House managers argue for Clinton's impeachment conviction
Prosecution stresses need for witnesses, senators' impartiality
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, January 14) -- The House prosecution team began Thursday its three-day case for removing President Bill Clinton from office, presenting the Senate with its road map for the "impeachable offenses" of perjury and obstruction of justice they claim Clinton committed.
"The president engaged in a conspiracy of crimes to prevent justice from being served. These are impeachable offenses for which the president should be convicted," Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) said Thursday in his overview of the managers' case.
Using charts and video clips and quoting from the written record, Reps. James Rogan (R-California) and Asa Hutchinson (R-Arkansas) laid out in detail the two articles of impeachment against Clinton approved by the House last month.
Outlining multiple instances of "perjurious, false and misleading testimony" by Clinton, Rogan rejected the president's defense that he did not perjure himself, insisting those arguments "strain all boundaries of common sense" and "logic."
Hutchinson presented what he dubbed Clinton's "seven pillars of obstruction" that included encouraging the filing of a false affidavit, witness tampering and the concealment of evidence.
The managers are fighting an uphill battle to convince two-thirds of the Senate that Clinton should be convicted of the two articles of impeachment, and consequently be removed from office.
In his introductory remarks, Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde reminded the senators of their duties as impartial jurors. "You are seated in this historic chamber ... to listen to the evidence as those who must sit in judgment. To guide you in this grave duty, you've taken an oath of impartiality."
To further strengthen their case, all the speakers stressed the need for witnesses during the trial. "On behalf of the House of Representatives, we urge this body to bring forth the witnesses and place them all under oath," Rogan said.
No new evidence was offered by the manager and the speeches were by in large dispassionate recitations of now-familiar events. A captive audience, the senators listened to the presentations without speaking.
As the afternoon drifted into evening, senators sat quietly at their desks, some taking notes, some fidgeting and others perfectly still. Several lawmakers quietly made requests for paper or water, but per the rules, no senator so much as whispered during the first hour or so of proceedings.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who is presiding over the trial, periodically stood up to stretch his ailing back.
The trial adjourned Thursday night after House managers completed a six-hour presentation of evidence. The summation of the factual case will be presented by Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Florida) when the trial resumes at 1 p.m. ET.
After Hyde's introductory remarks and Sensenbrenner's overview, the "fact" team took over the House's presentation. Reps. Ed Bryant (Tennessee), Hutchinson and Rogan closely followed the 105-page legal brief the managers filed with the Senate Monday to outline their case. (Trial memorandum)
Rogan replayed parts of the president's testimony before Independent Counsel Ken Starr's grand jury on August 17 to lay out his case for impeachment Article I, which accuses Clinton of perjury.
The California representative focused much of his remarks on the prepared statement Clinton read 19 times during his grand jury testimony. In that statement, Rogan said, Clinton gave a "false account of the nature and details of his relationship with Lewinsky."
Specifically, Rogan said Clinton lied about the starting date of the affair and the type of sexual activity that took place. "Ironically, this prepared statement was supposed to inoculate him from perjury. Instead, it opened him up to 19 more examples of giving perjurious, false, and misleading answers under oath," he added.
Though the House voted down an article of impeachment charging Clinton with perjury in his Paula Jones civil deposition, Rogan addressed the charge in his statement, arguing that Clinton perjured himself by repeating "previous perjured answers he gave under oath in a sexual harassment lawsuit."
Jones had alleged that Clinton made a sexual advance to her while he was governor of Arkansas. Her case was dismissed by a federal district judge. It was settled for a cash payment by Clinton to Jones before an appeals court could rule on whether it would be reinstated.
Speaking to Article II -- the obstruction of justice charge -- Hutchinson told the Senate that Clinton encouraged Lewinsky to submit a false affidavit, tampered with witnesses and conspired to conceal the gifts exchanged between the president and the ex-intern. Hutchinson also categorized the job search for Lewinsky as obstruction.
Using charts to display the timelines, Hutchinson ran through a tic-toc of events from December 1997 when Lewinsky was subpoenaed in the Jones case to January 1998 when the scandal was threatening to break in the press. He called the president's actions part of a scheme to hide the relationship with Lewinsky from Jones' lawyers.
Hutchinson refuted White House claims that this case is just about sex and personal behavior by the president. "It is not a crime nor an impeachable offense to engage in inappropriate personal conduct; nor is it a crime to obstruct or conceal an embarrassing relationship."
"But as we go through the facts of this case, the evidence will show that a scheme was developed to obstruct the administration of justice, and that is illegal," he said. Hutchinson is from Clinton's home state, and his brother, Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Arkansas), is sitting as a juror in this trial.
Before his colleagues launched into their recitation of the events of the case, Bryant stressed to the senators that the events in question can not be viewed as isolated incidents but instead as a pattern of corruption.
"Remember, events and words that may seem innocent or even exculpatory in a vacuum may well take on sinister, or even criminal connotation when observed in the context of the whole plot," Bryant said.
He provided a loosely chronological history of events that led to Starr's investigation of the president.
"Every trial must have a beginning and this trial begins on a cold day in January 1993," Bryant said, showing video of Clinton taking his first oath of office on the steps of the Capitol.
The Tennessee Republican went on to trace the events surrounding Jones' civil lawsuit, as well as the progression of the president's sexual relationship with Lewinsky through December 1997.
Though Sensenbrenner had promised "all kinds of little nuggets -- lots of stuff you haven't heard before" in his overview of the prosecution's case, neither he nor any of the day's speakers offered any new evidence beyond what Americans heard during the weeks of House Judiciary Committee hearings.
But he did stress that the trial was taking place because Clinton had multiple occasions to tell the truth about his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky but didn't.
"We are here today because President William Jefferson Clinton decided to put himself above the law, not once, not twice, but repeatedly," Sensenbrenner said.
He added that the president "could have told the truth to the American people. Instead, he shook his finger at each and every American and said, 'I want you to listen to me' and proceeded to tell a straight-faced lie to the American people."
The tape of that statement was shown later in the day during Rogan's presentation.
The failure to convict Clinton on the impeachment charges, said Sensenbrenner, "will cause a cancer to be present in our society for generations."
Offering some of the toughest rhetoric of the day, Sensenbrenner concluded: "When a cancer exists in the body politic, our job, our duty, is to excise it."
A senior White House source Thursday accused House prosecutors of opening their impeachment case against Clinton with an "outrageous and blatant misrepresentation."
At issue: Sensenbrenner's remarks, when he suggested that those looking for evidence the president committed perjury should look at the House Judiciary Committee testimony of White House counsel Charles Ruff.
Sensenbrenner said Ruff declined to answer the question when asked if the president had told the truth in his grand jury testimony. But the White House official said Ruff's answer was, "He surely did."
The official said: "Congressman Sensenbrenner blatantly misrepresented the facts and the record, consistent with the outrageous and blatant misrepresentation of the record throughout their entire case.
"... They say nothing is more central to the rule of law than the truth and they can't tell the truth."
CNN's John King contributed to this report.
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