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Washington Journal: Clinton Defense Begins Case Tomorrow

  • Frank Csongos

Washington, 18 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Attorneys for U.S. President Bill Clinton will begin presenting their defense tomorrow (Tuesday) against charges brought by the House of Representatives that seek Clinton's removal from office.

The lawyers will have 24 hours to make legal arguments at the U.S. Senate impeachment trial. This procedure is expected to take about three days. The senators then will have 16 hours to ask questions through Chief Justice William Rehnquist of the U.S. Supreme Court, who presides over the trial.

Democratic and Republican senators disagreed yesterday (Sunday) on whether witnesses should be called to testify. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah said in a television interview (NBC) that the 100-member Senate needs to hear from witnesses to make up its mind whether to remove Clinton from office. Hatch, a Republican, is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Hatch said: "I haven't seen many trials where you don't have witnesses, and -- keep in mind -- they could go either way. They could be helpful to the president, they could be hurtful to the president."

The senator added: "So I think it's going to be pretty tough under these circumstances not to have witnesses. And I think the House of Representatives made a fairly good case that it would be helpful. We'll have to see if 51 senators will vote to do that. I think it will be pretty tough under these circumstances not to have witnesses."

The White House opposes calling witnesses, saying Senators already have enough material to judge the case. Most Senate Democrats are also against the idea. A simple majority vote of the Senate, however, could schedule calling witnesses.

Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut noted (on NBC) that the senators agreed earlier this month to defer the decision until they hear from both sides.

Dodd said: "I think there is a burden on the part of the House managers to demonstrate the real need and why we would have to hear witnesses. One of the considerations we as senators have to make is that we are not just jurors or triers -- depending on how you want to label us -- we're also senators and we've got a lot of work to do."

He said: "If you get into the witness issue ... you're going to have the White House demand all exculpatory evidence from the House managers; you're going to have discovery and depositions. We could be talking May or June before (we) finish this trial. And I think the Senate ought to think seriously before it goes that length of time."

The first phase of the impeachment trial ended at the weekend with a 13-member delegation from the House of Representatives finishing its presentation of why Clinton should be removed from office.

They argue that Clinton violated his oath to uphold the constitution.

The 435-member House approved two impeachment charges last month. Clinton was accused of lying under oath and obstructing justice while trying to conceal a sexual relationship with former White House aide Monica Lewinsky.

Clinton is a member of the Democratic Party. The House and Senate are both controlled by the Republican Party. The House vote to impeach was done largely along party lines, with Republicans voting in favor of the action, though many Republican representatives also voted with Democrats against two articles of impeachment.

Clinton has acknowledged having an improper relationship with Lewinsky but denies committing any crimes.

Senator Paul Wellstone, a Minnesota Democrat, said (on NBC) that the House prosecutors did not make a convincing case for convicting the president. He said "there is nowhere close to 67 senators -- in my judgment -- who are going to vote to remove the president."

Under the constitution, two-thirds of the Senate must vote for conviction in order to remove the president from office. There are 55 Republicans and 45 Democrats in the Senate.