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Clinton gets 2 days for defense Two sides agree on marathon sessions beginning tomorrow; 15-hour hearings set; Judiciary Committee on schedule to vote at end of this week


WASHINGTON -- On the eve of a historic showdown in Congress, President Clinton and the House Judiciary Committee reached a compromise yesterday that will allow White House lawyers 30 hours stretched over two days to present their case on why the president should not be impeached in the Monica Lewinsky matter.

Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde said yesterday that he will give the White House legal team two days, beginning tomorrow morning, to offer a final public defense of the president. Hyde's committee will almost certainly vote for articles of impeachment by week's end, sending the matter to the full House.

The agreement, finalized after the two sides had been bitterly accusing each other of politicizing one of the Constitution's most fundamental provisions, means that Clinton's lawyers can address the committee and call witnesses during 15-hour hearings, from morning to midnight, tomorrow and Wednesday.

That timetable sets the stage for committee members to begin )) formal debate either Thursday or Friday on whether Clinton lied and obstructed justice in hiding his affair with the former White House intern.

In another surprise development yesterday, the Senate majority leader, who until now has been cautious about Clinton's fate, announced in his strongest language to date that, if the full House approves impeachment, he will quickly hold a trial in the Senate, perhaps as early as the first week in January.

The vote set for next week on the floor of the House, where a simple majority is needed, is considered too close to call.

In the Senate, where a two-thirds vote is needed to convict the president and remove him from office, the comments from Sen. Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, could be seen as a sharp message to undecided House members that they should not vote in favor of impeachment unless they sincerely believe that Clinton's behavior meets the definition of "high crimes and misdemeanors," as worded in the Constitution.

There had been speculation in Washington that some undecided House members might vote for impeachment in the expectation that the Senate would sidestep the issue and dispose of it without a full-scale trial. Lott's comments seemed to foreclose any such political expedient.

For several days, the White House and the GOP-led Judiciary Committee have been wrangling over how and when the president's lawyers would be allowed to put on their case and address the panel.

The Clinton administration sought as many as four days to press his defense and announced a partial witness list composed of two law professors and a historian.

The committee, led by Illinois Republican Henry J. Hyde, immediately fired back that the White House was not sticking to the rules and procedures of the committee, which require that witness lists must be provided and approved in advance, and that testimony not duplicate prior statements to the panel.

Last week, the panel called a wide array of experts and scholars on what constitutes an impeachable offense.

Now, Hyde and other Republicans are angry that the White House is offering more of the same in what the GOP sees as an attempt to get the impeachment matter put off until next year, when the House will have more Democrats and impeachment might be more difficult.

In a strongly worded letter yesterday, Thomas E. Mooney, chief of staff and general counsel for Hyde, directed the White House to give the committee its full witness list by noon today. The White House later said it will comply.

"The counsel for the president and any approved witnesses that he suggests will be subject to questioning by all of the members and counsel for the majority and minority," Mooney advised White House Counsel Charles F.C. Ruff and Gregory B. Craig, special counsel to the president. "The presentation by the White House must be completed on Wednesday night so that the committee can stay on its course to resolve this matter by the end of the year."

The letter also complained that the White House has repeatedly tried to circumvent the impeachment process.

Mooney also noted that the committee "had already heard from more than 30 witnesses who testified on the constitutional standards for impeachment and the significance of perjury."

Hyde has veto power over all witnesses, but it is unlikely he will refuse the White House their say this late in the process, committee sources said.

The White House, as well as Democrats on the committee, said they expect the Clinton lawyers to take advantage of the entire 30 hours to present their defense. But they also argued that the White House is being squeezed at the last minute, despite the fact that the committee has had the report from independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr for months.

"The independent counsel has spent four years and $40 million, and the committee is spending four months investigating the president," said Jim Kennedy, a spokesman for the White House counsel's office.

"We asked for four days and now that has been cut in half."

Pub Date: 12/07/98

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