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Two Democratic senators push to open closed-door impeachment proceedings

By Paul Courson/CNN

January 11, 1999
Web posted at: 5:35 p.m. EST (2235 GMT)

WASHINGTON (January 11) -- Senate rules require secrecy during some parts of the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, but two senators are proposing to suspend those rules in what they call a "sunshine motion."

Wellstone
Sen. Paul Wellstone  

Sens. Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) called a news conference Monday and said the closed-door policy undercuts efforts to convince the American people the trial will be fair.

Secrecy rules would apply to Senate deliberations on the two articles of impeachment before any vote to remove Clinton from office. And the public could be barred from seeing any witness testimony taking place in a closed session of the Senate, unless opened by simple majority vote. Deliberations on motions to allow witnesses could also be behind closed doors.

"Democracy cannot grow in dark houses," said Harkin, who called the sunshine proposal a "political disinfectant." Harkin said it was wrong to have a secret debate which could lead to the removal of a president.

Wellstone press aide Jim Farrell told CNN, "It's not fair that we might hear from Monica Lewinsky, but then not hear Senators Wellstone and (Joseph) Biden debating the value of Lewinsky's testimony."

It would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate to suspend the secrecy rules. Harkin acknowledged there is some concern from both Democrats and Republicans about going against tradition. But he told CNN that of the handful of lawmakers raising those concerns, none have adamantly opposed.

Snowe
Sen. Olympia Snowe  

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said impeachment framers 130 years ago intended for the Senate to "act in a more judicious way" than what might be envisioned under the proposal. Jury deliberations are held in secret.

Snowe said a motion to open the proceedings "would set a precedent for the future," and it might have to be worded to avoid a permanent, fundamental change in traditional Senate closed-door rules.

Snowe said that if those concerns are answered, she "has no personal opposition at all, and in fact, would lean the other way," toward open proceedings.

Harkin and Wellstone declined to say when the motion might be put to a Senate vote. Wellstone suggested the critical time might be after the trial's initial phase when debate is most likely on motions and witnesses. Harkin added that there could be motions from White House lawyers at any time, which could take place out of public view under the existing rules.


Investigating the President

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Monday January 11, 1999

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