Senators remain divided over trial plans
Leading proposal calls for four-day trial
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, January 4) -- When the Senate convenes this week the first item on its agenda will be President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial. But there is disagreement over how to proceed, with senators divided over whether to hold a full-scale trial or cut it short.
The formalities of opening a trial against the president could begin on January 7. But the details of how the rest of the proceedings will unfold are still up in the air and will not be finalized until the caucuses meet at midweek.
One proposal, being floated by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi), is for an expedited four-day trial and a "test" impeachment vote.
The first day would feature statements by the House impeachment managers, the 13 Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee who will serve as the prosecutors. During the second day the White House would deliver its response while the third day would be reserved for questioning.
On the fourth day, senators would hold the early vote to gauge if two-thirds would vote to convict even if the charges are true and provable.
Rep. Slade Gorton (R-Washington), one of the architects of the proposal, said, "In this we're giving the House every benefit of the doubt. And if more than one-third of the senators say ... under no circumstances, no matter what they prove, will I vote to convict, the question arises, do you go through the whole trial?"
But Lott is meeting much resistance from Republican senators. It is presumed Lott's biggest hurdle will be clearing the approach with the party's right wing but they are not the only ones blocking the fast track.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) said, "It's pretty hard to have a trial without witnesses and if you have just (a) hearsay report, you do not have the circumstances, you do not have the flavor, you do not have really the aura of the trial."
Writing in The Washington Post, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) argued that making such quick work of the articles of impeachment "might be an unnecessary step with long-term ramifications" which "might be seen by the public as a repudiation of the House's decision to impeach."
The House managers have been critical of the plan, complaining that it would deprive them of the chance to make their case.
Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Florida) told "Fox News Sunday," "I think that it would be very wrong in a historic sense, and very wrong for the public not to have that record laid out before any resolutions, a censure or a conviction."
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota) countered that the case could still be heard without a parade of additional witnesses: "It is not taking a vote before we've heard the evidence."
"The proposal is to have a presentation of the evidence by the House managers, have a presentation by the White House, and then have a vote to determine if these instances were born out by the facts, do they rise to the level of impeachment?" Dorgan said.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) complained that the House Republicans had shown a "condescending" attitude. "The House of Representatives has told the Senate how they must do it," Leahy said.
"Well, this kind of condescending attitude does not go over well with the Senate," said Leahy. "We have the responsibility to determine how best to do it. Now they've done it on their side. Now it's up to the Senate to decide how to do it."
The Senate must consider the two articles of impeachment approved last month by the House alleging Clinton committed perjury before a grand jury and obstructed justice in the Monica Lewinsky affair.
The final stage of the Lott-Sen. Tom Daschle plan would be a vote on censure. According to sources, the current thinking calls for tough words along the lines of the House Judiciary committee censure proposal, no fine, no requirement that the president sign it and no joint resolution with the House.
White House officials are hoping that the Senate will avoid a full-scale impeachment trial and they insist the president will go far in working out a censure deal to ensure that happens.
Several of President Clinton's advisers are urging him to go along with a censure resolution that says he made false statements under oath. But they insist Clinton will not directly acknowledge he lied even to avoid a full-scale Senate trial that would revive many of his most embarrassing moments of 1998.
How far will the president go to avoid a trial? Aides say at a minimum he would concede what White House Counsel Charles Ruff last month told the House Judiciary Committee, that reasonable people can disagree on whether he lied.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Candy Crowley contributed to this report.
Monday January 4, 1999
Senators remain divided over trial plans
Hastert prepares to assume House speakership
Democratic donor to plead guilty to illegal contributions
Elizabeth Dole resigns Red Cross post, may test presidential waters
Clinton proposes tax credit for long-term care of elderly, disabled
Sen. Smith to announce presidential bid
First lady's mom says Hillary doesn't discuss her marriage
Q & A: An impeachment primer
U.S. Mint distributes new quarters
Ventura becomes Minnesota's governor
Ashcroft may not get in 2000 race