Deadline set to end Clinton trial

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The Independent Online
THE US Senate voted yesterday to end the trial of President Clinton by 12 February at the latest and to make the videotaped testimony of Monica Lewinsky and the two other witnesses available to senators.

The questioning of the three witnesses - Ms Lewinsky, President Clinton's friend, Vernon Jordan, and the White House adviser, Sidney Blumenthal - will start on Monday, with one day set aside for each. Two of the House prosecutors will be deputed to ask questions, with one senator from each party presiding. White House lawyers will also be present.

While senators will have access to the material immediately, any decision on making the tapes public is subject to a vote of the full Senate.

Further details were yesterday left to be hammered out by the leaders of the two parties in the Senate - Trent Lott for the Republicans, and Tom Daschle for the Democrats.

The decision came at the end of a day in which proceedings had ground to a halt because of fundamental disagreement between the Republican majority and the Democratic minority about how to proceed. Eventually, shortly before 6pm, the stalemate was broken - but only by sacrificing the cross-party consensus on which the Senate had prided itself at the start of the trial.

Senators voted along party lines for an outline timetable proposed by the Republicans, and rejected a Democrat amendment that would have limited the time for questioning the witnesses and precluded the showing of their videotaped testimony. The senators also rejected a Democrat motion that would have allowed them to proceed direct to a final vote on the Articles of Impeachment without hearing witnesses.

Despite hours of closed-door meetings and multiple exchanges of notes, however, agreement proved impossible and the decision was made by vote. Bearing out Republican fears, Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat who had made no comment on the trial so far, publicly deplored the resort to a vote, describing the future proceed as "a Republican trial".

Exploiting the uncertainty in the Senate, the White House sprang into the controversy early yesterday, demanding that the Republicans explain why they were intent on pursuing the President, despite Wednesday's votes that showed insufficient votes to convict. "They are trying to construct a procedure where they can convict, but not remove," the spokesman, Joe Lockhart, speculated. "Every time things seem to move on, [the Republicans] seem to change the rules," he said. "The burden is on the Republican majority to articulate why they are still doing this."

He reiterated Mr Clinton's readiness to accept a formal censure, but questioned the Senate's constitutional right to pass a censure in the framework of the trial.

Behind the revival of the censure possibility could be read signs of another disagreement, this time in the White House. Mr Clinton's top-flight lawyers were sending sharply diverging messages about how they wanted the trial to conclude.

The White House chief counsel, Charles Ruff, and the special counsel, Gregory Craig, were calling openly for a rapid end to the trial. Mr Clinton's personal lawyer, David Kendall, however, was still demanding access to all of the thousands of pages of evidence and favouring what could be a lengthy period of "discovery".

Mr Kendall was said to be concerned that if the Senate decided on a "convict but not remove" strategy, his client could be liable for criminal prosecution after he leaves office. As his personal lawyer, this is an eventuality he is obliged to prevent.

Incirlik, the Turkish airbase used by British and US aircraft to patrol northern Iraq's no-fly zone, was put on full alert yesterday after tracking systems identified a possible missile attack. The false alarm followed the bombing of an anti-aircraft position near Mosul by US aircraft.