House Republican prosecutors unleashed their strongestpotential weapon against President Clinton yesterday -- Monica Lewinsky, onvideotape -- but made no perceptible change in the seemingly inevitableoutcome of his impeachment trial.
After a day of viewing video footage of a coolly composed Lewinsky, plusclips of Clinton's friend Vernon Jordan and White House aide SidneyBlumenthal, the Senate remains on track to acquit the president by the end ofthis week.
Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky praised the House presentationas "very helpful to anybody in the Senate who had an open mind. But all theopen minds here are on the Republican side. I think the Democrats have made uptheir minds" to acquit."
Closing arguments are scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, with a final voteon the articles of impeachment set for no later than noon Friday.
House prosecutors, their case effectively lost, concentrated nearly theirentire three-hour presentation on the obstruction-of-justice charge. Thatcharge is expected to draw more votes for conviction than that of perjury,though not enough to force Clinton's removal.
As they offered testimony from three witnesses loyal to the president, theprosecutors described them as pawns of Clinton, the mastermind of theobstruction-of-justice scheme.
Clinton was "the only individual who had the complete picture. He had allthe facts, and he did not always share those facts with others," said Rep. AsaHutchinson of Arkansas, "until he determines that the time is right to do so."
The House Republicans seemed to be aiming their arguments as much at thepublic as at the Senate, whose members were able to watch the tapeddepositions last week. Indeed, the relatively small television monitors on theSenate floor, combined with technical glitches with the sound system in thechamber, made the viewing much easier at home.
Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, an outspoken Clintondefender, called the airing of Lewinsky's testimony a "political facade," partof "a blatant and flagrant partisan effort to demean the president, embarrassthe president, humiliate the president, poison the political atmosphere."
For the first time, and probably the last, too, the president's accusershad a box-office lure: More than a year into the sex scandal that bears hername, Lewinsky could finally be seen and heard publicly.
At least in the extended excerpts that were aired, the 25-year-old formerWhite House intern, wearing a dark outfit accented with a string of pearls,came across as a practiced witness who was in control of herself throughoutthe five-hour deposition, recorded Monday at a Washington hotel.
Republican Rep. James E. Rogan of California portrayed her as the House'sstar witness, "the one person whose testimony invariably leads to theconclusion that the president of the United States committed perjury andobstructed justice."
Repeatedly, he and other House prosecutors urged the Senate to "listen toMonica Lewinsky."
Clinton's defense lawyers, however, found her equally effective as adefender of the president. And near the end of the day, Republican Rep. EdBryant of Tennessee, who had interrogated Lewinsky on behalf of the House,conceded that she remains loyal to Clinton. During her deposition, "wherethere were things that could be bent [in his favor], she did so," Bryant said.
There were no major revelations -- transcripts made public Friday confirmedreports that no bombshells would be found in the depositions. There were alsoonly glancing references to the sexual nature of the events at the center ofthe scandal.
Still, the public airing of testimony by Lewinsky and company could havebeen only embarrassing to Clinton. Those excerpts can now be recycledendlessly on TV as well.
For example, House prosecutors twice showed footage of Jordan's testimonyabout the "alarming and stunning" question Lewinsky asked him, during a Dec.19, 1997, meeting in his Washington law office: "whether or not the presidentat the end of his term would leave the first lady."
Jordan, who seemed far less haughty on tape than the transcript of histestimony might have made him appear, also testified that he questionedClinton at the White House that evening about whether Clinton had had sexualrelations with Lewinsky. Clinton denied it.
"It appears to me that this is an extraordinary question to ask thepresident of the United States," says Hutchinson, Jordan's questioner.
Perhaps the most contentious arguments by lawyers for both sides concerneda late-night telephone call from Clinton to Lewinsky on Dec. 17, 1997, inwhich he informed her that her name had appeared on a witness list in thePaula Corbin Jones sexual-misconduct case.
House prosecutors played portions of Lewinsky's testimony about the call.Clinton, she recalled, told her she could always file an affidavit, if she wassubpoenaed in the Jones case, and perhaps avoid being deposed. She alsotestified that during the same call, Clinton reminded her of their "coverstory" about their relationship.
"The president said something -- you can always say you were coming to seeBetty [Currie, his personal secretary] or bringing me papers," Lewinsky said.
But Clinton's lawyers used that testimony to bolster their argument thatLewinsky's statements about the phone call had undermined the House case.
"The House managers have cleverly snipped here and there in an effort topresent their story," said defense attorney Nicole Seligman. "They havedistorted. They have omitted. And they have created a profoundly erroneousimpression."
The president's lawyers then ran an extended excerpt of Lewinsky'stestimony, some 17 minutes in length. Included was the question and answerthat followed Lewinsky's recollection about her phone conversation withClinton concerning their cover story.
"Now was that in conjunction with the affidavit?" she was asked.
"I don't believe so, no," said Lewinsky, who testified that she and Clintonnever discussed the contents of her affidavit.
Prosecutors did not play that excerpt, said Seligman, the president'slawyer, because "they don't want you to know Ms. Lewinsky's recollection,which is that the cover stories and the affidavit were not connected in thattelephone call."
But House prosecutors, who acknowledged at the outset that their caseagainst Clinton was to a certain extent circumstantial, responded forcefully.
They argued that the senators shouldn't let the arguments of thesophisticated White House legal team blind them to what was going on.
"Where I come from, you call somebody at 2: 30 in the morning, you're up tono good," Rep. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said, to the most prolongedlaughter of the day. "Use your common sense. He was up to no good."
With a tone of desperation, Graham pleaded with the Senate not to reach theverdict that seems inevitable.
"Everybody wants this over so bad you can taste it, including me," he said."But don't leave a taste behind that history cannot stand."
Referring to a heckler who shouted Thursday from the gallery for the Senateto "God Almighty, take the vote and get it over with," Graham urged thesenators: "For God's sakes, spend some time to fulfill your constitutionalduty, so that we can get it right not for just our political moment but forthe future of this nation."
As the votes on the articles of impeachment near, several issues remain.
Senators will decide whether to conduct their deliberations on the articlesin public. Proponents of open deliberations, mainly Democrats, do not have the67 votes they would need to change the rules, which call for the debate totake place behind closed doors.
The largely Democratic effort to craft a toughly worded censure resolutionthat can receive bipartisan backing also is continuing. Sens. DianneFeinstein, a California Democrat, and Robert F. Bennett, a Utah Republican,have gone through some 20 drafts in their attempt to find language acceptableto most members of both parties.
According to one draft proposal, Clinton would be condemned for giving"false or misleading testimony" and conducting himself in a way that hasbrought "shame and dishonor" to him and the presidency. The draft resolutionmakes no mention of Lewinsky but describes the president's relationship with"a subordinate employee" as "shameless, reckless and indefensible."
Action on the proposed resolution could come immediately after the vote onthe articles of impeachment, expected late this week. But some Republicansenators oppose the idea, and it is not clear a vote will be taken this weekon a censure resolution.
Work on a censure resolution continued behind the scenes yesterday, but itsprospects remain uncertain.
"I'd say it's a bird without wings right now," said Sen. Bob Kerrey, aNebraska Democrat who supports censure. "It looks more like a serpent."
The start of yesterday's session was delayed while the Senate observed amoment of silence in memory of R. Scott Bates, 50, the legislative clerk whocalled the roll during votes taken in the impeachment trial.
The 30-year employee of the Senate was killed Friday night after beingstruck by a car while crossing a street in suburban Virginia with his wife,who remains hospitalized.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun