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Lott's bipartisan witness group nixed by Daschle

White House defense strategy could decide the witness question

January 16, 1999
Web posted at: 2:48 p.m. EST (1948 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, January 16) -- Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott proposed in a letter Friday that a bipartisan group of senators be formed which "could anticipate and help resolve in advance any complications that may be presented by our hearing the testimony of witnesses." But Minority Leader Tom Daschle declined to participate saying he hoped "that such arrangements will ultimately prove unnecessary."

lott
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott  

Throughout their three days of opening statements the House prosecutors reiterated their position that witnesses are necessary to prove credibility and settle discrepancies in the written record.

On Friday the House prosecutors repeated their belief that Lewinsky, who once admitted to Linda Tripp in a recorded conversation that she had "lied all my life," is more credible that the president.

"If you believe the testimony of Monica Lewinsky, you cannot believe the president or accept the argument of his lawyers. You just can't," said Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Florida) said.

The White House legal team currently faces a Catch 22 situation: Sources say the president's lawyers can make a strong point-by-point case on the facts.

mccollum
Rep. Bill Mccollum  

But doing so would likely increase the momentum for calling witnesses, something the White House fears because live witness testimony is an unknown quantity that could change the tide currently favoring acquittal.

Their alternative is to stipulate to the facts and argue that, even if true, the allegations of wrongdoing do not rise to the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors" required by the Constitution.

The thorny question of whether to have witnesses testify was postponed by the Senate in a compromise agreement that defers any decision until after both sides present their cases and senators have a chance to send written questions to the trial's presiding officer, Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) said the final decision would depend on the strategy the White House adopts. "If they basically contest the facts, it will make a stronger case for the calling of witnesses. 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," Kyl said.

"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," he continued.

hatch
Senate Orrin Hatch  

There was continued speculation over whether the House prosecutors, called "managers," will ask the Senate to invite Clinton to appear.

"You're innocent until proven guilty. And you do not under any circumstances -- you do not, do not -- say that somebody has to come before whatever the tribunal is and prove they're innocent," Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said after Friday's session.

But Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said Saturday that it would only be courteous to extend an invitation to the president to appear personally and defend himself.


Investigating the President

MORE STORIES:

Saturday January 16, 1999

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