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House Prosecutors Want Witnesses

January 15, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ House prosecutors prodded senators at President Clinton’s impeachment trial on Friday to summon Monica Lewinsky, Vernon Jordan and others for testimony and ``invite the president″ to appear as well.

``Time and again the president says one thing and they say something entirely different,″ Rep. Bill McCollum argued as Clinton’s trial convened for a second day of arguments. Common sense says ``it’s the president who is not telling the truth,″ he added, and if senators have doubts they should bring the witnesses in to testify.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist presided over the extraordinary proceedings, his judicial robe symbolizing the gravity of the moment. As on the trial’s opening day on Thursday, all 100 senators sat attentively at their desks as they listened to the recitation of evidence in the second presidential impeachment trial in the nation’s history.

Also for the second straight day, lines of spectators spilled out of the Capitol into the plaza outside as hundreds of citizens waited for their 15-minute turn in the spectator gallery that rings the chamber.

``No matter how you think about the issue, you are watching a piece of history,″ said Kurt Gahnberg of Seattle, Wash., who sat with his wife and 12-year-old twin girls. ``It’s easy, I think, to get overly callous on the whole deal ... if you just follow it at home.″

Clinton is accused of perjury and obstruction of justice for attempting to conceal his sexual relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, a former White House intern. If convicted, he would be removed from office, but even some of the Republicans prosecuting the case concede it would take a fundamental shift in the political environment for a two-thirds majority of the Senate to vote against him.

For his part, the president was in New York to promote more investments by Wall Street in rural and minority areas. Lavished with praise at one event, Clinton quipped it was ``the sort of thing people say for your funeral.″

``I don’t think we’re there yet,″ he added with a laugh.

Clinton’s attorneys will argue his defense beginning Tuesday, but in the meantime White House spokesman Joe Lockhart dismissed the allegations brought by the House. ``There’s no testimony that proves the president committed perjury. There’s no testimony that proves the president obstructed justice In fact there is direct testimony to the contrary,″ he said.

He added that if any witnesses are called, ``this will take an extended time _ discovery, motions _ and I think everyone in this country believes the time to bring this effort to a close is soon.″

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. dismissed the suggestion that Clinton would testify even before McCollum made it. He told reporters the administration has already said Clinton won’t come. ``I think it’s a non-issue,″ he said.

The House prosecution team divided its three-day opening presentation among 13 lawmakers, Republicans all, and it ranged from a recitation of the now-familiar facts of the case to something akin to a law school seminar. At one point, Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio led the jurors through the intricacies of perjury law, complete with multiple case citations.

Rep. George Gekas of Pennsylvania attempted to underscore the constitutional importance of the trial. ``Left unchecked, his crimes will lower the bar of what is considered acceptable conduct for future presidents,″ he said of Clinton.

The issue of witnesses has loomed over the trial from the outset, with Republicans generally in favor and Democrats opposed. The Senate will not settle the issue for another week or more.

A majority of 51 votes could determine the issue, meaning that a unified GOP caucus _ with 55 members _ could overrule any Democratic opposition. At the same time, Democrats could also decide that since the Republicans will have witnesses, they may want some of their own.

One moderate Republican, Sen. John Chafee of Rhode Island, said witnesses could be heard ``in an effective way. ... Have them stick just to the narrow points. We don’t want them wandering all over the place. We don’t want an army of witnesses, but I think a few would be helpful.″

McCollum went at the issue at the beginning of his remarks, and returned to it at the end.

Clinton engaged in a ``pattern of obstruction of justice, perjury and witness tampering″ designed to impede the proceedings in Paula Jones’ sexual harassment case, he argued. ``If you believe the testimony of Monica Lewinsky, you cannot believe the president or accept the arguments of his lawyers.″

Senators must decide, he argued, and ``if you have any significant doubt about Monica Lewinsky’s credibility on this testimony, you should have us bring her in here and examine her face to face.″

Later, he summed up: ``Time and again, the president says one thing and they (Jordan, Mrs. Currie, Ms. Lewinsky and White House aides) say something entirely different.″

If they have a doubt about the testimony of key witnesses, ``then let us bring them before you to testify in person and invite the president to come and judge everybody’s credibility for yourself.″

The trial proceeded against an almost surreal political backdrop.

Clinton’s poll ratings remain unusually high, despite the disclosures about his personal life, and next Tuesday, the very day his defense team begins its presentation to the trial, has been set for his State of the Union address.

Republican congressional leaders grudgingly decided to let the speech proceed despite the continuing trial.

Speaker J. Dennis Hastert issued a letter to all lawmakers saying the House would listen to Clinton ``out of respect for the office of the presidency and for a desire to hear about the state of our nation.″

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