Prosecution, defense wrap up impeachment arguments
Senate will begin deliberating Tuesday
February 8, 1999
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, February 8) -- With a call to "let right be done," Rep. Henry Hyde, the chief House prosecutor, concluded the Republican managers' case Monday for removing President Bill Clinton from office. But White House Counsel Charles Ruff said nothing Clinton did justifies throwing him out of office.
When the court of impeachment reconvenes at 1 p.m. EST Tuesday, the 100 senators will begin their final deliberations, with an up or down vote on the two articles of impeachment expected Thursday or Friday.
"If you agree that perjury and obstruction of justice have been committed and yet you vote down the conviction ... you raise the most serious questions of whether the president is, in fact, subject to the law or whether we are beginning a restoration of the divine right of kings," Hyde, an Illinois Republican, warned the Senate.
Yet throughout their closing arguments, House prosecutors seem resigned that they will not convince the Senate to remove Clinton over charges of perjury and obstruction of justice relating to his illicit sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky.
Abandoning the legal arguments that have dominated their presentations in the four-week trial, the House managers appealed to the Senate's sense of fair play, arguing that Clinton shows no remorse and should not get away with his offenses.
"We all know the president's behavior has been reprehensible," Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) told the senators. "President Clinton, however, refuses to admit what all of us know is true. To this day, he continues to deny and distort. He continues to dispute the undeniable facts that are before the Senate and before the American people."
Ruff, however, said the prosecutors' opening statements were "focused on retribution" and "designed to achieve partisan ends."
"Now you have heard the managers' vision ... But I believe their vision to be too dark... I believe it to be a vision more focused on retribution, more designed to achieve partisan ends," Ruff said. "Our vision, I think, is quite different, but it is not naive. We know the pain the president has caused our society and his family and his friends, but we know, too, how much the president has done for this country."
In answer to the House managers' arguments, Ruff attempted to refute the managers' interpretation of facts and used excerpts from Lewinsky's videotape deposition to argue that Clinton did not commit perjury and obstruction of justice. Clinton has admitted an with Lewinsky, but denied breaking the law trying to conceal their relationship.
Returning to the well of the Senate after Ruff finished, Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Florida) answered the White House counsel's factual criticism.
"No amount of arguing by White House counsel can erase one simple fact: If you believe Monica Lewinsky, you cannot believe the president," McCollum said.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner kicked off the managers' three hours of closing arguments. The Wisconsin Republican told the Senate that after everything they have heard, "the truth is still the truth and a lie is still a lie."
"Senators, don't be fooled by the president's excuses and spin control," Sensenbrenner pleaded. "The facts and the evidence clearly show that he knew what he was doing was to deceive everyone, including the grand jury. He and his defenders are still in denial. They will not accept the consequence of his repeated and criminal attempts to defeat the judicial process."
Many of the House prosecutors vented their frustration with the president's legal team.
"I predicted in my presentation that they would use legal smoke screens to mask the law and the facts," Chabot said. "To their credit, they produced smoke so thick that it continues to cloud this debate. But if you look through the smoke and the mirrors employed by these very able lawyers, you will see the truth."
Sensenbrenner thanked the senators and Chief Justice William Rehnquist for their attention during the impeachment trial, but attacked the critics of the House prosecutors, saying they were not "13 angry men" on a "political vendetta."
"To justify the president's criminal behavior by demonizing those who seek to hold him accountable ignores the fact that President Clinton's actions and those actions alone precipitated the investigations which have brought us here today," Sensenbrenner said.
Hyde also rebutted the defense claim that the House prosecutors had wanted "too badly to win."
None of the House managers, Hyde claimed, "has committed perjury nor obstructed justice nor claimed false privileges. None of us has hidden evidence under anyone's bed nor encouraged false testimony before the grand jury."
"That's what you want to do if you want to win too badly," Hyde said.
Some of the managers recounted the personal sacrifices they have made in order to prosecute the president, lamenting missed time with their families, including newborn children.
Almost without exception, the managers defended their vigorous prosecution of the president and complained about not having the time and scope to present their case as they would have liked.
"The process gave rise to the perception that the fix was in, leaving some to gloat at having scammed the situation, and others angry at being unheard," Rep. Christopher Cannon (R-Utah) said. "And that is the context with which the Senate must -- now finds itself, and must pursue a legitimate outcome."
Rep. George Gekas (R-Pennsylvania) emotionally referred to the public opinion polls that Clinton's defense team has often cited in arguing the American people do not favor impeachment.
"I have a witness," Gekas said. "I call a witness to bolster my part of this summation. The witness is the American people. Do they believe that the president committed falsehoods under oath? Eighty percent of the American people -- I call them to my side here at the podium to verify to you that the president committed falsehoods under oath."
The closing arguments began shortly after 1 p.m. EST. After using about 60 minutes, the prosecution reserved the remainder of its time and the White House team began. Once Ruff finished, the managers resumed, using their remaining two hours.
"Our last words to you, which are the words I began with: William Jefferson Clinton is not guilty of the charges that have been brought against him, he did not commit perjury, he did not commit obstruction of justice, he must not be removed from office," Ruff concluded after nearly two hours of defending the president.
Ruff, although calm and soft spoken, matched the intensity of House prosecutors' rhetoric with biting criticism of the case against the president.
"Moving targets, ever-shifting theories, each one advanced to replace the last as it has fallen, fallen victim to the facts," Ruff said, in attacking what he called the prosecutors' weak case. "Empty pots. Attractive containers, but when you take the lid off, you'll find nothing to sustain you."
Ruff picked through the case in exhaustive detail and criticized Gekas' closing statement.
"Now, just -- just a few minutes ago, you heard Manager Gekas talk to you about perjury," Ruff said. "And probably 90 percent of what he talked to you about was perjury in the (Paula) Jones case. It appears to make no difference, though, that the House rejected this charge, for the managers do continue to dwell on it, as though somehow they could show the House from which they came that they'd made a mistake."
Ruff attempted to pierce House prosecutors' contention that Clinton tried to influence Lewinsky's affidavit in the Jones case by convincing her to use a cover story and trying to get her a job in exchange for her silence.
"In the face of the seemingly insurmountable hurdle of Ms. Lewinsky's repeated denials that anyone ever asked or encouraged her to lie, the managers have persisted in arguing and continue to do so that the president did somehow encourage her to lie, even if she didn't know it," Ruff said. "But neither the fact on which they rely nor their hypothesis was of much help to the managers before Ms. Lewinsky's deposition, and neither, surely, has any force after her deposition."
With the 100-member Senate lacking the two-thirds majority needed to convict Clinton and remove him from office, senators were preparing a harshly worded censure motion that would condemn the president for his affair with Lewinsky and his attempts to conceal it.
After the closing arguments, the Senate moves into the trial's final phase -- deliberations -- on Tuesday.
Although senators from both sides of the political aisle have come forward supporting open deliberations, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) said he will support keeping the deliberations private.
Clinton was in Jordan to attend the funeral of King Hussein, as were two senators who will sit in judgment of him, Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont). The lawmakers took no impeachment-related votes Monday and Senate leaders decided to go ahead with the trial as scheduled, despite the two senators' absence.
Aboard Air Force One en route to Jordan, Leahy told reporters there was an effort to shorten deliberations by cutting the amount of time each senator will be allowed to speak.
He said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle was involved in negotiations to cut the speaking time allotted each senator from 15 minutes to 10 minutes, or perhaps even less.
Some Senate Republicans believe that the first impeachment article -- accusing Clinton of perjury -- may not even get a symbolic simple majority of votes in the Senate, something that could prove embarrassing to House Republicans who voted for impeachment.
"The odds are that Article One will probably go down," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition."
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) said on "This Week" that he thinks there could be 10 to 15 of the 55 Republicans in the Senate who vote "no' on the perjury article. He indicated there was more support for the obstruction of justice count.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan) said he doubts either count will muster a majority. But two GOP senators, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, both predicted that at least one of the articles will get 51 votes.
With acquittal seemingly assured, a bipartisan censure resolution is being circulated by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah).
Bennett said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation" the censure motion was a "work in progress" whose chances of success remained "very much up in the air."
In his closing arguments Hyde said he was "dumfounded" by the drafts of the censure resolutions, saying "we aren't half as tough on the president in our impeachment articles as this draft is..."
"Do you really cleanse the office as provided in the Constitution or do you use the Air Wick of a censure resolution?" Hyde asked. "A censure is something that is a device, a way of avoiding ... an up or down on impeachment."
Hutchison is trying to drum up support among her Republican colleagues for a motion to change the Senate rules to allow final deliberations to be held in the open, which would take 67 votes.
"This is a public forum. It is a historic event. We have a new era in openness of government, and to go into a retreat to talk about how we have made this very important decision, and not have this on the record for the American people, is unthinkable," she said on "Fox News Sunday."
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who has been championing an open session on the Democratic side, predicted Sunday that all 45 Democrats will vote to change the rules. That would mean that 22 of the 55 Republican votes will be needed to make it happen.
But one leading Republican, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said he disagrees "absolutely" that the deliberations should be open.
But Lott's opposition may signal the end of the move to open deliberations. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut) said on "This Week" that without Lott's support, he believes an open session is unlikely.
CNN's Chris Black and John King contributed to this report.
Monday, February 8, 1999
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Justice reviews Blumenthal allegations
Justice reportedly considering investigation of Starr treatment of Monica Lewinsky
Guy Molinari urges Bush to run in 2000
Iowa Republicans move up caucuses to February 7
Linda Tripp agrees to media interviews
Bauer sets up exploratory presidential committee
Elizabeth Dole hits New Hampshire before candidacy decision
World confused by Clinton trial
White House focuses on youth, accountability for anti-drug programs
Clinton, three former presidents attend king's funeral
Official U.S. delegation to King Hussein's funeral