White House lawyers vow to fight every charge

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WHITE HOUSE lawyers yesterday cleared the way for the start of the first Presidentialimpeachment trial this century, announcing that Bill Clinton would contest all the charges against him, but would not file to have them quashed.

They dispatched a 13-page legal brief to the Senate to that effect yesterday, just in time for the midday deadline for a formal response to its summons.

Five hours later, the 13 Republican "managers" who make up the prosecution team from the House of Representatives, made public their pre-trial submission, insisting that the evidence "overwhelmingly supported" the two charges against the President, perjury and obstruction of justice. And they cited as precedents the impeachments of three federal judges during the 1980s to argue that "perjury warrants conviction and removal".

Together, the two submissions opened the prospect of a huge struggle of fact and principle when the impeachment trial opens on Thursday.

The White House, giving no quarter, said in its brief that Mr Clinton "denies each and every material allegation", did not perjure himself in his grand jury testimony about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, and did not seek to obstruct justice. "The charges in the two Articles of Impeachment," it said, "do not permit the conviction and removal from office of a duly elected President."

It went on: "The articles do not rise to the level of `high crimes and misdemeanours' as contemplated by the Founding Fathers and they do not satisfy the rigorous constitutional standard applied throughout our ... history. Accordingly, [they] should be dismissed."

The brief also attacked the articles' formulation, objecting that they were at once not specific enough to sustain an indictment in a court of law, and also too various to justify a straight vote on Mr Clinton's guilt or innocence. The White House spokesman, Joe Lockhart, said the brief exploded a number of "myths" - including the myth that "Mr Clinton had tried to conceal the relationship he had with Ms Lewinsky and the myth that his grand jury testimony ... contained evidence of obstruction of justice."

While Mr Clinton's lawyers are not demanding a vote to dismiss the charges before the trial opens, they are expected to submit a motion for dismissal sometime thereafter - probably after the opening statements have been presented. It is at that time that the prosecution is likely to submit a separate motion asking for witnesses to be summoned: an issue which divides the Senate along party lines. Either decision would require a simple majority, 51 votes, to pass.

The balance of the Senate, where the Democrats have 45 seats out of 100, makes it unlikely a vote to dismiss at that stage would succeed. They would need six Republicans on their side, which currently looks highly unlikely.

Leading Republicans are adamant that witnesses should be called, including Ms Lewinsky and the President's private secretary, Betty Currie.