The White House and House prosecutors submitted a final round of documents to buttress their cases Wednesday, before the Senate, for the second time in history, hears charges today of high crimes and misdemeanors against a president.
The House maintained that President Clinton had built a “purported defense” without merit, and Clinton’s defense team argued that the charges, which they said are not supported by the evidence, do not merit impeachment.
Clinton projected an air of detachment on the eve of the trial that will determine whether he is removed from office for perjury and obstruction of justice.
“The important thing for me is to spend as little time thinking about that as possible and as much time working on the issues we’re here to discuss as possible,” Clinton said. He met in the White House Cabinet Room with labor leaders to discuss the economic and domestic policy agenda he plans to present Tuesday in his State of the Union message.
“They have their job to do in the Senate and I have mine. And I intend to do it,” he added.
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) will deliver the formal opening argument on behalf of the team of House prosecutors known as managers. He promised to present “a blockbuster of a speech” that will demonstrate “very clearly that the president committed impeachable offenses.”
“I think our case is very solid--if people will listen,” Sensenbrenner said Wednesday in an interview. He last tried a case in court in 1975, he said.
The trial begins at 10 a.m. PST today, 358 days after the president’s relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky became public.
In preparation, workers moved into the well at the front of the Senate’s ornate chamber two tables finished simply in black laminate: one for House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) and his 12 fellow prosecutors, the other for the president’s defense team.
The 130-page memorandum submitted by Clinton’s lawyers bears a stark designation: In Re Impeachment of William Jefferson Cinton President of the United States. It misspelled the president’s name.
White House Contests Offenses
The White House team argued that the alleged offenses do not amount to high crimes and misdemeanors and that the evidence does not support perjury or obstruction charges.
They also argued that Clinton’s rights as a criminal defendant were violated because the articles of impeachment contain more than one charge each and do not delineate specific charges of wrongdoing against him.
For instance, they fail to specifically identify “a single allegedly perjurious statement” and charge obstruction of justice “without identifying a single allegedly obstructive action by the president.”
In sum, said Clinton’s legal team, “the articles of impeachment that have been exhibited to the Senate fall far short of what the Founding Fathers had in mind. They fall far short of what the American people demand be shown and proven before their democratic choice is reversed. And they even fall far short of what a prudent prosecutor would require before presenting a case to a judge or jury.”
Clinton’s lawyers argued that the charges incorporated in the articles of impeachment are too vague. Not so, the House replied.
The articles approved by the House on Dec. 19 “properly state impeachable offenses,” they wrote in a scant five-page memorandum.
Their document states:
“Wherefore, the House of Representatives states that both of the articles of impeachment warrant the conviction, removal from office and disqualification from holding further office of President William Jefferson Clinton.”
Clinton’s legal team is made up of five attorneys from the office of the White House counsel and six from a private Washington firm established by the late trial lawyer Edward Bennett Williams.
Crisis Dates From ’94 Lawsuit
The president’s crisis dates from a lawsuit filed in 1994 by Paula Corbin Jones, a former Arkansas government employee who charged Clinton with sexual harassment.
He is charged with committing perjury during an appearance before a grand jury Aug. 17 in which he was asked about a deposition that he gave in the Jones lawsuit last Jan. 17 and about his relationship with Lewinsky.
As presented by the president’s lawyers, the question facing the Senate is this: Whether the will of the American voters who twice elected Clinton should be disregarded because, “in the final analysis . . . , he had a wrongful relationship and sought to keep the existence of that relationship private.”
Should Clinton be removed from office, they asked, because he “used the phrase ‘certain occasions’ to describe the frequency of his improper intimate contacts with Ms. Monica Lewinsky,” when there were 11 such contacts over 500 days?
Similarly, they asked, should he be convicted for using the word “occasional” in his description of the number of “inappropriate telephone conversations” with Lewinsky, who reported 10 to 15 such conversations over 23 months?
The charge of obstruction of justice, built around the question of whether Clinton sought to buy Lewinsky’s silence by helping her find a job in New York, is “similarly unconvincing,” they argued.
“This charge is made despite the fact that no one involved in the effort to find work for Ms. Lewinsky--including Ms. Lewinsky herself--testified that there was a connection between the job search and the affidavit” she filed about her relationship with the president.
As for the question of whether Clinton committed perjury in denying that he had “sexual relations” with Lewinsky--a denial built around differences over the definition of that phrase--the lawyers cited five dictionaries to support the contention that “sexual relations” is defined as “sexual intercourse” or “coitus.”
The lawyers spent most of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning completing the document.
Clinton, on the other hand, played only a “limited role” in the final preparation of his defense, White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart said.
Instead, Lockhart said, he participated in a program promoting jobs for people with disabilities and met with the labor leaders.
Another senior aide said that the president worked for about two hours on the State of the Union address and then stopped by an evening Cabinet meeting.
During the day, Rep. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and other members of the House team visited the Senate chamber. Two-thirds of the 100 senators must vote for conviction to remove Clinton from office.
“I’m not going to sit here and say there are 67 votes,” Graham said. “If they keep open minds, and I think they will, things can change.”
The Senate has allotted the House 24 hours over three days to present its case, planning to work through Saturday.
Under the current schedule, it will recess on Sunday and Monday, the commemoration of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Times staff writers Marc Lacey, Edwin Chen and Richard A. Serrano contributed to this story.
* Times on the Web: Live video coverage of the Senate trial begins at 10:00 a.m. PST today on The Times’ Web site: https://www.latimes.com/impeach
* What the managers’ roles will be. A12
* A calendar of the Senate trial. A13