The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly rejected a bid by House prosecutors for live testimony by Monica S. Lewinsky in President Clinton’s impeachment trial, but it voted to allow excerpts of her videotaped deposition to be broadcast Saturday.
The strongly bipartisan vote barring Lewinsky’s live testimony put the Senate squarely on track to conclude the proceeding by the end of next week.
“I thought it was a critical day and guarantees now that we’re moving to the final phase of the impeachment trial,” said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.).
The White House agreed. "[Thursday’s] vote rejecting the House managers’ request for live witnesses indicates the Senate appears ready to bring this trial to a conclusion,” said presidential spokesman Joe Lockhart.
In a further sign of the gathering momentum toward ending the proceeding, Republicans backed away from a proposal to adopt a “finding of fact” resolution that would declare the case against Clinton essentially proved but stop short of removing him from office. Democrats had vehemently opposed the proposal, arguing that it is not permitted in an impeachment trial.
With the trial’s end now clearly in sight, Democrats, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, stepped up efforts to craft a bipartisan resolution to censure the president, presumably after his acquittal.
Feinstein has been working behind the scenes to build support for such a resolution, which would require only a simple majority to pass. Its fate, though, remains uncertain.
The 70-30 vote to bar Lewinsky’s live testimony marked the first time in the impeachment trial that the GOP did not vote as a bloc: 25 Republican senators joined the chamber’s 45 Democrats in opposing the request for Lewinsky to provide additional testimony.
Lewinsky made 22 appearances last year before a federal grand jury, and she was questioned behind closed doors Monday by House prosecutors. But the prosecutors asserted that live testimony from her would drive home their charges that Clinton committed perjury and obstructed justice in his efforts to conceal his affair with her.
After rejecting that argument, the Senate agreed, 62 to 38, to allow excerpts of Lewinsky’s videotaped deposition to be played Saturday when each side will have three hours to present summaries of the evidence. Nine Democrats joined 53 Republicans in backing the motion, which White House lawyers strongly opposed.
The videotaped excerpts will offer the public its first opportunity to see and hear Lewinsky discuss aspects of her relationship with the president. Clinton’s lawyers argued that such snippets would not advance the case. Others speculated that the president and his allies are concerned about public reaction to their broadcast.
Under the motion, the legal teams also may show excerpts of the depositions earlier this week of presidential confidant Vernon E. Jordan Jr. and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal.
Transcripts as well as the videotapes of the testimony by the three witnesses were quickly made available to all senators, and many of them have said that little new was added to the case. That assessment significantly eroded the Senate’s desire to subpoena Lewinsky for live testimony.
On Monday, House prosecutors and White House lawyers will get six hours--three hours for each side--to present closing arguments. Current rules call for the senators then to begin final deliberations behind closed doors.
Before those deliberations start, a bipartisan group of senators intends to offer a motion to open the deliberations to the public. It is uncertain whether that motion will succeed: Most Democrats have declared their support, but a two-thirds majority is needed.
In the final deliberations, each senator will get as much as 15 minutes to speak. If every senator uses that allotment, the discussions will total 25 hours, which will be spread across three days.
The intense efforts led by Feinstein to draft a sense-of-the-Senate censure resolution attracting bipartisan support is intended to ensure that Clinton is publicly rebuked after, as is expected, he wins acquittal in the impeachment trial.
The censure movement gathered steam after key Republicans decided not to pursue their “finding of fact” proposal in the face of united Democratic opposition.
The outlook for censure is murky because the notion has opponents on both sides of the Senate aisle.
Republicans such as Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio and Judd Gregg of New Hampshire believe such action to be unconstitutional. Some Democrats, led by Tom Harkin of Iowa, believe that the House vote to impeach Clinton should stand as his punishment and that no further action is needed.
Feinstein, who harshly criticized Clinton after the president acknowledged in August that he had “misled” the nation when he attempted to conceal his affair with Lewinsky, refused comment on the language she has been circulating among senators. But she said that 21 Democrats have signed on as co-sponsors and a number of Republicans have expressed interest.
“It’s a work in progress,” said Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), who is working with Feinstein on the censure resolution.
One potential GOP backer is Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), a conservative who defected from the Democratic Party in 1994. “If there is a censure proposal, I think it will have to be thorough, it will have to be tough, it will have to be bipartisan,” he said.
Sen. John B. Breaux (D-La.), a censure proponent, said the drafts he has seen are strongly worded.
“The censure resolution will say . . . that his actions were inappropriate, misleading, wrong, violated the trust of his office,” Breaux said. “Censure is the answer. People say they don’t want to convict him but what he did was wrong.”
Thursday’s Senate session lasted less than four hours and featured arguments by lawyers for both sides on a variety of motions, followed by time-consuming roll-call votes.
Most of the votes were inspired by a motion submitted by the House GOP prosecutors. They first asked that the transcripts and the videotaped depositions of Lewinsky, Jordan and Blumenthal be entered into evidence. The Senate voted, 100 to 0, to do so.
They also sought up to eight hours to question Lewinsky in the Senate chamber. When that request was read out loud by a clerk, a clearly disgusted Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) let out a gasp that was audible in the press gallery.
After the request was rejected, the prosecution’s bid to allow use of excerpts of the deposition transcripts and videotapes was approved.
Boxer and Feinstein, who along with all their Democratic colleagues had voted against the request for Lewinsky’s testimony, both opposed the excerpt request.
A Democratic-sponsored motion to divide the question of using the videotape and transcript excerpts failed, 73 to 27. Feinstein and Boxer parted company for the only time of the day, with Feinstein joining most Republicans in voting against bifurcating the decision.
Votes also were cast on two other motions.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) proposed skipping the evidence presentation stage and proceeding immediately to closing arguments and Senate deliberations.
That proposal failed, 56 to 44, with Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.) joining all 55 Republicans in opposing it. Last week, Feingold was the sole Democrat voting against a Democratic-sponsored dismissal motion.
The day’s final vote came on a motion by White House Counsel Charles F. C. Ruff to require House prosecutors to inform the president’s lawyers by 11 a.m. PST today about what parts of the transcripts or videotapes they will use during Saturday’s presentation and in their closing arguments.
Ruff and David E. Kendall, Clinton’s personal lawyer, argued that it would help the White House prepare for its rebuttal Saturday.
But Rep. James E. Rogan (R-Glendale), one of the House prosecutors, said that would be unfair. He cited a case he worked on as a lawyer in California in which another attorney asked for a similar arrangement and the late state Supreme Court Justice Otto Kaus told him: “It’s none of your damned business.”
Kendall responded that a different standard should apply in an impeachment case. “Trial by surprise has no place here.”
By a vote of 54 to 46, the Senate denied the White House request. Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont was the lone Republican to vote with the 45 Democrats in favor of the request.
Also on Thursday, the White House rebuffed the latest Republican invitation to Clinton to voluntarily testify in the trial.
Times staff writers Art Pine, Richard A. Serrano, Janet Hook and James Gerstenzang contributed to this story.
Hear an audio report on the impeachment proceedings from one of The Times’ Washington correspondents. It’s on the Times Web site: https://www.latimes.com/impeach
* WRAPPING IT UP: The trial may be near an end, but many expect stumbling, squabbling along the way. A16
* PUBLIC DISPLEASURE: Polls show impeachment flap could cost votes for GOP, potential candidate Al Gore. A18
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
The Senate Voted on Motions to . . .
Admit videotaped depositions into evidence
Call Monica Lewinsky as a live witness
Present just transcripts, not the videotapes
Use parts of video depositions in presentations
Begin closing arguments immediately
Notify the White House of what will be presented