TOPICS > Politics

The Senate Says…

January 7, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: Late today the new Congress voted to reappoint 13 Republican members of the Judiciary Committee to prosecute the impeachment trial in the Senate. Joining us now are two of those impeachment managers: Congressman Bill McCollum and Congressman Charles Canady, both of Florida. Welcome, gentlemen.

Congressman McCollum, what can you tell us, what do you know about where the negotiations stand now internally within the Senate over the form of this impeachment trial?

REP. BILL McCOLLUM: Well, it’s my understanding that some of the leadership in the Senate and the Republicans particularly have been meeting today off and on to discuss the parameters of what the process may be. We don’t have the word in the House yet what that is. I don’t think that’s been formally decided. But those of us who are House managers are optimistic, cautiously, that the Senate will decide what we think should be the decision, and that is to let us proceed with a regular order to present witnesses and to conduct a trial as we think should be done because of the criminal charges against the president that have yet to be proven in a court and need to be proven in front of the Senate. And we don’t know that yet. We’re just waiting. We recommend that, but they have the final word.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Canady, are you all House managers, are you pleased with the input you’re having with the Senate Majority Leader, Trent Lott, with the Senate process?

REP. CHARLES CANADY: Well, I think the Senate leader is taking into consideration the concerns that have been expressed by the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Hyde, who is speaking for the managers. We understand that this is a very sensitive matter. We agree with the concerns of the Senators who want to see this resolved expeditiously. This is not a matter to be allowed to drag on month after month. But this is truly a relatively simple case. It is not a complex matter to try, and we believe that we can try this case before the Senate and the president can present his defense before the Senate in a relatively short period of time, and then the Senate can deliberate and reach a judgment as we go through this constitutional process.

MARGARET WARNER: When you say relatively shortly period of time, what do you mean?

REP. CHARLES CANADY: Well, I don’t think we can put a deadline on this. We resisted the temptation to do that in the House. In the House we were accused of wanting to string this out, and we did not do that. We moved appropriately. We moved deliberatively, but we resolved it by the end of last year. I don’t it should take the House more – much more than a couple of weeks to put on a case – maybe not that long – and I don’t think it should take the president any longer than that to put on a defense. Hopefully, it would be less than that, but, again this is the sort of matter that can be tried without a month-long – a month’s long process. Some of the president’s defenders have suggested that we really have two options. We essentially have no trial at all with no witnesses or have a six or seven-month trial. I think that’s a false choice. We can have a trial where appropriate witnesses are called for the presentation of evidence that should be considered by the Senate, and that can be done in a reasonable period of time.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman McCollum, explain a little more why you feel it’s important for the Senators to hear witnesses. A Republican Senator, Robert Bennett of Utah, said today he wanted to know why if you all didn’t need to hear witnesses to come to a judgment, why they need to hear witnesses.

REP. BILL McCOLLUM: Well, I think this has two aspects to it. One is that we are more like a grand jury in the House. We’ve issued, if you will, the articles of impeachment that are an indictment or a series of indictments to the president for in this case crimes – what would be crimes in the civilian world – perjury, obstruction of justice, very serious crimes. There has been no underlying trial of in the sense of a jury trial that you would get if you were impeaching a judge, for example, most of the time when you have such an impeachment of another officer besides the president, you wouldn’t come forward until a criminal trial had been concluded, and there had been a conviction. In this case the Senators are really a jury not only to determine whether or not the president should be removed from office but first in this case to determine whether or not he’s committed these crimes of perjury and obstruction of justice. And since we are more the grand jury – the weight of the evidence is a little different. And I think that witnesses in any jury trial need to come forward in person for the purposes of establishing credibility, for the purposes of mannerism. There are things the president has denied that are very important to this case that Monica Lewinsky says were true, not just about the relationship but about the obstruction of justice charges involving the affidavit, the gifts, the job, and so forth. There are things Vernon Jordan has said that we’d like to examine him about. There are things Betty Currie has said that are different from Monica Lewinsky and so on. The Senate members, as jurors, are going to have to decide who do they believe, and I don’t think the cold record is going to be the way to resolve that beyond a reasonable doubt, which would be my standard – and I think should be in this case, as you would in a criminal case, and then decide whether or not if they believe the president’s committed these crimes, if they conclude that, he should be removed from office. So live witnesses are very important.

MARGARET WARNER: So, Mr. Canady, can you – for instance, if we’re looking at the perjury, the first article of impeachment, and we’re talking about differing views of the nature of the relationship between the president and Monica Lewinsky, can you have her as a witness, without getting into fairly graphic sexual testimony?

REP. CHARLES CANADY: Well, I think it’s important that we conduct these proceedings in a way that is dignified and restrained. And I think that can be accomplished. Obviously, there are sensitive matters here. But I think there are ways the evidence can be presented for consideration by the Senate that shows appropriate restraint and dignity. And that is, I know a concern of the members of the Senate, and it’s a concern that the managers on behalf of the House would share. But the business about whether we have a trial or not – I think — is fundamentally a constitutional issue. The Constitution clearly contemplates that the Senate will conduct a trial. It does not contemplate that the House conduct a trial. We were criticized in the House for not having a full-scale trial. But that was not our role. It is the role, however of the Senate under our Constitution to conduct a trial in an impeachment. That has always been done. I don’t know of a single impeachment where no witnesses were called once the trial began in the Senate. It is an anomaly, very unusual, to suggest that there be a trial without the calling of any witnesses.

MARGARET WARNER: And let me just ask you this. Would all these witnesses have to testify essentially in the live courtroom setting? It’s not a courtroom, of course, it’s in the Senate. Or could, for instance, some of these be done as depositions?

REP. CHARLES CANADY: I certainly think that there might be some testimony that could be presented in the form of deposition transcripts. There may be some matters that we would be present on the basis of grand jury testimony that’s already – that’s a judgment that we would have to make as we go forward. So I would not take the position that every single bit of evidence that comes in that’s testimonial evidence has to be given through live testimony. But to preclude us from putting on any live witnesses I think would be an extraordinary step for the Senate to take.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman McCollum, are you ready – I know we don’t know yet what the procedure is going to be – but are you House managers ready to go let’s say next week, including calling witnesses, if it came to that?

REP. BILL McCOLLUM: We are stating – and I believe we are prepared to do that. I don’t believe that’s what would happen. I believe there is a regular order that’s more likely to occur during this process. There are probably pre-trial motions of some sort. There are inevitably going to be opportunities for back and forth, give and take, that my judgment would say if the Senate managers, if you will, the Senators who control this decide their procedures would probably result in live witnesses not coming forward for some time, that is a week or ten days or so. But I don’t know that until we see what they’re proposing. And if they were to call on us and say, Monday, you know, you’ve got to be ready, present your live witnesses, go do it, our manager team have gotten together, and we’ve said we’re ready to go do that; we will do it, if that’s what you want, but we don’t think that’s what’s likely to occur.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you, Congressman McCollum and Congressman Canady, thank you very much.

REP. BILL McCOLLUM: You’re welcome.