TOPICS > Politics

The Republicans React

January 8, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Senator Snowe, are you as happy about this agreement as Senator Daschle?

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE, (R) Maine: Absolutely. I think it was crtical, Jim, that we reached unanimity on procedures governing the trial in the United States Senate. I think that’s one of the things we were all striving for this week because we wanted to send a message to the American people that on this most extraordinary of matters that we were able to work together on a bipartisan basis and to get off on the right foot. Obviously, as the minority leader indicated, there would be times down the road we may differ on some of the motions and the votes, but on the procedure that we are together in how we should govern the process in the Senate.

JIM LEHRER: Sen. DeWine, do you agree that it was important that this step, this first step be done in sync?

SEN. MIKE DeWINE: Jim, there was a real feeling in the conference today that we just had to get off to a good start, we had to get started, first of all, but we also had to get off on a bipartisan start. And we accomplished that today. Obviously there’s going to be some – as Sen. Daschle said – some contentious issues ahead. We postponed some of the tough decisions in regard to the witnesses until another day, but the general feeling is that maybe we’ll be better informed to make those decisions, that we’ll be farther along in the case when we get to the question of which witnesses to call, if any.

JIM LEHRER: Now, Senator DeWine, on the witnesses issue, you heard what Sen. Daschle said. He anticipates and hopes that there will never be witnesses that – on that first motion after the first phase of this case is over, on a motion to dismiss, that will carry, and that we’ll never get to that second issue. What do you anticipate happening?

SEN. MIKE DeWINE: Jim, I’m not going to prejudge this case. I’ve made it very clear that I’m a juror. I’ve taken a solemn oath, as we all do. I think every member of the Senate takes that oath very seriously. I’m going to wait until I see what the evidence is and how it is presented, and I think that’s what we need to do.

JIM LEHRER: But how do you feel specifically about the need for witnesses?

SEN. MIKE DeWINE: Jim, my feeling has been that we need to allow the House managers in the White House some latitude in regard to how they try their case. I’ve never seen a case presented. I’m an old county prosecutor, and I’ve never seen a case presented without witnesses. So I think we need to give some flexibility to decide and determine how they present their case. Some of the – one of the charges – the obstruction of justice, for example, would very much lend itself – at least from what I know so far – would lend itself maybe to some witnesses. But, again, that’s a decision that will be made by the entire Senate body, and it’ll take 51 votes, of course, to order the deposition, and then 51 votes later on to order the actual witness to appear.

JIM LEHRER: Sen. Snowe, are you comfortable with that process that it takes two or three steps before you ever get to the – get to a possible witness before you and the other Senators?

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: Well, yes, I don’t have any problem with it. Obviously it was to address some of the concerns that others might have with respect to the sufficiency of the evidence, to demonstrate the need for witnesses or any other kind of testimony that isn’t otherwise in the public record. You know, I wasn’t sure whether or not we needed witnesses. I felt that we shouldn’t rule them in or rule them out. I think it depended on the case presented by both the House managers and the White House as to whether or not witnesses were necessary. So I think this struck a middle ground. Obviously we have taken an oath to render impartial justice, and I don’t think we can deny access to evidence. And if it’s necessary, then we have a process that will allow it, and a majority will determine that.

JIM LEHRER: Well, Sen. Snowe, the House managers, the Republican House managers, have made it very clear that they believe very strongly that there should be witnesses. Is that going to be a factor, or is this a debatable point when we get to it – when you get to it?

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: Well, the interesting, Jim, obviously it’s hard to predict –


SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: Once we get the evidence and we’re there and we’re all sort of anticipating, but I suspect it will be obvious. In fact, I was arguing this all this week. I thought that we should begin to hear the oral arguments and then make a decision on witnesses, so hopefully it will be evident one way or the other, and depending on their case.

JIM LEHRER: So you – in other words, this is pretty much what you wanted, right?

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: Yes, pretty much the multi-step process. It was not something I – you know – had recommended, but I had argued hearing the oral arguments and then making a decision in the Senate as to whether or not witnesses are necessary if the House managers or the White House presented a list. And so I think that this works, I think, very well, and we’ll make a decision. And I think we need to get into this process and begin it, and then I think we’ll have a better understanding as to how it will work.

JIM LEHRER: Senator DeWine, do you see as one of your responsibilities as a Republican to make sure that the House Republicans have their “day in court” the way they want it?

SEN. MIKE DeWINE: Well, first of all, Jim, we’ve now taken the oath. We are now jurors, and I don’t look at it. I don’t think we should approach this as Republicans and Democrats. And I’ll tell you in the conference today it was unanimous. I don’t think people look at their role that way at all. I think my obligation is to try and ensure a fair and impartial trial so that the American people see that and so that whatever the verdict is the American people will have confidence in the verdict. It may agree with it or disagree but they’ll have confidence in the proceeding and that justice was done, and I think to do that, we have to be obviously fair to both sides.

JIM LEHRER: But what about the point that’s been made by some on the Republican side that if this process is cut off too quickly by the Senate, it will be seen as a rebuke of the Republican majority in the House, you don’t see it that way?

SEN. MIKE DeWINE: I don’t look at it that way, Jim. I look at it from the point of view of we should give some deference to both sides and giving them some flexibility in how they present their case. Ultimately under the rules of the Senate, the old rules of the Senate, the rules we operate under today, we make the decision about who the witnesses are, but, again, for this Senator at least, I’m going to give some deference to both sides to allow them some flexibility in how they present their case.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Snowe, you heard what Senator Daschle said about a time frame here, how long this might take, the long version versus the short version. How do you read that, and what is your preference just in terms not necessarily process so much but just in terms of time, or do you have one?

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: Well, I think we’re all hoping that within a month or so that we will be able to conclude this trial. You know, I think we’re all searching for a prompt, effective closure, but on the other hand, we don’t want to deny anybody the ability to present their case or their ability to provide evidence. So I think it obviously depends. And I think it does also depend on the number of witnesses, if approved by the United States Senate and the depositions and so on, so it could take longer than a better part of a month, but we’re hoping that we can be focused enough. I mean, there are many trials that are underway in America, and the judges are able to do a very good job in managing them, and hopefully, we can do the same. As Mike said, we’re operating on rules that were governed – this process – 130 years ago – in 1868 – with 26 rules – so we don’t have much to go by. And so we have to be very careful as to how we proceed because of the precedent we set in the future.

JIM LEHRER: Sen. DeWine, is being expeditious a priority of yours?

SEN. MIKE DeWINE: I think we should move as quickly as we can. I think ultimately that for all of us justice should be the most-the top priority. We all want to move on and get this behind us. When I’m home in Ohio, people tell me that – let’s move on; let’s get it behind us. But I think we have an obligation to history; we have an obligation to our country to do a fair job, because what this trial, Jim, should bring about, whatever the verdict, this trial should bring finality and closure to this whole episode. And it will only do that if people think the trial has been fair.

JIM LEHRER: And is that true to both sides as well? In other words, whatever the verdict is, that both – both the president and the House managers can say we had our day, we were heard – is that important to you?

SEN. MIKE DeWINE: I think it’s important. I think what’s more important, though, frankly, is that the American people see that it’s a fair trial. The American people are the ultimate judge of this.

JIM LEHRER: Sen. Snowe, some people have suggested that the president’s on trial but so is the United States Senate. Do you agree with that?

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: Well, I think that as long as we have a fair process the Senate won’t be on trial. What I’d like to see is to make sure that we can focus on the president being on trial and, therefore, establishing a process that works well. As Mike has indicated, we need to ensure that we have a process that the American people are confident about and that they will believe in the integrity of the process and respect the outcome, regardless of what it is. So we’re on trial to the extent that we set up a process. And I think the unanimity today is an indication that we’re moving in the right direction and, you know, if it had been different, we started out with a partisan vote, I think it would have sent a different message. So I’m proud of what the institution and each member was able to do in this given day.

JIM LEHRER: Each of you – beginning with you, Senator DeWine – do you have an opinion about whether or not the president should come and address you and the nation and the State of the Union on the 19th while the trial is in progress?

SEN. MIKE DeWINE: No, I really don’t. I think that’s something between the president and the majority leader and minority leader and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. No. I don’t have an opinion about that.

JIM LEHRER: Do you, Senator Snowe?

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: No. Likewise, I think that’s a decision obviously the president has to make in conjunction with the leadership; obviously it would be awkward, and I think that’s something that he’ll have to consider in those conversations and discussions with them.

JIM LEHRER: Awkward but possible?


JIM LEHRER: All right. Thank you both very much.