Senate Democrats, White House critical of GOP witness plan
January 28, 1999
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, January 28) -- Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott says a GOP-sponsored plan to handle witness depositions in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton will allow senators to fulfill their "duty" to see the trial through while in all "likelihood" ending the proceedings by February 12.
But some Democratic senators and White House officials reacted angrily to the plan, which passed on a strictly party-line vote Thursday evening. The Senate had earlier defeated both a Democratic alternative and a motion to proceed immediately to votes on two articles of impeachment.
A senior White House official told CNN that Republicans "have decided on a process that is unfair, open-ended and could keep this going for weeks and months."
"They were given a chance to go right to the articles of impeachment, and the Republicans said, 'No.' They want to go on and on and on and allow this trial to be reopened to new evidence anytime they want," the official said.
"Democrats first and foremost want this matter ended," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. "We believe very strongly about the need to bring this matter to an expeditious close."
The GOP plan sets February 12 as the target for ending the trial. Though that date is not an absolute deadline, Lott said, "That's our goal, and we have set in motion a process that will get us there."
Depositions of three witnesses -- White House aide Sidney Blumenthal, former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and presidential confidant Vernon Jordan -- will be conducted on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.
The sessions, at which one senator from each party will be present, will be videotaped. Only after the process is finished will the Senate decide what to do with the videotapes.
The Democratic alternative plan, offered by Daschle, would have set February 12 as an absolute deadline for ending the trial and also would have prohibited any public release of the deposition videotapes -- a prohibition Republicans opposed.
"It is perhaps accurate ... to describe the Daschle proposals as being 'Sex, Lies and No Videotape,'" said Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Washington. "We insisted on a complete search for the truth, on the ability for the Senate to decide whether or not video presentations of these witnesses will be permitted on the floor of the Senate."
"They apparently want to ensure on the front end, without knowing what the depositions might produce, that they will be guaranteed that nothing in those depositions will ever be made public," said Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tennessee.
But Daschle said publicly aired testimony could create a "spectacle" and could include "salacious" information related to sexual contact between the president and Lewinsky.
"What little dignity Monica Lewinsky has left, we hope we can protect," he said.
House impeachment managers have said they would not ask Lewinsky about the details of her sexual contact with the president -- a promise that didn't seem to bring the minority leader much comfort.
"There have been so many unexpected twists and turns in the proceedings and in these developments to date, that to count on that, even though I know their word is good, is more than we can accept," Daschle said.
Another bone of contention between Senate Republicans and the White House is a plan floating on Capitol Hill in which the Senate would vote on "findings of fact" before voting on the articles of impeachment.
In essence, the senators could declare that the facts of the case show Clinton committed perjury or obstruction of justice, even if there are not 67 votes to remove him from office.
Daschle's alternative plan for finishing the trial would have prohibited any motion to make "findings of fact." The GOP plan does not.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, said the idea has "troubling constitutional consequences and (is) also quite illogical." But Lott said Democrats were "overreacting."
"It doesn't guarantee that there will be a motion on the findings of fact. Neither does it prohibit it. I need to hear that fully discussed," he said.
With the vote to proceed breaking down on party lines, a White House official tells CNN, "It is now very clear that the bipartisan spirit in the Senate has broken down and we have returned to partisanship. This is now a Republican trial, and we will remind them of that every day."
But Lott said that despite partisan differences during Thursday's votes, senators on both sides of the aisle were still talking and cooperating.
"As long as we're communicating and working together in good faith, I think we'll be fine," he said. "I think the feeling of fairness and bipartisanship is still very strong, and I think the proof will be in the pudding when we get at the end."
CNN White House correspondent John King contributed to this report.
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