Senators, White House finalizing strategy for Clinton's impeachment trial
WASHINGTON, Jan 1: Senators and the White House are finalizing strategy for conducting President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial, but it will take last-minute rank-and-file meetings to clear the way for the historic proceeding this month, reports AP.
The plan discussed most frequently in recent days would permit a test vote after opening trial statements, to determine whether opponents of removing Clinton had enough strength to make conviction unattainable.
To be discussed in separate meetings Wednesday of Republican and Democratic senators, the early vote would require a two-thirds majority to keep the trial going - the same margin that would be needed to convict the president. If the trial is stopped at that point, the door could be open to a resolution of censure.
The proposal is controversial, because it could prevent House prosecutors from presenting their full body of evidence and would deprive senators of a yes or no vote on the two articles of impeachment approved by the House.
Several conservative Republican senators have said they would not support censure under any circumstances.
There was a growing consensus, meanwhile, among the president's legal advisers that they might be willing to stipulate to the authenticity of the five volumes of publicly released evidence that Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr turned over to Congress regarding Clinton's attempts to conceal his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
The president's lawyers might accept a deal that limits the trial evidence to those volumes. They would not dispute the authenticity of the evidence, only the conclusions drawn from them by Starr and the House impeachment inquiry, according to several sources familiar with the discussions inside the White House.
The House on Dec. 19 voted two articles of impeachment against Clinton: grand jury perjury and obstruction of justice relating to Ms. Lewinsky, the former White House intern.
The sources, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, stressed that no final decision had been made and much depended on what the Senate chooses to do when it returns to work next week.
Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, in an interview with The Associated Press, said Thursday he could not predict whether the test vote concept would survive with majority Republicans. But, he added, "Most Democrats are supportive of a process like that."
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican, wrote Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, on Wednesday, urging him not to "sacrifice substance and duty for speed" nor "unwisely short-circuit" the first presidential impeachment trial since the case against Andrew Johnson in 1868.
Daschle countered that "we're not going to be dictated to by the House or the White House. We'll take into account their ideas.
"We're prepared to be flexible to a certain extent but we're going to stay within this framework. We're just hoping everybody understands our desire to deal with this fairly and expeditiously.
We're not trying to throw down the gauntlet, but this plan gives us an opportunity to accomplish that."
Lott floated the idea of a preliminary vote earlier this week, but several Senate officials said it originally was devised by Sens. Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, and Slade Gorton, a Washington Republican.
While Daschle, Lott and other senators made rounds of calls to each other, Chief Justice William Rehnquist travelled a block from the Supreme Court to the Capitol to get acquainted with the Senate chamber. Rehnquist will preside at the impeachment trial.
Surrounded by security personnel who held up public tours for about an hour, Rehnquist toured the chamber and saw the seat he will use at the front of the ornate room.
"It's strictly a meeting on mechanics, a tour," said James W. Ziglar, the Senate sergeant-at-arms, who guided the chief justice through the area.
The tour included an anteroom that Rehnquist can use during breaks in the televised trial.
The plan under consideration would allow the prosecutors and the White House legal team to each make a day-long opening presentation, followed by a day of questions. With the initial arguments from both sides in hand, the Senate could then hold its test vote on whether the charges were grave enough to warrant removal of the president.
Approval of the motion by 67 senators, assuming everyone were present, would allow the trial to continue with a full evidence presentation by the House and a rebuttal by the White House. If the Senate's 55 Republicans all supported continuation, a dozen of the 45 Democrats would have to join them to keep the proceedings going.