WASHINGTON -- With the questioning yesterday of Vernon Jordan, the second of three witnesses in President Clinton's impeachment trial, House prosecutors made some headway in their struggle to remove the president from office, but they again failed to produce any major new evidence.
In the meantime, senators huddled in front of television screens in the Capitol showing Monday's videotaped deposition of Monica Lewinsky.
Jordan, like Lewinsky, was released early from his deposition, after less than four hours of questioning, primarily by the prosecutors.
White House lawyers, who had asked no questions of Lewinsky and instead offered her an apology, took little time questioning Jordan, an influential Washington attorney and close friend of Clinton's.
Jordan acknowledged under questioning from Rep. Asa Hutchinson that his job search for Lewinsky -- before and after she was subpoenaed by Paula Corbin Jones' lawyers to testify about her relationship with Clinton -- was not the routine effort that Jordan had earlier described, sources familiar with the case said.
Confronted with a restaurant receipt, Jordan recalled a previously forgotten breakfast meeting with Lewinsky, on Dec. 31, 1997.
At this meeting, Lewinsky has testified, Jordan discussed drafts of notes she had written to Clinton and told her to "go home and make sure they aren't there."
ButJordan continued to vehemently deny that he had ever asked Lewinsky to destroy any documents or that he had tried to silence Lewinsky about her affair with the president.
Clinton's private attorney, David E. Kendall, asked just one general question of Jordan, to which prosecutors objected. Kendall rephrased the query, got his answer and posed nothing further, sources said.
Next up: Blumenthal
The third witness approved for questioning, Sidney Blumenthal, a senior White House aide, is to be deposed today. Blumenthal has always been viewed by prosecutors as a less promising source of any major breakthrough.
The Senate is scheduled to vote tomorrow on whether to publicly release videotapes and transcripts of the depositions. Prosecutors will also ask the Senate to allow the witnesses to testify in person.
Some Republicans seemed distinctly underwhelmed after seeing Lewinsky's deposition, raising doubts that live witnesses would be called to the Senate floor. But other Republican senators have not ruled out that prospect.
Before approving the depositions last week, many Republican senators said that to justify calling the witnesses in person before the Senate, the witnesses would have to reveal information that would change the dynamic of the trial.
Sen. Robert F. Bennett, a Utah Republican, said he would still apply that test to Lewinsky.
"Based on what my staff told me, there is nothing new," Bennett said. "If there in fact is nothing new, I would not expect her to be called."
Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, a newly elected Republican from Illinois, said he was not surprised that Lewinsky had hewed so closely to her previous testimony.
He said she seemed to have been well-schooled by her 22 grand jury appearances and FBI interviews.
"She appeared to be a professional witness," Fitzgerald said.
But Rep. Henry J. Hyde, the Illinois Republican who is leading the team of prosecutors, argued that it was valuable simply to get Lewinsky and other witnesses to confirm the accuracy of their previous testimony.
"I think we accomplished our goal -- to advance the cause of impeachment, conviction," he said.
Hyde said the prosecutors would press their request to let the three testify live, though he said he would not request any more witnesses.
Republicans were at least warming to the idea of letting prosecutors present snippets of Lewinsky's deposition in their closing arguments.
That might not satisfy the prosecutors' demands, though it would likely embarrass the president and dampen the White House's enthusiasm for an acquittal celebration.
Some Republicans said they found Lewinsky's videotaped testimony impressive and seemed to be building to a demand for her to testify in person.
"It's far better for the public to meet her and make up their own minds," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican. "I found her to be young, vulnerable and credible. I think she'd make a very effective witness."
Sen. Susan M. Collins, a Maine Republican who has said she wants to hear from witnesses in person, said: "All I can say is that she was heartbreakingly young."
Some Republican senators saw the apology that a Clinton lawyer read to Lewinsky as an effort to keep her friendly to the president. After Clinton acknowledged on Aug. 17 that he had had an intimate relationship with her, Lewinsky hinted that she wanted an apology from him because Clinton had implied that he never reciprocated her sexual favors.
"If that's what she said she wanted, that's what she got," said Sen. Larry E. Craig of Idaho, calling it "self-evident" that the apology was meant "to keep a very important witness happy."
Some Republicans are growing more aware of the political toll the trial may be taking.
Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont, a moderate Republican in a Democratic state, said he spent yesterday morning on the phone with disgruntled constituents, who are still voicing their anger at his vote to continue the trial with depositions.
But Republicans are still divided over how to end the trial. Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma, the second-ranking Senate Republican, said there is momentum behind so-called "findings of fact," which would spell out what senators believe Clinton did that led to his impeachment by the House, even if he is acquitted by the Senate.
But what those findings would be is still in dispute.
Two versions of findings
Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, a moderate Maine Republican, said there are two versions of the findings. One uses general terms to describe Clinton's actions, such as "false and misleading statements," rather than "perjury."
The other, drafted by Sen. Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, is more specific and pointedly worded.
"We need to get a comfort level within our own conference," Snowe conceded.
Sen. Connie Mack of Florida acknowledged that during a closed-door Republican lunch yesterday, "several people" raised objections to findings of facts, saying they could make it easier for the House to impeach presidents, knowing that the Senate had invented a convenient way out of having to convict an impeached president.
Those arguments dovetailed with the points made by Senate Democrats and the White House.
"It sets a dangerous precedent to now be fooling around with different ideas," such as findings of fact, Joe Lockhart, Clinton's spokesman, said yesterday.
At the trial today
The Senate "court of impeachment" is in recess during questioning of potential witnesses. The court resumes tomorrow at 1 p.m.
Today: House prosecutors and President Clinton's defense lawyers question White House aide Sidney Blumenthal in private about the obstruction-of-justice article of impeachment.
Pub Date: 2/03/99