Clinton legal team comes out fighting

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The Independent Online
AS SENIOR Senators promised an impeachment trial that would be "above all, fair", White House lawyers worked through the weekend to prepare their motions in the President's defence. Both sides must submit pre-trial documents by this evening as the prelude to the start of trial proceedings on Thursday, when opening statements will be read.

The timetable for at least the first part of the trial was approved unanimously on Friday after an informal Senate meeting produced a deal that postponed the thorniest procedural questions. Striking a newly aggressive note after the trial format was announced, Gregory Craig, White House special counsel, said it would mount a "vigorous, successful and complete" defence.

Over the weekend, Senators - all of whom have sworn to "do impartial justice" - appeared on radio and television talkshows to offer their view of the trial.

The leader of the Republican majority in the Senate, Trent Lott, who annoyed the right wing with earlier calls for as brief a trial as possible, used his party's Saturday radio address to appeal for observance of the highest standards of "decency and decorum".

His call was echoed by his colleagues, on both sides of the Senate, who congratulated themselves on the give and take that had allowed the trial to proceed and contrasted it with the ill-temper of last month's House debate. It was apparent, however, that a host of disagreements lay only just beneath the surface, most of which set Democrats against Republicans and cast doubt on how long the Senate's "bipartisanship" could last.

One of the first discussions will be whether the trial should be televised. Opponents say it would inhibit free discussion, and cite rules providing for deliberations in secret. Others, mainly Democrats hoping to capitalise on the President's popularity, want to see openness and accountability.

Hard on the heels of the television question is the issue of the President's State of the Union address. It is fixed for 19 January, coinciding with the start of his legal defence in the Senate trial. The White House has insisted it sees no reason to postpone the address - some believe it would show the President in the best possible light, carrying on the business of government. But Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, said she felt it would not be appropriate for the Senate to consider the removal of the President by day and welcome him to the Capitol in the evening. Others have said it would be "unseemly" for him to appear before Congress while his continuation in office remains uncertain.

And, although deferred, the most divisive question - whether witnesses should be called - has not gone away. A poll released yesterday indicated that in this, at least, the public was on the side of the Republicans. More than half of those polled said they wanted to hear testimony both from Mr Clinton (66 per cent) and Monica Lewinsky (53 per cent).

The first part of the trial will conclude with motions that could include proposals to dismiss the case or to call witnesses. Either would require only a simple majority (51).

If the Democrats vote as a bloc, only six Republicans will need to change sides for the President to be acquitted. But one of the Republicans deemed most likely to switch dashed Democrats' hopes yesterday, saying he would want to hear witnesses first.