WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's legal team ended yesterday a three-day defense that appeared to turn the tide decisively in his favor, concluding a relentless dissection of the charges with a personal, passionate appeal for senators to end a national "nightmare."
In an extraordinary, emotional conclusion, retired Arkansas Sen. Dale Bumpers alternately humored, flattered and entertained his former Senate colleagues, asking them not only to leave the president in office but to show a touch of compassion for a man and his family who have suffered through "nothing but sleepless nights and mental agony."
By day's end, senators from both parties indicated that the White House legal team had deeply damaged the case for Clinton's removal from office.
House prosecutors protested that they should have been given time to rebut the defense's case, even as their leader, Rep. Henry J. Hyde, an Illinois Republican, insisted that they were "not trying to drag this out."
"We're going to see this through until they shut the door on us," Hyde vowed.
But Bumpers' concluding words may have carried the day.
"Don't leave a precedent from which we will never recover and almost surely will regret," he concluded. "If you vote to acquit, you go immediately to the people's agenda, but if you vote to convict, you can't be sure what's going to happen."
White House lawyers used just 10 of the 24 hours they were allotted to defend the president against two impeachment articles charging that Clinton lied under oath and obstructed justice to hide his affair with Monica Lewinsky. The proceedings today and tomorrow will be taken up by questions for House prosecutors and the president's lawyers, posed in writing by the still-silent senators.
But even now, senators appear to be scrambling for a way to end the trial. Some Republicans were already talking about voting for acquittal.
"I think they damaged the case for perjury," said Sen. Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican. "They've raised reasonable doubt in my mind."
And Democrats hinted that they might shelve a planned vote to dismiss the impeachment case, and instead push for a quick vote next week on the two articles of impeachment. If that gambit fails, they could push as early as Monday for a vote for dismissal.
Only 51 senators are needed to defeat a dismissal motion, and Republicans hold 55 of the Senate's 100 seats. If, as expected, the Democratic motion were to fail, senators would then decide whether to call witnesses, such as Lewinsky, Clinton confidant Vernon Jordan and presidential secretary Betty Currie. Republicans expressed confidence yesterday that they would prevail over Democrats who oppose witnesses. But several GOP senators hinted strongly that they would allow witnesses only to be deposed, not appear in the well of the Senate.
'End to this nightmare'
Senators appear overwhelmingly certain that the trial must end soon, a point driven home by Bumpers when he invoked the wishes of a weary public.
"The American people for some time have been asking for a good night's sleep. They are asking for an end to this nightmare," Bumpers said. "It is a legitimate request."
White House lawyers continued their relentless attack on the House prosecutors' case yesterday. David E. Kendall, the president's personal lawyer, took the stage, mercilessly deconstructing what House prosecutors called the "seven pillars of obstruction" and White House counsel Charles F. C. Ruff dismissed as the "seven shifting sand castles of speculation."
Kendall repeatedly invoked Lewinsky's now-famous statement that "no one ever asked me to lie, and I was never promised a job for my silence," finally asking: "Is there something difficult to understand here?"
And he attacked each of the obstruction counts with scorn.
There is no evidence that Clinton asked Lewinsky to lie in an affidavit filed for the Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconduct lawsuit, he said, and no evidence that Clinton was particularly concerned about it. The president discovered Lewinsky's name on the Jones lawyers' witness list Dec. 6, but did not alert Lewinsky until he called her Dec. 17.
"There's no explanation for this delay which is consistent with intense concern on the president's part," Kendall said. "The main reason for his phone call on December 17 to Ms. Lewinsky, the unrebutted evidence shows, is that he wanted to tell Ms. Lewinsky that Betty Currie's brother had died. Indeed, three days after that telephone call, Ms. Lewinsky attended the funeral."
Only cover stories
Kendall did not deny the charge that Clinton and Lewinsky had invented cover stories to hide their affair, but he said those stories were not evidence of illegal obstruction, as House prosecutors contend. They were not hiding their relationship from the Jones lawyers. They were hiding it from everyone, a contention that Lewinsky agreed with under oath, Kendall noted.
"Cover stories are an almost inevitable part of every improper relationship between two human beings," Kendall said. "By its very nature the relationship is one that has to be concealed."
Kendall exhaustively reviewed Lewinsky's job search in New York, a job search that House prosecutors say was an effort to secure the former White House intern's silence and get her out of Washington. But Lewinsky first considered looking for a job in New York in July 1997, almost six months before she came to the Jones lawyers' attention. And being in New York would do nothing to reduce her exposure to a subpoena, Kendall noted.
House prosecutors had made much of a Jan. 8 phone call from Jordan to Revlon's chief executive, Ronald O. Perelman, after Lewinsky told Jordan that a job interview at Revlon the previous day had not gone well. But Perelman testified that Jordan had put no pressure on him, Kendall said. Besides, Lewinsky was offered a job the next day by a Revlon executive who had no knowledge of the phone call or of Lewinsky's White House contacts.
"The fix was not on at all," Kendall said.
A message on witnesses
Indeed, Kendall said, the only person ever to suggest that Lewinsky leverage her sworn denial of a sexual relationship into a lucrative job offer was Linda R. Tripp, "that paragon of faithful friendship."
By invoking Tripp's name, Kendall sent senators a message that if House prosecutors are allowed to call witnesses, the president's lawyers will produce a witness list of their own, summoning figures such as Tripp to try to frame the prosecution's case in the most negative light.
Kendall also addressed the charge that Clinton tried to influence Lewinsky's affidavit in a Jan. 5 phone call, saying Lewinsky had not seen the affidavit being drawn up by her attorney, Frank Carter. House prosecutors said Lewinsky and Jordan talked at length about the affidavit Jan. 6, agreeing that she should delete a reference to episodes when she might have been alone with the president. But Kendall said Jordan testified that he told Lewinsky that he had no interest in the details of the affidavit and that she should take her problems to her lawyer.
'Adding zero to zero to zero'
"You can keep adding zero to zero to zero for a very long time, even forever," Kendall finished. "You'll still have zero."
He concluded with a deferential appeal to the Senate, a body he called "the anchor of the Republic" and "a haven of sanity, balance and wisdom."
"We ask only that you give this case and give this country the constitutional stability and the political sanity which this country deserves," he said.
That left House prosecutors conceding a mounting frustration, and they repeatedly asserted that "common sense" is on their side. Rep. Bill McCollum, a Florida Republican, insisted that the president's lawyers had "a terrible tough time" undermining "the main count of perjury," that Clinton told the grand jury, "I didn't touch certain body parts."
That segued perfectly into Bumpers' main point: that the punishment of removal from office far outstripped the gravity of Clinton's alleged crime.
Bumpers set out to appeal to the hearts of his former colleagues, painting the entire saga as "a sex scandal," not a constitutional crisis. And he mocked those who have said it represents much more than that.
"H. L. Mencken said one time, 'When you hear somebody say this is not about money, it's about money,' " he said, eliciting one of several rounds of boisterous laughter. "And when you hear somebody say, 'This is not about sex,' it's about sex."
He chastised House prosecutors for a lack of compassion, hinting at prosecutorial distortions in the name of "wanting to win too badly." He extolled the president's accomplishments on the world stage and practically mourned for a man whose family "has already been about as decimated as a family can get."
"I can tell you this," Bumpers said, "the punishment of removing Bill Clinton from office would pale compared to the punishment he has already inflicted on himself."
And he appealed to individual senators' vanity. He even invited the Senate to censure Clinton.
But he was emphatic in his appeal for acquittal.
"There's a total lack of proportionality, a total lack of balance in this thing," he said. "The charges brought and the punishment sought are totally out of sync."
At the trial today
1 p.m.: Senate "court of impeach- ment" resumes, with first day of questioning by senators of House prosecutors and President Clinton's lawyers. Questions will alternate between Republicans and Democrats.
Questions will be submitted in writing to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who will read the question and identify the senator asking it.
Session is expected to end by 6 p.m.
Pub Date: 1/22/99