White House says House prosecutors have 'weak' impeachment case
Both sides spend day prepping for Thursday's opening arguments
January 12, 1999
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, January 12) -- With both sides preparing for Thursday's start of opening arguments in the Senate impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, the White House is escalating its attacks on the House prosecutors' case as outlined in a pre-trial memo, while drafting its own point-by-point written rebuttal.
White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart said Tuesday the House managers have a "weak factual and constitutional case" and that their 105-page trial brief filed Monday contains a "new bundling and interpretations of the charges against the president at this late date."
Clinton has until 10 a.m. ET Wednesday to file his defense brief. The president will sign off on the more detailed White House memorandum before his lawyers send it to the Senate. Sources tell CNN the draft repeatedly accuses House prosecutors of reaching conclusions not supported by the evidence.
As an example, White House aides point to the fact that the full House last month rejected an article of impeachment concerning Clinton's Paula Jones civil lawsuit testimony, but the House brief recycles the charge for the Senate trial, alleging "the president lied repeatedly under oath in his deposition in the Jones case, and thereby obstructed justice in that case."
The prosecution team also argues that if Clinton is not convicted, it will be almost impossible to impeach future presidents for misconduct.
The White House calls both moves desperate hyperbole. "It is at times a hallmark of what's a weak factual and constitutional case that the allegations continue to shift, and that the rhetoric continues to be overblown," Lockhart said.
Earlier in the day Lockhart had even more harsh words, comparing the House brief to a "cheap mystery novel."
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, serving as chief prosecutor, responded with sarcasm: "He's generous and kind and respectful and deferential, just as we've come to expect from them. We're proud of our brief, and we have nothing but respect for the White House's brief, so I'll leave the invective to Mr. Lockhart."
House managers prep their case
The 13 GOP members of the House Judiciary Committee who were selected to serve as the House managers, or prosecutors, spent much of Tuesday sequestered in their separate offices writing their individual parts of the opening presentation.
House prosecutors also began distributing documents to senators which they said would help Senate members follow the presentation of the House case against Clinton.
Neither the defense nor prosecution decided to file any pre-trial motions so the proceedings will go right to opening arguments. First up will be the House managers; Hyde (R-Illinois) will lead off with introductory remarks.
Next, Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wisconsin), the second-ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, will provide an overview. He pledged without elaboration Monday that his argument will be "packed with all kinds of little nuggets, lots of stuff you haven't heard before."
In the brief the House filed with the Senate Monday, the managers laid out their case, repeating the same charges they made in their impeachment accusations.
"This case is not about sex or private conduct. It is about multiple obstructions of justice, of perjury, false and misleading statements and witness tampering, all committed and orchestrated by the president of the United States," the brief read.
The prosecution team said "the effect of the president's misconduct has been devastating."
"Indeed, how can anyone, in or out of our country, any longer believe anything he says?" the House prosecutors concluded.
Judiciary Committee sources say their entire presentation will take up much of the alloted 24 hours, spread over three days. That means they will probably finish their initial presentation Saturday.
White House concentrates on defense, State of the Union
Following the House prosecutors' opening arguments, the White House will have an equal amount of time to make its case for acquittal.
The House memo was a rebuttal to the 13-page White House response to the Senate summons, filed earlier Monday. In that document, the president's legal team denies the perjury and obstruction charges against Clinton and said the case should be dismissed because the offenses would not warrant his removal from office, even if true.
Meanwhile, the president continues preparing for his scheduled January 19 State of the Union speech. He is on the second draft and may have a practice run Wednesday in the White House theater.
Some lawmakers have suggested that the president should delay the address, as it will take place while the trial is under way, but Clinton believes the speech is critical to showing the American people that he is focusing on his job and not the trial.
Lockhart said while the Senate needs to proceed with the business before it, "the agenda and the policies that the president is pursuing are the people's business and they have to go forward."
CNN's Bob Franken and John King contributed to this report.
Tuesday January 12, 1999
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