TOPICS > Politics

The Witness Debate

January 26, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: The House impeachment managers began today’s session by submitting for senate approval a list of witnesses they’d like to depose in the trial.

SPOKESMAN: The House moves that the senate authorize and issue subpoenas for the appearance of the following witnesses at a deposition for the purpose of providing testimony related to the impeachment trial: One, Monica S. Lewinsky; two, Vernon Jordan; and three, Sidney Blumenthal.

KWAME HOLMAN: Also included with the motion was a request that the senate ask President Clinton to give testimony in a deposition.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: Mr. Manager McCollum.

KWAME HOLMAN: Managers were given two hours to make their case for calling witnesses. Florida’s Bill McCollum said the managers wanted to call more witnesses, but limited the number in deference to the senate.

REP. BILL McCOLLUM, Impeachment Manager: The House managers have always understood the senate sets the rule on these matters, and we don’t question that fact, but I think it’s important to set the record clear here today to say at the outset that we have always believed, and we still do believe, that ten or twelve witnesses are what we should have and should have been permitted to call to prove our case. We’ve estimated that this could be done in a matter of two weeks at the outside, including all cross-examination. That’s what we think the normal order would have been. It’s what we think it should have been. But we have been told again and again, and we believe it’s true, that if we made such a request, it would not be approved.

And a few weeks ago we thought– maybe even a few days ago– that we could submit a list of maybe five or six witnesses and there would be a reasonable chance that for deposition they would be approved and maybe two or three of them could actually be presented here live on the floor.

Now we have been led to believe and we think it is an accurate assessment that in order to get a vote to approve the opportunity to take depositions alone, whether or not anyone’s called, that we cannot submit more than two or three witnesses to you, and that’s what we’ve done today. If our motion is granted — I want to make this very, very, very clear — at no point will we ask any questions of Monica Lewinsky about her explicit sexual relations with the president, either in deposition, or, if we’re permitted, on the floor of the House. They will not be asked. That, of course, assumes that White House counsel does not enter into that discussion, and we doubt that they would. We believe that you do need — we need — to bring in witnesses to resolve conflicting testimony, to give you a true picture of the president’s scheme to lie and conceal evidence for the other obstruction of justice charges, and certainly for the last perjury charge. They are more complex. They are more depending on circumstantial evidence and inferences that you logically have to draw.

And that’s why you need to hear from Monica Lewinsky, Vernon Jordan, Sidney Blumenthal, to tell you about these things themselves. When you do, you’re just plain going to get a different flavor. You’re going to feel the sense of this. We believe that you would find at the end of the day, once you’ve done that, even though you don’t need to use this standard, that the president is guilty of the entire scheme we’ve presented to you, in every detail, beyond a reasonable doubt.

KWAME HOLMAN: Tennessee’s Ed Bryant was called on to argue further the need to call Monica Lewinsky as a witness.

REP. ED BRYANT, Impeachment Manager: She is probably the most relevant witness — that is, aside from the president himself — who, so far, has indicated through his counsel that he would not testify, and, I might add, has also not answered the questions that at least some senators sent to the White House for his answering, based on his attorney’s statement that he would be willing to answer questions. So, with that aside, Ms. Lewinsky is probably the most important witness left. And wouldn’t you at least like to see and hear from her on this? As triers of fact, wouldn’t you want to observe the demeanor of Ms. Lewinsky, and test her credibility? As I say, look into the eyes and test the credibility of these witnesses. Compare her version of the testimony to the contested events.

And, remember, the president’s attorneys in numerous ways in their vigorous defense of the president have challenged Ms. Lewinsky’s version of the facts. And, senators, she does have a story to tell. And given the link that she has, that common thread that she is in most of the charges in these articles of impeachment, I would suggest that she should be permitted to testify. I would go further to say that a closure of this case is somehow necessary and without the direct presentation by Ms. Lewinsky, we all, political and public, would be denied the complete picture that she should be able to give us to better sort this out. It’s even possible that she could help the president in some ways. But I assure you that she is an impressive young lady, and I suspect that she still very much does admire the president and the work that he is doing for this country, yet she would be a person who in all likelihood would be forthcoming.

KWAME HOLMAN: Arkansas’s Asa Hutchinson presented several reasons the managers say show the need to call Vernon Jordan for a deposition.

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON, Impeachment Manager: His testimony goes to the heart of one of the elements of obstruction of justice, and that is the job search and the false affidavit, and the connection — the interconnection — between those. I have tried, during my presentation of this case, to present portions of his testimony — excerpts, if you will, from his testimony. But if you will see, he has testified five times before the federal grand jury. I’ve read all of this, and I’m not going to ask for a show of hands, but how many of you have read all of this? And so, you have had to rely upon a trial, an ordeal by lawyers, rather than a trial by witnesses, because I have had to present the testimony of Vernon Jordan in excerpt fashion, limited quotes here and there, as the defense counsel has done likewise. Now, that makes it difficult, because the problem is, one, you’re hearing it from me, but secondly, it’s not a story. It is excerpts. And there’s no way you can assess the truth because of that.

KWAME HOLMAN: Finally, California’s James Rogan argued the senate hear from White House aide Sidney Blumenthal.

REP. JAMES ROGAN, Impeachment Manager: Mr. Blumenthal’s testimony puts him in direct conflict with the claims of the president and shatters the myth of the president’s truthful but misleading answers given under oath. And I said to the president, “What have you done wrong?” And he said, “Nothing. I haven’t done anything wrong.” And I said, “Well, then that’s one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever heard. Why would you do that if you’ve done nothing wrong?” And it was at that point that he gave his account of what happened to me. And he said that Monica, and it came very fast, he said, “Monica Lewinsky came at me and made a sexual demand on me.” He rebuffed her. He said, “I’ve gone down that road before. I’ve caused pain for a lot of people, and I’m not going to do that again.” She threatened him. She said that she would tell people they had an affair, that she was known as the stalker among her peers, and that she hated it, and if she had an affair or said she had an affair, then she wouldn’t be the stalker anymore.

Now, the question is was this a mere coincidence, that the president’s false statements to Mr. Blumenthal about Monica Lewinsky being a stalker quickly found their way into press accounts, even though those accounts are attributed by the press to sources inside the White House. Mr. Blumenthal needs to be questioned now under the light of the fact as we now know them. All we have from Mr. Blumenthal are the facts as he testified before the revelations saw the light of day. And he needs to be questioned for the benefit of those who most — who must make the determination of credibility and the determination of guilt or innocence. This is the reason we’ve included Mr. Blumenthal on our proposed list. He is just one example of several aides whose testimony is already before you in the record. But we feel it would be beneficial not only for the body to hear him but certainly to question him in light of the revelations that occurred following his grand jury testimony.

JIM LEHRER: David Kendall, the president’s private lawyer, argued against calling witnesses. But Kendall said if senators approved witnesses for House managers, they could expect the president to call witnesses as well. Kwame Holman continues.

KWAME HOLMAN: David Kendall said he would not use his allotted two hours to repeat his defense of the president against charges brought to the senate by House managers. His main point, he said, would be to show there is no need to add more testimony to an already voluminous record in the case.

DAVID KENDALL: Just recall, in the House the managers believed that this was an adequate record to come to you and urge removal of the president. They rested on that record in the House, and they impeached an elected president on the basis of that record. They cannot now complain that it is for some reason unfair to submit this same record to you for judgment at this point.

The able House managers have kept insisting on their need for witnesses, but they haven’t indicated what substantial, material and relevant questions the witnesses would be asked which haven’t already been asked or why such questions are essential or even relevant to the resolution of this proceeding. Frankly, I think this is because there just aren’t that many more questions to ask of these witnesses.

And Mr. Manager McCollum kind of let the cat out of the bag on this one when a week ago Friday he told you “I don’t know what the witnesses will say, but I assume if they’re consistent, they’ll say the same thing that’s in here.” I say this respectfully, but I am duty bound to observe that it is, in fact, a dereliction of duty to have come this far in the process, to have made this serious a set of charges as have been made against the president to seek his removal and not to have talked to the witnesses on whom they purport to rely. How can they have come this far and now tell you, oh, yes, we now need to meet face to face with the witnesses? We don’t know what they sound like, we don’t know how credible they’ll be; we rested our judgment on this; we need to see them personally. This procedure, I submit to you, is just backwards. First, they file the charges, which have been spoon fed by Mr. Starr, they don’t bother to check these out. They take them at face value.

Now they finally want to talk to the witnesses and they again use Mr. Starr to threaten Ms. Lewinsky with imprisonment unless she cooperates with them. No, it’s no answer to say that the witnesses didn’t want to talk to us. There was a way to talk to them in the House of Representatives. And that was through the subpoena power that the House could have used if they had wanted to talk to their witnesses, if they had fulfilled the obligation they had before they proffered these charges to you. This has been a partisan process on the part of the House managers. In the House, they had the votes; they didn’t think they needed to talk to witnesses. When you have the votes and the independent counsel on your side you don’t need to independently develop the evidence. Indeed Sunday on CNN, Mr. Manager Cannon provided some insight –

SEN. TIM HUTCHINSON: Mr. Chief Justice –

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: The chair recognizes the senator from Arkansas.

SEN. TIM HUTCHINSON: I would object to the White House counsel’s continual reference to comments made on television programs outside of the record that is before the senate.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: This is on a motion to call additional witnesses. And the argument has been very free form and kind of far ranging. I think this is permissible comment and so I overrule the objection.

DAVID KENDALL: Thank you, Mr. Chief justice. I think Mr. Manager Cannon’s comments did provide some insight into the need for witnesses or the justification for witnesses here. He noted that the Republicans had lost five seats in the November election, and he went on to say accordingly the Republicans felt a need to speedily complete impeachment in the lame duck session before the 106th began its session. The House managers are like the character in David Copperfield, Mr. Makorber, who was always hoping that something would turn up. They continue to hope that something will turn up for them. They don’t know what it is, but they believe they’ll know it when they see it and they hope for the first time in these proceedings they actually talk to the witnesses on whom they’ve relied, they’ll find something to persuade you to overcome the evidence in the record.

Now, the managers have said, well, we told the White House that it could have called witnesses. They could have called witnesses in the House if they want to and they chose not to do so, so it’s really their fault. I respectfully submit to you, however, that only in the world of Franz Kafka do you have to present evidence of your own innocence before you even hear the charges or the allegations against you. It was the burden of the House to establish by an adequate evidentiary basis a case for impeaching the president. They failed to do that, I respectfully submit, and they’re a little like a black jack player who sees 20 on the table and has 19 and is going to try to draw that 2, hoping against the odds. Here they’re simply gambling and gambling may have its place as a recreation. I think it has no place in the impeachment trial here in the — when the fate of the president is at stake.

Now, I don’t want to be uncharitable — (laughter in room) — to the House managers. And they are able. But I think it is perhaps appropriate to remind you, as my partner Ms. Seligman did in her argument yesterday, that in their own chamber, in their own chamber, the House managers sang a very different song about the need for witnesses.

KWAME HOLMAN: Kendall produced several charts showing what individual managers had to say about the need to call witnesses during the impeachment phase in the House.

DAVID KENDALL: For example, on November 5th, Mr. Manager Hyde said, “We believe the most relevant witnesses have already testified at length about the matters in issue. And in the interest of finishing our expeditious inquiry, we will not require most of them to come before us to repeat their testimony. He added that “Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp have already testified under oath. We have their testimony. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.”

KWAME HOLMAN: And Kendall showed a videotape to bolster his argument against the need to call Vernon Jordan as a witness.

VERNON JORDAN: I have answered every question over and over and over again. I suspect that I will have to answer the same questions over and over and over again.

DAVID KENDALL: And guess what? Mr. Jordan was clairvoyant, because he was called back to the grand jury for a fifth time on June 9th. Should the senate decide to authorize the House managers to call additional witnesses, live in this proceeding or have their depositions taken, we will be faced with a critical need for the discovery of evidence useful to our defense. Our dilemma is this: We do not know what we do not know. That’s what discovery means. You’ve got to get discovery so you can find out what is available. It may not necessarily prolong a trial, but it makes you available to defend your client in the way you’ve got to be able to do as a lawyer. It doesn’t turn on the number of witnesses. The calling of these witnesses, you know, produces a need in us to be ready to examine them, to cross-examine them. It initiates a process that leaves us unprepared and exposed unless we have adequate discovery. This is a proceeding, I need not remind you, I know everyone recognizes its gravity, to remove the president of the United States. You have got to give us, and I believe you will, the discovery that will enable us to represent the president adequately, competently and effectively.

KWAME HOLMAN: By prior agreement, the managers reserved some of their time to rebut the White House team’s arguments.

REP. HENRY HYDE: Their defense has never been on the facts. If they can come up with a good fact witness that has something to say, we will see a reenactment of the Indian rope trick, it seems to me. We will see professors, though, if past is pro log. I don’t know. But the threat of — the threat of prolonged hearings I suppose is supposed to make you tremble. It doesn’t to me. But then different things, different strokes, I guess, for different folks.

But their defense has been to demonize Mr. Starr to a fare-thee-well and to yell about the process. That has been their defense. And I’ll be frank with you. I’m not sure I could stand a lot more of that. But that’s what they will do. As far as the information not available to them, maybe not. Maybe some of the stuff we got from the independent counsel was held in executive session. But it was available to Mr. Conyers. It was available to Abbe Lowell. It was available to every Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, and they went through it. I wrote with Mr. Conyers to Mr. Starr a letter saying show us what you didn’t send us. Let’s look at what you’ve got over there. There might be some exculpatory material. And Mr. Conyers sent his people over and they looked, and they looked and they looked. And I would assume they were in touch with you folks. I would assume they were. If they weren’t, they should have been. That’s a breakdown in communication.

Now, we can — we have a good case. We have an excellent case without the witnesses. But the witnesses help you. We have narrowed it down to three, a pitiful three. And I should think you would want to proceed with that minimum testimony and Mr. Kendall can try his cross-examination skills on them. And that I want to watch. Thank you.