial -- who indicated Tuesday after their first strategy session that they would push for witnesses.
Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Arkansas), one of the managers, said after the meeting, "We will be prepared when the trial commences in the Senate to go forward with the evidence, to present witnesses and to present a case that they can make a good judgment on."
The managers did not decide what witnesses they would call but such a list could include the highest profile players in the presidential scandal, including Clinton's secretary Betty Currie, presidential friend Vernon Jordan or even Monica Lewinsky herself.
But in an interview, Lott refused to endorse such a plan. "Are witnesses required? I don't think so," he told The Associated Press.
Much about the timetable depends on key questions such as whether the White House will go along with it or if individual senators support the plan. Neither Lott nor Daschle has talked to everyone in their caucuses and are not likely to do so until next week.
White House officials are encouraged by Lott's stance and would be thrilled if the Senate trial could be wrapped up by the end of the month. It's a 50-50 possibility, one official told CNN.
Clinton, who faces perjury and obstruction of justice charges, has admitted to an improper intimate relationship with Lewinsky, a former White House intern. But he has denied wrongdoing in trying to cover up their affair.
Graham: New 'Jane Doe' may come forward
Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), another of the 13 Republicans slated to manage the case for impeachment, said affidavits filed by unnamed "Jane Doe" witnesses in the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit against Clinton could become an issue in the Senate trial.
In an interview on CNN's "Evans, Novak, Hunt and Shields" to be aired this weekend, Graham was asked about a suggestion by House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) that the Senate consider evidence not included in Independent Counsel Ken Starr's released report.
The South Carolina lawmaker says he believes some of the affidavits filed were false, like Lewinsky's. "There's some other witnesses who filed affidavits that I believe were not truthful, and the reason they didn't present the evidence truthfully is because they were afraid. And I think that may come out over time," said Graham.
When asked if one of those "Jane Does" could come forward in the next few weeks, Graham said "That is possible. That scenario has been brewing for a long time."
Graham says the material was not in the Starr report and not made public by the House Judiciary Committee, but was accessible to members considering impeachment in a House storage room and is within the "evidence pool."
Graham says it will be up to Chief Justice Rehnquist to ultimately rule on what is admissible in the Senate.
CNN's Candy Crowley and John King contributed to this report.
Wednesday, December 30, 1998
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