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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

Senate urged to call Lewinsky, Currie, Jordan as witnesses

Procedures still aren't set on eve of impeachment trial

Investigating the President

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, January 6) -- House prosecutors are pushing for Monica Lewinsky, Betty Currie and Vernon Jordan to testify in the landmark Senate impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, congressional sources told CNN Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott  

The trial formally begins Thursday at 10 a.m. ET, but a senior Republican aide said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott told his caucus Wednesday afternoon that opening statements would not begin until next Wednesday at the earliest.

Legislators worked all day to hammer out details and procedures for the trial.

"We intend to continue to try to narrow the list of questions and come forward with a proposal that would provide for an early beginning, appropriate time for briefings to be filed, for a full trial to be provided for and votes on articles of impeachment at the end of the process," Lott said on the Senate floor Wednesday evening.

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"There are a lot of gaps around what I've just said, but I think there is a sincere effort, a bipartisan effort, and a nonpartisan effort to do it in a way that is fair and that would get us to a conclusion on this matter," Lott said.

Meanwhile, the White House hardened its position, with the president's lawyers saying they do not believe they should have to go forward until they know the rules.

Trial opens Thursday

Opening formalities will begin Thursday with the Senate receiving the House managers -- the 13 Republicans who will prosecute the case against Clinton -- who will open the trial by reading the two articles of impeachment.

The House of Representatives impeached Clinton December 19 on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, stemming from Independent Counsel Ken Starr's investigation of the president's affair with Lewinsky, a former White House intern.

At 1 p.m. ET Chief Justice William Rehnquist will be escorted into the Senate chamber and sworn in as the presiding officer. He in turn will swear in the 100 senators as jurors.

What happens next is the outstanding question. Trying to reach some consensus, Lott met separately Wednesday with the Republican caucus and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Illinois), the head of the team of House managers.

In a floor statement to the new Senate Wednesday, Lott said he thinks the Senate can produce a "fair" trial plan but conceded that neither some House Republicans nor White House officials are likely to consider it "wonderful."

Sources told CNN that Lott is looking at a two- to three-week trial, ending before President's Day on February 15, but the majority leader refused to put a time limit on the trial. "We will get it done, hopefully, in a relatively short period of time without limiting it to a day, or three days or three weeks for that matter," Lott said. "It could very well take longer than that."

Sen. Tom Daschle  

In his floor remarks Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) urged his Republican colleagues to "just find a way to end this lingering national torment."

Republicans divided over witnesses

The biggest sticking point in defining the trial's shape remains the question of witnesses. The House managers and some Republicans in the Senate want to call some of the key players, including Lewinsky.

But the Republican caucus itself is divided on the issue. Sources say approximately a third of the Republicans favor a full trial, though not necessarily a long one, while another third favor no witnesses at all. The final third within the Republican caucus remains undecided.

One possibility is that the witnesses, if called, could give closed-door depositions, rather than live testimony, to the Senate. Sources said many senators favored depositions to keep the trial from becoming a public spectacle.

Democrats want a short, witness-free trial with a verdict based on the Starr report.

But the House managers insist they need witnesses to make their best case. Sources told CNN that among the witnesses they want to call are Lewinsky; Currie, the Oval Office secretary who often acted as an intermediary between the president and the former intern; and Jordan, a high-powered Washington lawyer who, as Clinton's close friend, tried to get the ex-intern a job outside Washington.

The House managers are also considering calling other so-called "Jane Does" -- women who were not named in the Paula Jones civil rights-employment discrimination case but who gave sworn statements. But the House Republicans are split on this issue because the women were not included in Starr's referral to Congress.

House reappoints trial managers

The necessity of the 106th Congress to reappoint the House managers, first appointed by the 105th, provided the Democrats with one last-ditch chance to derail the impeachment process, but the effort was doomed from the start.

The Republican side characterized the vote as simply a parliamentary motion. "Because this resolution is procedural it should be non-controversial. It is imperative the House take this action today so the constitutional process may move forward," Hyde said.

A parade of Democrats urged their colleagues to put a halt to the impeachment process, delivering now familiar arguments. "The best way to end this partisan charade, is to fail to appoint managers, to bring this thing to a respectable end, and move on to the people's business," said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Despite the narrowed GOP majority, the reappointment of the managers was a foregone conclusion and passed on a mostly party-line vote of 223-198.

The House managers' efforts to influence the trial procedure has caused tension among some senators, especially Democrats, who complain about what they consider to be meddling by the House.

"We didn't involve ourselves in their proceedings and it's very disturbing that they now seem to be intent on involving themselves in ours," Daschle said.

Rep. Charles Canady (R-Florida), one of the managers, said, "As managers for the House it's certainly appropriate for us to express our views about what it will take for us to present the case that we are charged with presenting under the Constitution."

White House prepares 'all-out' defense

As the White House begins to prepare its defense, aides are frustrated and want to know the game plan before the actual trial begins.

"I would think that the fundamental tenets of fairness say that anyone who is trying to defend themselves should understand what the process is from the outset and not find out what the rules of the game are halfway through," said White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart.

While Clinton's team still prefers a quick trial with no witnesses, his lawyers are gearing up for the worst-case scenario -- a trial that could last months.

If the Senate lets House Republicans call witnesses, the president's legal team is gearing up to call witnesses, too.

The president's lawyers want to see the Republicans' witness list before coming up with their own list. The White House might counter the prosecutors' witness list by calling Linda Tripp, literary agent Lucianne Goldberg and others who might undermine the Starr's case.

Still, an extended trial concerns the White House because anything could happen during that time. Already, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) has become the first Democrat to publicly say he is undecided and his vote depends on what happens during the trial.

"I can not swear upon oath today before my God that I will vote this way or that way," Byrd said. "I may be leaning this way. I may be leaning that way. But there might be something between now and the time that we vote."

CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Candy Crowley and Bob Franken contributed to this report.


Wednesday January 6, 1999

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