Senate struggle over witness testimony continues
January 14, 1999
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, January 14) -- Just hours before the House prosecutors began opening statements in the Senate impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, the veneer of Senate bipartisanship began to fade as the thorny question of witness testimony re-emerged as a key point of contention.
The Senate last week voted 100-0 on a compromise agreement allowing the trial to begin with the opening statements while deferring decisions on calling witnesses until after both sides present their cases.
But House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Illinois) and his managers once again stressed to senators Thursday their belief that witnesses are necessary.
"The House managers submit witnesses are essential to give heightened credence to whatever judgment the Senate chooses to make on each of the articles of impeachment against President Clinton," Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) said during opening statements.
And just prior to Thursday's trial, House managers sent a 33-page rebuttal to the Senate responding to the president's defense brief filed by the White House Wednesday. In it the prosecutors use the president's arguments to bolster their own case for calling witnesses at the Senate trial.
Rejecting the president's argument that he did not lie in his testimony before a federal grand jury investigating his relationships with Lewinsky, the House managers reiterated their argument that "a complete and impartial review of the evidence reveals that the president did in fact commit perjury before the grand jury."
"President Clinton discounts substantial evidence as well as common sense when he maintains he testified truthfully," the House prosecutors wrote.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) appointed three pro-witness Senate Republicans -- Jon Kyl of Arizona, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Jeff Sessions of Alabama -- to work with Hyde and other House impeachment prosecutors to discuss what criteria to use to decide if witnesses will be called.
Though White House and Democratic leaders in the Senate were invited to join the group, they declined saying the action went against the bipartisan agreement.
"I'm very disappointed and somewhat surprised that there has been that kind of activity this early," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) said. "It certainly violates the spirit of the agreement that we just all agreed to last week."
"I'm equally dismayed that House managers have already chosen to contact witnesses. And then, to announce a witness reluctance to participate until they know the circumstances, that is in clear violation of the agreement that we had last week. And I hope it's not a harbinger of the politicized process that we have all said we oppose," Daschle continued.
Lewinsky, through her attorney, turned down a request from the House Judiciary Committee for a pretrial interview.
Another potential witness, former White House volunteer Kathleen Willey, met face-to-face on Monday with two House prosecutors, CNN has learned.
Hyde spokesman Sam Stratman said Thursday it would be his guess that other witnesses have been interviewed, but said interviewing them does not mean they will be called.
Hyde told reporters Wednesday that prosecutors were debating whether to seek testimony from Clinton himself.
"I think we're all interested in hearing from the president as a witness," said the Illinois Republican. "I don't know anyone who wouldn't be interested. The question is whether we should call him or not, and that hasn't been resolved."
Having Clinton testify before the Senate probably won't "add much to the record," said Illinois Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin. "I frankly don't believe that's necessary. The president has been questioned under oath repeatedly," the senator told CNN on Thursday.
In all, prosecutors want to call at least a half-dozen witnesses, including Lewinsky, Clinton friend Vernon Jordan, presidential secretary Betty Currie as well as White House aide Sidney Blumenthal and White House Chief of Staff John Podesta.
House managers are divided over attempting to call Willey, since the House did not use any evidence of her involvement with Clinton in building its impeachment case. Willey contends Clinton made an unwanted sexual advance in a room near the Oval Office in 1993.
Sen. Charles Schumer agrees. "This is not a fishing expedition to be conducted on the floor of the Senate," the New York Democrat told CNN on Thursday.
"Nothing about Kathleen Willey is in the two articles of impeachment and if we were to go beyond the confines of the articles of impeachment and start bringing before us anybody who might have an allegation, before it had been checked and rechecked, we would make a mockery of the process," Schumer said.
Democrats and the White House do not want witnesses called, and argue that the mountain of evidence passed on from the House should serve as the official record in the first presidential impeachment trial since Andrew Johnson escaped conviction by one vote in 1868.
Johnson was Abraham Lincoln's vice president and assumed the presidency after Lincoln's assassination in 1865.
Thursday January 14, 1999
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