As senators struggled yesterday to decide how quickly toconduct a trial of President Clinton, leaders of the House impeachment driveargued for the chance to make a full presentation of their case, complete withtestimony from witnesses.
Trent Lott, the Senate majority leader, floated a proposal for a two-weektrial next month that would conclude with a vote on whether to remove Clintonfrom office. If less than the necessary two-thirds of the Senate voted toconvict, a lesser sanction, such as censure, could be taken up.
"I would prefer that there would be a vote on the articles ofimpeachment," Lott said in an interview with the Associated Press.
But Lott said he did not think it would be necessary to examine witnesseson the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice that stem from Clinton'sefforts to hide his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
"I think the record is there to be reviewed, read, presented in a formthat [House prosecutors] choose," the Senate Republican leader said. "And Ithink that would be sufficient."
Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle agreed: "It's fair to say thatSenator Lott and I are both comfortable with proceeding without witnesses, butagain, it's a matter we're going to have to vet with our caucuses."
Nevertheless, the 13 Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee,who brought the articles of impeachment against Clinton to the full House, arepreparing for a full-blown trial that could include new evidence. TheseRepublican members say such evidence is necessary to justify their actionagainst the president.
"No matter what the result" of the impeachment process in the Senate, Rep.Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said, "the question I have" is, "How wouldhistory judge that result? What did you base your decision upon?
"I think if you look at it that way, it's important for us to have ameaningful trial," Graham said.
Graham's view was echoed by several of his colleagues after the Housemembers who will serve as prosecutors in the Senate trial met yesterday fortheir first strategy session. There is broad agreement among this group on theneed to call witnesses and to give the president a chance to dispute anytestimony or evidence, a spokesman for the committee said.
"There was no show of hands, but I am anticipating, based on everythingwe've discussed in there today, that there would be witnesses, we wouldpresent witnesses," said Rep. Bill McCollum, a Florida Republican. "I don'tthink there's any question about that."
Technically, House members have no say in how the Senate trial will beconducted. But the views of the conservative Republicans who have led theimpeachment effort will be crucial factors to consider in what is a political,rather than a judicial, procedure.
So far, though, Lott and Daschle agree that witnesses are not necessary.
In an interview yesterday with MSNBC, Lott outlined a proposal he isshopping around the Senate. The plan calls for a brief, tightly run trial thatwould be based on legal arguments and on evidence that the House prosecutorschoose to present. Clinton's attorneys would offer their defense, includingany additional evidence.
Lott suggested that the proceeding could begin on Jan. 11 and conclude byJan. 22, with votes on the two articles of impeachment. If neither impeachmentcharge musters the two-thirds vote necessary to convict, as now seems likely,Lott indicated that the Senate could move on to other choices.
Daschle has not yet endorsed this proposal, according to a spokeswoman,Ranit Schmelzer, who called it one of several options being considered.
The White House, which is consulting closely with Daschle, could upset theplan by requesting more time to prepare for the case, or through otherdelaying tactics. At the moment, the president's team is offering no publiccomment on specific proposals.
In response to Lott, Amy Weiss, a White House spokeswoman, said, "We favora bipartisan process that will bring closure fairly and expeditiously."
A Senate agreement on how to proceed with the trial is not expected untilearly next week.
Congress will convene for the new term on Wednesday. Preliminary stepstoward beginning the trial, including swearing in the senators as jurors andswearing in Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist as the presiding judge, areexpected Thursday.
Lott and Daschle are having trouble developing a consensus among theircolleagues because most senators are striving to remain open-minded on thishighly sensitive issue. For example, Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine, one ofseveral moderate Republicans who the White House hopes might vote withDemocrats to short-circuit a Clinton trial, said she would like to heartestimony from witnesses.
"I believe it would be helpful to me as a juror to hear directly fromwitnesses," Collins said yesterday in an interview on CNN. "I do think itwould be helpful to me to hear firsthand from people who are criticallyinvolved."
Most senators agree that the Constitution requires them to take the firstformal steps to begin a trial. But many Democrats, and some Republicans, arehopeful that a censure deal could be negotiated with the White House shortlyafter, and perhaps draw enough support to cut off the trial before it getsunder way.
One potentially huge obstacle to any censure resolution may be that somesenators will demand that Clinton admit to lying under oath about hisrelationship with Lewinsky, which the president has repeatedly refused to do.
"That is an important issue," Collins said. "If the president made anadmission, that would help the process along for many people."
Because Clinton flatly denies the central impeachment charge that he liedunder oath, a trial is clearly necessary, Graham said, even if censure is theultimate result.
"The president of the United States has said he is not guilty -- that hedid not commit perjury," Graham said. "I disagree. It would be up to somebody,I think, to resolve that dispute."