As Clinton lawyers huddle, Lott vows Senate will make America 'proud'
January 9, 1999
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, January 9) -- As the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton unfolds, the Senate "will continue to do the people's business" and handle the trial in a manner that will make Americans proud, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said Saturday.
Meanwhile in foggy Washington, Clinton's lawyers huddled at the White House, working on a formal answer to the articles of impeachment that must be delivered to the Senate on Monday. The mood at the White House was described as "workmanlike."
Sources tell CNN that the plans are still in flux, and it remains "totally up in the air" as to what motions White House lawyers will file.
Lott, delivering the Saturday radio address for the Republicans, vowed that, "When this is all over, no matter what the outcome, you will be proud of the Senate and prouder still that our system of government is able to handle even this momentous matter with civility, order and fairness.
"Throughout this process, we will insist on the high standards of decency and decorum," he said. "Believe me, to sit in judgment here is to fill a responsibility far heavier than any other political concern."
On Friday the Senate, by a unanimous vote, drafted a framework for how the trial will be conducted. House impeachment managers and the White House will each be given three days to give an opening presentation; then senators will be given the opportunity to ask questions.
At that point, senators may consider motions to end the trial or open up the proceedings for testimony from specific witnesses. Those motions would have to be approved by a majority of the Senate.
The White House would prefer no witnesses be called, and several sources tell CNN that there are no plans for the president to testify.
But as Clinton's lawyers prepare for the possibility that witnesses will be called, CNN has learned that his legal team is debating the merits of calling several potentially controversial witnesses as part of his defense -- which could include an aggressive critique of the origins of Independent Counsel Ken Starr's case against the president.
Among the witnesses who could be called, sources say, are Linda Tripp, the one-time White House secretary who taped phone calls with Monica Lewinsky; literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, who encouraged Tripp to tape the calls; and a law partner of Starr who had contacts with lawyers for Paula Jones, whose sexual harassment suit against Clinton is a focus of the impeachment case.
One source involved in the strategy debate told CNN, "We hope it never comes to that. But we also have to prepare for everything and make certain that the president receives a thorough defense. That could -- could -- mean raising doubts about how all this got started in the first place."
This source stresses that White House decisions about witnesses and strategy will be revisited constantly as the case unfolds and will depend on the White House assessment of the strength of the case presented by House impeachment managers.
Sources tell CNN that White House lawyers Charles Ruff and Gregory Craig will have roles in the opening presentation, and it's likely that the president's personal lawyer, David Kendall, will also participate.
Mixed feelings from House managers on Senate plan
The 13 House impeachment managers wanted a free hand to call witnesses as they saw fit, and some were less than happy with the Senate's decision to control the witness-calling process. But Rep. Charles Canady, R-Florida, said he thinks the compromise rules are workable.
"Of course we can present a case," he said. "The framework for the initial stage is not the framework I would have established. But frankly, I think this is a positive development -- a strong, unanimous agreement ... for going forward with this case. We believe it can be an important part of our case to call some witnesses, and we're not foreclosed from that."
But another House manager, Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, said he's worried that the Senate is headed for a "sham trial" without the witnesses the House needs to present its case.
Cannon said he and other managers have held private discussions with senators about the case and concluded the senators are not familiar with the evidence the House used to approve two articles of impeachment.
He said he asked three senators, whom he would not name, why major portions of the case were compelling.
"They didn't know," he said. "There are senators who don't know the case at all, who are acting like they do."
CNN White House Correspondents John King and Chris Black contributed to this report.
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