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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

Momentum to call witnesses grows in Clinton trial

Clinton practices the State of the Union speech in the White House theater  

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, January 16) -- As House impeachment managers wrapped up the opening salvo in their case against President Bill Clinton, one looming question is being asked in Washington and around the country -- how is all of this playing with the 100 senators who will decide his fate?

In their public statements Saturday, many senators took great pains to note that they are reserving final judgment until Clinton's side of the case is heard next week. But a number of senators, including some Democrats, gave positive reviews to the House managers' three-day presentation.

"I think they did a very good job. I think they pushed ... the ball uphill a little bit," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana, who quickly added, "It's a steep hill, and they're not near the top of it."

"My standard is clear and convincing evidence. I think if we were in a court of law and a motion was to be made today to dismiss the case because of lack of the prosecution having carried out its responsibility, I would reject that motion," said Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida.

On the other hand, one moderate Republican, Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont, indicated that he was less than convinced by the House managers' argument that lying under oath in a court proceeding, even to cover up a consensual sexual affair, was impeachable.

"If you say lying about a non-crime can be converted into a high crime by the way you handle it, that sets a pretty low standard for me," Jeffords said.


Staunch Clinton defenders unimpressed

A number of the president's staunchest Democratic defenders also were unimpressed by what they had heard and seen so far in the trial.

"Today, they did not tie those explicit details to high crimes and misdemeanors," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York. "The real question is whether having an illicit affair and lying about it rises to high crimes and misdemeanors. No one touched that subject."

"The House managers understand that based on the current record and with the arguments presented today, they are not going to win this trial," said Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-New Jersey.


Hatch: Offer Clinton chance to testify

The most pressing question for the Senate in the near term is not whether to convict or acquit Clinton but whether the trial should proceed with witnesses once the president's opening presentation is complete. A chorus of Republicans made clear Saturday that they are increasingly convinced witnesses will be essential.

"I find it ... hard to envision that I would have to be in the position of making a decision on this case without really watching the demeanor of witnesses on the stand," said Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio. "That is what a jury does every day in this country."

"There is a growing consensus, I think, and I'm not so certain some Democrats aren't of the same view -- let's have witnesses," Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia, said on CNN's "Evans, Novak, Hunt and Shields."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, suggested that an invitation be extended to Clinton to come to the Senate and testify.

"He ought to be the sole determiner of whether he decides to come up or not, but we ought to open the doors here if he wants to come," Hatch said. "If he doesn't want to come, no inferences should be drawn from that."


Decision on witnesses may depend on defense strategy

Some senators indicated that the president's defense team may strengthen the case for calling witnesses if it presents a vigorous attack on the factual basis of the House case next week.

"If they basically contest the facts, it will make a stronger case for the calling of witnesses," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona. "If, on the other hand, they were to stipulate the facts or at least concede that the House managers' version is probably accurate, then it would weaken the House's case for calling witnesses.

"So until the White House has disclosed its strategy, it's a little early to tell if we would be making that decision to call witnesses," Kyl said.

Not disputing the facts would put the White House in the position of arguing that even if the House charges against Clinton are true, they are not impeachable. But after the House presentation, Hatch said he thinks the White House lawyers need to dispute the managers' outline of the facts in the case.

"In the law, this was a powerful prima facie case -- in other words, a case that the judge couldn't take away from the jury," he said on CNN's "Capitol Gang." "I do think right now, Democrats are facing a very big problem, and that is, do they make a motion to dismiss the case ... when the defense is over.

"I think there will be a number of Democrats who will not vote to dismiss the case at this particular point," he said.

Investigating the President


Saturday January 16, 1999

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