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Senate GOP passes own trial plan; Lott's muscle-flexing follows 24 hours of fruitless negotiation; Depositions begin Monday; Witness videotapes including Lewinsky's, could become public; TRIAL IN THE SENATE


WASHINGTON -- Rejecting Democratic protests, Senate Republicans imposed rules last night for President Clinton's impeachment trial that could lead to testimony by Monica Lewinsky before the Senate -- at least by videotape.

The rules, approved by a mostly party-line vote, set the stage for the public release of videotaped depositions of the witnesses approved Wednesday, including Lewinsky.

The procedures also leave open the prospect that the Senate could approve a "findings of fact" motion that would say Clinton lied under oath and "obstructed and impeded justice" when he testified to a federal grand jury and took certain actions in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconduct case.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi resorted to partisan muscle yesterday after more than 24 hours of exchanging proposals for a procedural road map with Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. By the end of the day, that exchange had ended in stalemates on several critical issues.

"We have a constitutional responsibility here to get through this process and get to a final vote," said Lott, who predicted that if no major surprises develop, the final vote on the two articles of impeachment would be held Feb. 12.

Republicans also used their majority last night to defeat a Democratic proposal to immediately advance the trial to a vote on the articles of impeachment.

"Democratic senators want this matter ended," Daschle said. "We believe very strongly about the need to bring this matter to an expeditious close. Unfortunately, that failed."

The Democrats had also demanded a quick and sure end to the trial: no release of videotape, no witnesses testifying in person to the Senate, no "finding of facts" about Clinton's actions and a guaranteed vote on acquittal or conviction by Feb. 12. Some Democrats expressed anger about the tactics of the Republicans, who hold a 55-45 majority in the Senate but are far short of the 67 votes needed to convict the president.

"They're just desperate to get Monica Lewinsky, whether it's on video or in person or on the floor of the Senate, and they're obsessed by it," said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, a West Virginia Democrat.

House prosecutors had hoped to begin formal questioning this weekend of the three witnesses -- Lewinsky, presidential adviser Vernon Jordan and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal. But under the Republican proposal approved last night, the depositions will begin Monday with Lewinsky and continue Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Senate is scheduled to vote late next week on whether to call any of the witnesses for live testimony and how to handle the videotapes.

Rules for depositions

During the depositions, each side -- the House prosecutors and White House lawyers -- will be given up to four hours to question each witness. One senator from each party will be assigned to oversee the testimony.

Lewinsky, Jordan and Blumenthal will be allowed to have their lawyers with them. Any objections to questions will be ruled on, initially, by the senators presiding over each deposition. Then the witnesses will be asked to answer anyway. The objections could ultimately be submitted to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist for a final ruling when the trial resumes Thursday.

Videotapes and transcripts of these question-and-answer sessions will be made available for all 100 senators to study, starting Tuesday.

When the trial resumes, the Senate will vote on a request by the House Republican prosecutors to call the witnesses to testify in person. Should that fail, there will be a vote on whether to show portions of the videotape to the Senate -- and to Americans watching on television.

More embarrassment

The Senate is also expected to approve a motion to make the entire videotaped testimony public, giving the public its first look at Lewinsky as she discusses events surrounding her intimate relationship with the president.

The White House wants to avoid that embarrassment. But the Republican majority in the Senate is expected to approve the release of the testimony, just as the House made public thousands of pages of evidence gathered by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, including the videotape of Clinton's grand jury testimony in August.

Republican Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said that, in the end, the videotapes will be made public.

Many senators in both parties have made clear their eagerness to finish the trial as soon as possible, and no later than Feb. 12 -- which marks the beginning of a long-scheduled weeklong break.

But the Republicans are under enormous pressure from the House prosecutors -- as well as from conservative forces within their party -- to give the House every reasonable chance to make its long-shot case for conviction, which would require a two-thirds vote of the Senate.

"We're just looking for a process that is honorable, appropriate and constitutional -- something the Democrats should not resist," said Paul McNulty, a spokesman for the House prosecutors.

Democrats, all but one of whom voted unsuccessfully Wednesday to dismiss the charges, say the Republican prosecutors are looking for any excuse to prolong a case they have already lost, because they need at least 12 Democrats to vote for conviction and removal.

'Bipartisanship evaporated'

"It's clear the spirit of bipartisanship evaporated today, and that this has become a Republican impeachment trial," said James Kennedy, a spokesman for the White House counsel's office. "The plan that was adopted is vague, and it has no certain end."

The concessions granted to prosecutors yesterday "opens a box of Pandora's," said Sen. Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat. "This dramatically increases the chances that this will be a very prolonged procedure."

A partisan meltdown in Clinton's impeachment trial has been dreaded since the beginning. The Senate's disgust with the bickering that had marked the impeachment process in the House helped produce a unanimous Senate agreement on procedure at the beginning of the trial. But once that agreement expired Wednesday, the two sides inevitably broke into sharply partisan camps.

Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas said he and other Republicans working on the procedural road map rejiggered it four times to meet Democratic objections and that many adjustments were made.

Among them was a provision that additional witnesses and evidence could be sought only by mutual agreement between Lott and Daschle.

'Lightning bolt'

"The lightning bolt," provision, Lott called it, meaning that only major new information would be able to trigger such a result.

Democrats had sought to block new witnesses entirely.

"We felt very strongly that if we are going to find the truth, we have to look in the obvious places for it," Gramm said.

Two senators were absent from the votes yesterday. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, is facing gall bladder surgery today. Sen. Wayne Allard, a Colorado Republican, left Washington to be at the bedside of his ailing father.

Disagreement on witnesses

Republicans said the major stumbling block to an agreement yesterday was the Democrats' resistance to the appearance of witnesses -- particularly Lewinsky -- whether live or on videotape.

The White House clearly dreads any public displays of Lewinsky describing her relationship with the president. Such testimony is most likely to produce the possible "lightning bolt" that might prevent Clinton's acquittal.

"They're showing us that we have reason to question that there isn't something out there, because they're fighting videotape so much," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican. "If the record is complete, if the president is innocent, what do they have to worry about? Are they trying to hide something?"

But Democrats say Republicans are looking for more salacious material in hopes of further embarrassing a president they can't remove from office.

'Keep the pot boiling'

"It would serve nothing more than the further humiliation of this young lady," to view Lewinsky's testimony, said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat. "You have a force at work here in the House Republican managers, who are determined to keep this pot boiling until they make a case against the president."

Another major point of contention by the Democrats was the Republican proposal to vote on a "finding of facts."

Several Republican members were trying to fashion such a statement that they could vote on before the articles of impeachment, to make clear that Clinton's acquittal would not completely exonerate him.

At the trial

The Senate "court of impeach- ment" is in recess while three witnesses are questioned in private about conflicts in the evidence on the two articles of impeachment against President Clinton.

Questioning occurs Monday through Wednesday.

Senators will begin to review the results in private Tuesday.

Court of impeachment resumes at 1 p.m. Thursday to decide on further procedures.

Pub Date: 1/29/99

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