The Senate voted virtually along party lines yesterday todefeat a Democratic proposal to dismiss the impeachment charges againstPresident Clinton, then summoned Monica Lewinsky and two others as trialwitnesses.
The tally on separate proposals to dismiss the charges and to deposewitnesses made clear that nowhere near the required two-thirds of the Senateis ready to convict the president.
Republicans and Democrats both drafted proposals last night that would endthe trial by Feb. 12. Yet by summoning witnesses yesterday, the Senate shiftedthe trial into unpredictable territory.
All but one Democrat, Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, voted to throw outthe charges immediately, signaling that most Democrats believe the offenses,even if proved, would not warrant the first removal of a president. The voteson both motions was 56-44, with Feingold joining the unanimous Republicans invoting against dismissal and to approve the deposing of witnesses.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, wasted no timein declaring the impeachment saga all but over.
"The president will not be removed from office," Daschle said moments afterthe votes. "For the good of the country and in keeping with the Constitution,it is now time to end this trial. It is time to move on."
White House aides also seized on the vote tallies yesterday, imploring theSenate to wrap up the trial and hinting that they will drop their demands foran extended period to examine documents and possibly call witnesses.
"The votes are not there to convict and remove the president," said GregoryB. Craig, the White House special counsel. "Any proceedings from this dayforward only serve to delay the final resolution of this matter and runcounter to the best interest of the Congress, the presidency and the Americanpeople."
The Republicans, too, were firm. All 55 Republican senators voted againstdismissal and for witness depositions. Some wavering Republicans, who over theweekend had indicated they might vote against witnesses, were reassured onceHouse prosecutors presented a scaled-back list of three witnesses.
Against the wishes of the prosecutors, the depositions are likely to bevideotaped, in which case the witnesses -- Lewinsky, Vernon Jordan and SidneyBlumenthal -- wouldn't appear live before the Senate.
Prosecutors have complained that they were not allowed to call many morewitnesses and are likely to be tied to strict time limits in theirquestioning. But they found a victory in both votes yesterday, especially inthe defeat of motion to dismiss the charges, made by West Virginia DemocratSen. Robert C. Byrd.
"In effect, they said the offenses we have charged are impeachable offensesand there is enough evidence to move forward," said Rep. F. JamesSensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, one of the House prosecutors.
Senate Republicans said the Senate and the nation can hope to end theyearlong presidential sex scandal only with testimony from witnesses and witha formal vote for Clinton's conviction or acquittal.
"I'm willing to travel the road wherever it leads, whether it's toconviction or the acquittal of the president," said Sen. Susan M. Collins ofMaine, a moderate Republican. "But in order to do that, I need more evidence.I need witnesses and further evidence to guide me to the right destination, toget to the truth."
Sen. Connie Mack, a Florida Republican, said, "I don't think it can ever bean exercise in futility to try to find the truth. That's what this is about."
Conviction appeared to be far out of reach. Feingold said his votes againstdismissing the charges and in favor of witnesses don't necessarily mean hewill vote to convict Clinton, but only that he did not want to "improperlyshort-circuit this trial."
"At this point, the House managers' case has some serious problems, and Iam not certain that it can be helped by further testimony from witnesses,"Feingold said. "I simply cannot say that the House managers cannot prevail."
Facing high odds against conviction, some Senate Republicans hope topropose today a conclusion that would fall short of the president's removal.They would propose "findings of fact" that would detail the events that led tothe president's impeachment in December. But they would not conclude that helied to a grand jury or obstructed justice to hide his affair with Lewinsky.
The motion would require a simple majority to pass, and it would precede avote on conviction. If the motion passed, Clinton would remain in office. SomeDemocrats worry that such a finding could increase the president's legalvulnerability if independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr indicts him.
Senators from both parties worked through the afternoon to draw a road mapfor the remainder of the trial, which both sides hope to end by mid-February.
Republican senators proposed a procedure that would end the trial by theSenate's President's Day recess, which will begin Feb. 12.
Under one proposal, each witness' deposition would be limited to six hours,equally divided between questioning by House prosecutors and by White Houselawyers. One senator from each party would mediate the procedures.
Videotapes and transcripts of the sessions would be distributed early nextweek to senators, who would vote almost immediately on whether to bring thewitnesses to the Senate floor.
The Republican timetable would allow for live testimony and closingarguments before a final vote. The deadline for ending the trial could beextended if, after the depositions, White House lawyers asked for time toinvestigate leads and call witnesses.
"I believe, certainly barring some bolt-of-lightning discovery that wedon't now see, we would be through with it before the Lincoln Day recessperiod," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.
White House aides and Democrats objected that the president's lawyers needtime to examine 55,000 pages of documents in the possession of Houseprosecutors and the independent counsel before the depositions.
House Judiciary Committee Democrats have looked at those documents and havehinted that they contain no bombshell revelations for or against thepresident.
But under rules adopted by the House, committee Democrats have not beenallowed to debrief White House lawyers or to discuss the documents' contents.
"We believe that it's a fundamental issue of fairness that the accused getsaccess to the same material that the prosecution gets," said Joe Lockhart,Clinton's spokesman.
"This is like blindfolding us and asking the president's defenders to gointo a process knowing far less than what the prosecution knows."
Publicly, Senate Democrats have stood behind the White House's demands toallow time for them to examine secret material before the depositions.
Privately, they are growing weary of the trial and are willing to end it byFeb. 12.
A senior Democratic leadership aide said yesterday that Democrats hadproposed allowing White House lawyers to examine documents through theweekend.
That would also allow Jordan to return from Switzerland and Lewinsky toreturn from Los Angeles.
Depositions are expected to begin over the weekend and conclude Monday.Videotapes would be kept in a room where senators could review them.
White House lawyers would then be allowed to call witnesses and search forfavorable evidence. If they declined to do so, final votes would be cast Feb.12.
Craig, the White House lawyer, signaled that he could accept such a deal ifSenate Republicans and Democrats agree on it.
"We remain convinced that the national interest is best served by endingthe process in a way that is fair, speedy and bipartisan so all of us canreturn to the vital business of the United States," Craig said.
The president will be speaking today at a Senate memorial service forLawton Chiles, a former Florida senator and governor.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun