Clinton's Senate Trial: Steely eyes await the evidence

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THE US CONGRESS took only a few highly choreographed minutes yesterday to launch the trial of William Jefferson Clinton.

The Capitol building was designed to create a sense of awe and dignity with its echoing, high-ceilinged stone corridors, gilt finishings, stone pillars and wood panelling.

At 10am, flanked by security guards and armed officers of the Capitol Hill police, the 13 managers of the impeachment trial paraded from the House of Representatives to the Senate.

Steely-eyed and stony-faced, the executioners marched past confused Japanese tourists and the massed ranks of the international press into the chamber of the Senate, where they stood stiffly, like new boys on their first day in school.

They were greeted by the avuncular Southern tones of 96-year-old Senator Strom Thurmond, who invited them into the well of the Senate.

Henry Hyde, the silver-haired chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, had brought the proceedings this far and this was his moment to launch the impeachment on to a larger and infinitely more formal stage. In a breathy mid-Western accent, sometimes stumbling, sometimes pausing for emphasis, always austere and pointed, he read in full the charges against the President as the senators sat silently at their wooden desks.

"It is the manager's request that the Senate take order for the trial," he concluded, and the Senate rose at 10.15am.