TOPICS > Politics

Reaching a Deal?

January 28, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: What next with the impeachment trial? Kwame Holman begins our coverage.

KWAME HOLMAN: This morning, the unmistakable motorcade that is the president’s alone swept along Pennsylvania Avenue en route to Capitol Hill. But the president wasn’t heading for the capitol itself. The caravan continued past the site of the impeachment trial and on to the Russell Senate Office Building. The occasion was a memorial service for Lawton Chiles, the former Florida governor and three-term United States senator who died last month.

CHOIR: (singing) Glory, glory hallelujah.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president appeared comfortable siting among Chiles’ former colleagues, the senators who hold the fate of the Clinton presidency in their hands. Two senators who did not attend the service were Majority Leader Trent Lott and Minority Leader Tom Daschle. They were back in the capitol, behind closed doors just off the senate floor, trying to work out a bipartisan agreement on the rules to conduct the depositions of three witnesses approved by the senate yesterday. Shortly after noon, senators were seen scurrying off to the their respective party caucuses for briefings on the negotiations.

SPOKESMAN: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. All persons are commanded to keep silent.

KWAME HOLMAN: As required by the rules of the impeachment trial, today’s session began on time at 1 this afternoon. However, Majority Leader Lott immediately asked for an hour recess.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: We’re still attempting to reach an agreement with respect to the remaining procedures for the trial, particularly with regard to how and when the depositions would be taken. We’ve been making progress, but it is something we need to be careful about. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to reach an agreement yet today.

KWAME HOLMAN: As has become his custom, Lott walked out of the chamber and immediately briefed the waiting media. He said the issue of the possible videotaping of the witness depositions was a major point of disagreement between Democrats and Republicans.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: There is an indication that they don’t want the option for videotaping of the depositions or for that to be shown on the floor. The videotaping is an additional tool in this modern era that senators can use to review what the witnesses have to say. We don’t say that it will be used on the floor. We don’t prejudge that. We just say that that would be up for the senate to decide. The Democrats don’t want that to happen. And I don’t understand their alarm about that. It’s an option, which the senate would have to vote on. And so that is a point of some concern, and all we’re saying is that it is a modern tool that should be available and the senate should make a determination as to how or if or when that would be used. Thank you very much.

KWAME HOLMAN: When the one-hour trial recess expired, Lott again stood before Chief Justice Rehnquist and this time asked for an indefinite break.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: In an effort to get an agreement on how to proceed, it’s very important that all parties are aware of the procedures that we are outlining, and that does include senators on both sides of the aisle, the House managers, the White House, the attorneys for the witnesses, and so it does take time.

KWAME HOLMAN: In fact, it took three and a half hours for Lott to return to the senate floor. And when he did, he described a procedure under which senators would vote on separate plans for proceeding from Republicans and Democrats.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: I also understand that both sides are willing to waive — the parties — willing to waive the debate time on these issues. And with that explanation, I’d like to begin that process. And I send a resolution to the desk and then ask that it be read in its entirety by the clerk and time for the two parties be waived.

KWAME HOLMAN: Both plans called for final votes on the articles of impeachment to be held no later than Friday, February 12. The main difference between the plans was whether the videotaped depositions of witnesses would be made public.

SPOKESMAN: — that shall be an order for the House managers and/or White House counsel to make a motion or motions to admit the depositions or portion thereof into evidence, whether transcribed or on videotape.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: The yeas and nays are required. The clerk will call the roll.

CLERK: Mr. Abraham.

KWAME HOLMAN: As expected, the Democratic plan to prohibit the release of any videotaped depositions was the one that lost out on a straight party line vote, a separate vote on a Democratic attempt to move to an immediate vote on the articles of impeachment failed as well.