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Senators agree White House defense did 'good job'

Sen. Harkin may offer a motion to end trial

January 20, 1999
Web posted at: 8:25 p.m. EDT (2025 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, January 20) -- For a second day, senators from both parties agreed that the White House defense team in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton did a good job. After Wednesday's presentations, Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin said he is considering offering a "preferential motion" that, if approved, would immediately end the trial.

Harkin
Sen. Tom Harkin  

White House Special Counsel Gregory Craig and Deputy White House Counsel Cheryl Mills offered a 4 1/2-hour defense Wednesday, arguing against the allegations of perjury and obstruction of justice with which Clinton is charged.

Harkin (D-Iowa) told reporters outside the Senate chamber he is considering offering a "preferential motion" when the White House defense team finishes its opening statement.

The motion he would offer would be like a motion to dismiss, requiring only a simple majority -- 51 votes -- to pass. It would have to be a special motion, like a preferential motion, because under the terms of the bipartisan agreement passed last week in the Senate, the motion to dismiss cannot be brought until the end of a 16-hour question-and-answer period planned for Friday and Saturday.

But whether or not such a motion would pass is unclear.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) said he thought the defense presentations were "sufficient to raise serious questions in many members' minds about the need to have witnesses, but also whether or not this is even a case that is properly before us."

Kerry
Sen. John Kerry  

Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) said he thought at the moment a motion to dismiss would fail while a motion for witnesses would succeed.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli said he thought Wednesday's presentations marked the "beginning to the end."

"I don't know how the Republican leadership decides when to bring this trial to an end, but after this testimony and the strength of these arguments, the end is becoming very clear," Torricelli said.

"This case has not been able to withstand the scrutiny of the facts, it has not been able to withstand the analysis of the law, and at some point, must come to a close," he said.

Dorgan
Sen. Byron Dorgan  

Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota described Mills' presentation as "one of the most remarkable presentations I've ever heard in the United States Senate and in my political career."

Dorgan said he hoped Mills' defense altered what he had considered an "inevitable" call for witnesses. "I hope that perhaps the presentation this afternoon might change some minds and perhaps next week the Senate could actually get to a vote on the articles of impeachment," Dorgan said.

Utah's Bennett agreed with Dorgan about the effectiveness of Mills' presentation. He said she put it in "layman's terms," which he found much easier to understand than her co-counsel Craig's presentation earlier in the day.

"No matter how hard I tried, I just really couldn't concentrate on what he (Craig) was saying, and frankly I looked around the chamber and saw a lot of senators, on both sides of the aisle, with the same problem; that was not the case with Ms. Mills ..." Bennett said.

Kerry agreed that Mills' presentation was more emotional and moving than the fact-based case presented by Craig. But Kerry said he felt the White House lawyers effectively addressed the House prosecutors' assertions made last week.

Kerry said "a lot senators are beginning to see this case in a clearer way... We have two days of questioning in which we will have additional point-counter point, and I think many senators at that point in time will have serious reservations about whether or not additional witnesses or any witnesses are needed to clarify what this case is all about."

Chafee
Sen. John Chafee  

Republican Rhode Island Sen. John Chafee said he too, thought the president's defenders did "a good job," but thought they could make their points more swiftly.

Chafee, who has been supportive of calling witnesses, said, "I don't think it (calling witnesses) has to be mob scene." Chafee maintains that a limited number of witness -- perhaps two or three -- could be called and the trial still concluded in a timely fashion.

Chafee said witnesses would have to make a clear contribution, testifying on a point of contention in the existing record.

Meanwhile, outside the Beltway, ultra-conservative religious broadcaster Pat Robertson said Wednesday Clinton "hit a home run" in his State of the Union speech and he believes "the matter of impeachment is over."

Asked his views on polls showing the president benefitted from the address, Robertson said Senate Republicans might just as well drop the impeachment case against Clinton "and get on with something else."

"As far as I'm concerned, the matter of impeachment is over," he said in a taping for his daily television program "The 700 Club."

"The Republicans gave him an absolute platform to talk to the American people," Robertson said. "He hit a home run in his speech. Whatever happens to the agenda doesn't really matter. From a public relations standpoint, he won."

Robertson was an unsuccessful candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988.

CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.

Investigating the President

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Wednesday January 20, 1999

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