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Senators wrangle over 'findings of fact' to end Clinton trial

Lieberman says he's open to GOP exit strategies

January 31, 1999
Web posted at: 8:28 p.m. EST (0128 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, January 31) -- On the eve of Monica Lewinsky's deposition testimony in President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial, Democratic and Republican senators wrangled Sunday over GOP exit strategies that would leave the president in office but formally declare that he committed wrongdoing.

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One plan floating on Capitol Hill, brought forward by Sen. Susan Collins(R-Maine), would have the Senate vote on "findings of fact" about Clinton's misconduct, prior to a final vote on the two articles of impeachment lodged against him.

The motion would require only a simple majority to pass, rather than the two-thirds vote needed to approve the impeachment articles.

"I am not attempting to convict the president but not remove him. I am not attempting to find him guilty in the legal sense of criminal wrongdoing," Collins said on NBC's "Meet The Press." "What the approach that a number of us are working on would do is to set forth findings of fact from the evidence based on the trial, on which we could build a bipartisan consensus."

A related but slightly different proposal has been offered by Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R-Utah), under which the Senate would adjourn after condemning Clinton's conduct, without votes on the impeachment articles.

While many Democrats are questioning the constitutionality of these approaches, one influential member of the president's party, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, said Sunday that he has been having discussions with Republican senators about both proposals. He indicated he would be open to considering them, depending on the wording of the condemnation of Clinton.

"I've advised my Democratic colleagues (that) ... we shouldn't rush to judgment on the question of findings (of fact) until we see what the findings are," he said on ABC's "This Week."

Rehnquist won't block findings motion, senators say

Lieberman said if the findings didn't claim to convict the president of a crime but instead said that he had been misleading and acted to cover up his misconduct, "then I for one would be hard pressed to vote against it."

In a appearance on "Fox News Sunday," Lieberman also said that adjournment without a vote on the articles of impeachment "would prevent the president from claiming acquittal or an exoneration because there would be no final vote on conviction. And then we just state, without calling him a criminal ... (that) he has committed obstruction of justice ... that he has lied under oath."

On "This Week," both Lieberman and a Republican senator backing Collins' plan, Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico, said that Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who is presiding over the trial, has told the Senate parliamentarian that he would not block a findings-of-fact motion if it is offered.

Collins plan draws Democratic fire

But other Democratic senators and Clinton supporters reacted negatively to the proposed GOP exit strategies.

"I think some Republicans are trying to act like political magicians and say, 'See me vote guilty but see me vote not to remove him from office,'" said Sen. John Breaux (D-Louisiana). "You can't say that he is guilty, then not remove him from office."

"If you start doing a finding of fact as a preliminary step, you're creating a whole new avenue for the legislative branch to basically discipline the executive branch," said Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut) on CNN's "Late Edition."

Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, a Clinton adviser and a former federal judge, said he believes a finding-of-fact approach is unconstitutional. He said if the Senate wants to condemn Clinton's conduct, it must first vote on the impeachment articles and then consider a censure motion.

"There is a vast difference between trying to do it within the impeachment process and trying to do it in entirely separate circumstances after the president has been acquitted," he said on "This Week."

Clinton's female lawyers to question Lewinsky

Meanwhile, House impeachment managers and Clinton's legal team geared up for Monday's questioning of Lewinsky, the former White House intern whose sexual relationship with the president is at the heart of the impeachment scandal.

White House spokesman Jim Kennedy said Sunday that the two women on Clinton's team, Nicole Seligman and Cheryl Mills, will lead the questioning of Lewinsky. Rep. Ed Bryant (R-Tennessee) will query her on behalf of the managers.

The questioning will take place at the Mayflower Hotel, where Lewinsky has been staying since arriving back in Washington from Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon.

While Lewinsky testified extensively in front of Independent Counsel Ken Starr's grand jury about her relationship with Clinton, Monday's questioning will mark several firsts.

It will be the first chance House managers have had to question her extensively, though three of them held a short interview with her last weekend. It will be the first time the president's lawyers have had a chance to cross-examine her. And it will be the first time that her story is caught on videotape.

Lewinsky is to be cross-examined by House managers on Monday  

Over Democratic objections, Senate Republicans last week pushed through a plan for conducting the depositions that could eventually lead to the public release of Lewinsky's videotaped testimony, though a majority of the Senate would still have to approve that decision.

Though she has been at the center of a noisy scandal for more than a year, Lewinsky has not given any interviews or testified in public; most Americans don't even know what her voice sounds like.

Impeachment managers expect Lewinsky to support the obstruction of justice charge against Clinton by her "almost total recall" of her conversations with him, according to House officials familiar with the managers' strategy.

Investigating the President


Sunday, January 31, 1999

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