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Senate moves forward on impeachment trial

Lawmakers put off decision on witnesses until after opening statements

January 8, 1999
Web posted at: 6:37 p.m. EST (2337 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, January 8) -- The Senate unanimously approved a road map Friday for continuing the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. With opening arguments set to begin next Thursday, all 100 senators gathered in their role as jurors to vote on the detailed bipartisan deal, worked out in a closed-door meeting earlier in the day.

The plan does not explicitly settle the touchy issue of whether witnesses will be called to testify, but says a vote on witnesses will occur after both sides make their opening statements and there is questioning by senators.

Also in this story:

After the vote, the Senate sergeant-at-arms officially delivered a summons to the White House, notifying Clinton he was on trial in the Senate. The president must now officially respond to the summons and has until Monday to file any pre-trial motions.

Details of the trial agreement

Here are the highlights of the Senate's plan:

-- Each side has the opportunity to file motions (except motions to call witnesses), trial briefs and rebuttals briefs before the proceedings begin next week.

-- On Wednesday, January 13, the House managers and the president's legal team will argue any motions before the Senate. The Senate will then vote on the motions.

-- On Thursday, January 14, the opening arguments begin, with both sides having up to 24 hours to present their case based on the evidence on the record.

-- After both sides present their opening statements, senators will have no more than 16 hours to pose questions to both sides through Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who is presiding over the trial.

-- Next, a motion to dismiss the charges against Clinton will be introduced.

-- Then, if either the House managers or Clinton's defense team wishes to introduce new evidence or call additional witnesses, they can introduce a motion to do so. Each side would have three hours to argue the motion or motions. All witness lists will be considered "en bloc."

-- After the six hours have expired, the Senate will vote on the motion to dismiss. If that fails, they will vote on any motions to introduce new evidence or witnesses.

-- If a motion for witnesses passes, the trial would go on hiatus, while the new witnesses are deposed.

-- After depositions are taken, the Senate will reconvene to decide if the testimony of the new witnesses should be heard.

-- At the end of the whole process, the Senate will vote whether to acquit or convict Clinton on each article of impeachment -- perjury before a federal grand jury and obstruction of justice.

Daschle, Lott
Sens. Daschle and Lott discussed
the Senate's impeachment trial plan
 

After the full Senate cacus met for more than two hours Friday morning, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Minority Leader Tom Daschle emerged with a tentative agreement, calling the meeting "wonderfully positive." Senate staffers then worked out the formal language and the matter went to the full Senate.

"We will go forward ... with no preclusion of witnesses and no inclusion of witnesses," Lott said. "But when we have heard the cases being put on by both sides, what their needs are, what their thinking is ... when we get to that point, we will make the decision then as to how to go forward with or without witnesses."

The Mississippi Republican also said a bipartisan committee of four senators would begin work immediately to consider how to handle witness testimony, should witnesses be called.

In a renewed attempt at bipartisan compromise, Republicans and Democrats met starting shortly before 10 a.m. ET in the old Senate chamber. The meeting was closed to the press.

Prosecution, defense react to rules

Despite the remaining uncertainty about witnesses, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Illinois) issued a statement after the Senate vote, saying all the House managers "look forward to the opportunity -- with Senate concurrence -- to call witnesses in support of the evidence."

Craig
Gregory Craig  

"We respect and appreciate the bipartisan agreement established by this Senate," Hyde wrote. "We intend to use the time we have been provided to present a compelling case on the serious charges pending against the President."

Clinton attorney Gregory Craig told reporters outside the White House his team plans to present "a vigorous, successful and complete defense."

"We are confident that the senators, once they see and hear this defense in this opening phase of the trial, will conclude that the articles do not justify or warrant conviction or removal from office," Craig said. "We remain hopeful that this matter can be resolved expeditiously and fairly."

A bipartisan truce

Although it appeared the Republican majority prevailed in preventing a pre-trial decision on witnesses, Sens. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Joseph Biden (D- Delaware) praised a new spirit of cooperation developed in the bipartisan conference.

Biden, McCain
Sen. Biden and McCain praised the
cooperation in Friday's Senate
conference
 

"There was extreme discomfort on the floor yesterday about the way this thing was headed," McCain said. "I believe the prime motivating factor was that we saw that we were not going to be able to carry out our constitutional responsibility unless we carve some kind of bipartisan agreement."

"The idea that the Senate would degenerate into a pit bull ring ... was something that each of us thought ... would reflect incredibly badly on the place we think is a big deal," Biden said, standing in the falling snow outside the Capitol.

Before the meeting, Daschle also expressed optimism for a bipartisan agreement, saying, "I think the chemistry is better."

The question of witnesses

The compromise, according to Biden, also assures Clinton's lawyers have time to take depositions and prepare for witness testimony.

"If we get to the point and vote witnesses, we will have approved a process by which we will ensure that they have a chance to depose those witnesses first and so on," said Biden. "It will be a process that gives the president's lawyers ample time to depose that witness first and be able to be treated fairly."

Before Friday's Senate vote, Hyde, the lead House prosecutor, issued a statement indicating the 13 House managers will continue to push for witness testimony.

"As in any court proceeding, witnesses are necessary during a trial so that evidence may be thoroughly weighed and tested before a conviction," Hyde said.

That sentiment was echoed by Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Arkansas), another of the prosecutors. "You can't make a proper case without witnesses," he said.

The House managers, sources said, were unhappy with the restrictions Republicans want to put on the calling of witnesses but admitted they had no choice. The prosecutors want to call Lewinsky, the president's personal secretary Betty Currie, and Clinton's long time friend Vernon Jordan as well as other witnesses.

Rogan
Rep. James Rogan  

"We have never had a chance to put those witnesses on publicly in a trial so that the jury can test their credibility also," said Rep. James Rogan (R-California), one of the House prosecutors.

Through the week, senators have been working behind the scenes to try to reach a consensus on what comes next, hoping to avoid the kind of partisan split that marked the House's handling of the impeachment matter.

The White House warned Thursday that if witnesses testify, as House prosecutors have urged, "all bets are off" on how long the trial may last. Administration officials expressed frustration over how to prepare for a trial whose format and procedures were still up in the air.

At first, dueling proposals

The new bipartisan proposal is similar to the Republicans' original plan. Under that proposal, the Senate would have sent a summons to Clinton, giving him until Tuesday to respond to the perjury and obstruction of justice charges against him. House prosecutors would have deliver opening statements next Thursday. The president would follow shortly after the Martin Luther King holiday. Each side would have up to three days to present its case. The trial would conclude by mid-February.

Following the opening statements, the senators would determine if witness testimony is needed.

Democrats had been drafting a proposal that would have based the trial on the record used by the House. They had wanted an initial vote on whether witnesses would be allowed to testify.

Democrats had been calling for the House managers to present their case Monday and Tuesday and for the president's lawyers to detail their position Wednesday and Thursday. The senators would have asked questions on January 19 and 20, and there would have been one day of closing arguments on January 21. The Senate would have begun deliberations on January 22 and concluded on January 25. The vote on the articles of impeachment would have been held January 26.

Historic trial opened with ceremony

Senators proceeded publicly Thursday with the ceremonial opening of the impeachment trial of the president -- the first since the unsuccessful effort to unseat President Andrew Johnson in 1868.

The historic session began when Hyde and the 12 other House managers presented the Senate with the two articles of impeachment against the president.

The House approved two