TOPICS > Politics

Pre-Trial Motions

January 8, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: Snow fell steadily on the nation’s capitol this morning; nonetheless, the scheduled meeting of Senators at 9:30 was delayed by only a few minutes as they gathered to work out an agreement on how to conduct the impeachment trial of President Clinton. The private caucus was held in the Old Senate Chamber, the site of many of early America’s historic congressional debates. But by 1859, the chamber was rendered too small. The union had grown to 31 states and the current chamber was built to accommodate the growing number of Senators. Today, the old chamber occasionally is used for ceremonial events. But shortly after noon, Senate Leaders Lott and Daschle emerged to say the chamber’s historic confines may have played a role in bringing this modern Senate to an agreement.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: The atmosphere was absolutely phenomenal. It was so positive you could just feel history in the room. The speeches were historic; they should have been recorded – every Senator that spoke.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: The comity and the chemistry that was evident from the very beginning, I think, really – it was tribute to each of the members of the Democratic and Republican caucuses.

KWAME HOLMAN: The leaders said Senators agreed to begin the trial next week and to put off any decisions on calling witnesses.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: But when we have heard the case being put on by both sides, what their needs are, what their – you know – thinking is with regard to witnesses, when we get to that point, we will make the decision then, as to how to go forward with or without witnesses and what witnesses would be involved or called or not, and another very important ingredient – and this is point two – there’s a feeling of concern about wanting to make sure we know who these witnesses are, what will they testify to, you know, how will we deal with potentially salacious material, and so we’re going to designate a bipartisan group of Senators – either two or three – from both sides. We talked just about two – for a total of four – to sit down with the senior staff and to look at exactly how – if any way is possible and necessary – that we can clarify what would be involved in calling his witnesses and how that testimony would be handled. We don’t think it should be left for some later day when we get there. We’re going to begin that process now.

KWAME HOLMAN: Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who is presiding over the Senate trial of the president, arrived at the capitol in the early afternoon in anticipation of a vote on the agreement. But that didn’t happen for several hours as a handful of Senators worked out the precise language.

SPOKESMAN: The Senate will come to order.

KWAME HOLMAN: Finally, with Justice Rehnquist in the chair, the Senate convened late this afternoon. The Senate’s clerk read aloud the details of the agreement to the sitting Senators. It calls for the trial to resume on Wednesday, January 13th, to consider any motions filed by either party to the trial. The House managers then would begin to present their case; they would have up to 24 hours to do so. The president’s counsels then would have the same amount of time to present his case. Senators then would have up to 16 hours to question both parties. Motions then would be in order to dispose of the trial, which could be done with a simple majority vote. If that vote fails, the Senate could proceed with motions to present witnesses or evidence not in the record. At the conclusion of those deliberations the Senate would vote on the two articles of impeachment. The Senate held a formal vote on the agreement to proceed with the president’s trial; it passed one hundred to zero. A short time later, Gregory Craig, special counsel to the president, made a short statement at the White House.

GREGORY CRAIG: Good afternoon. The Senate has decided how it wants to proceed. We respect that, and in accordance with the procedures adopted by the Senate, we plan to present on behalf of the president a vigorous, successful and complete defense. We are optimistic, we are confident that the Senators – once they see and hear this defense in this opening phase of the trial – will conclude that the articles do not justify or warrant conviction or removal from office. We remain hopeful that this matter can be resolved expeditiously and fairly. Thank you very much.