Hear Both Sides

The House managers' presentation last week of their impeachment case against President Clinton should have resolved the issue of whether this is a serious case or a political hatchet job.

The charges of perjury and obstruction of justice have substance. They are backed by facts which, under the House interpretation, would seem to indicate the president's guilt.

Having said that, however, we hasten to add that only half the story has been told. Now the president's team of lawyers responds, and they will put a very different construction on the same facts. After their presentation, senators may find the case against the president doesn't hold up.

The House prosecutors had a tough job: They wanted to call witnesses and put on a more thorough case, but they don't yet have Senate permission. So they had to put their opening arguments, interpretation of the facts, and closing arguments into one series of presentations, knowing it could well be the only opportunity they get.

Reps. Asa Hutchinson (R) of Arkansas and James Rogan (R) of California effectively laid out the obstruction-of-justice and perjury charges. Rep. Lindsay Graham (R) of South Carolina set forth the most persuasive presentation yet for considering the president's alleged offenses to be high crimes and misdemeanors, and therefore impeachable.

Whether the House convinced senators that the president is guilty and should be removed from office remains to be seen - though that still appears unlikely. They did, however, argue strongly for calling at least some witnesses, and may have persuaded the required 51 senators to at least take the first step towards doing so.

But first the president's legal team will rebut the House case. After that, senators will have two days to pose written questions through Chief Justice William Rehnquist. The White House legal team will then probably move to dismiss the case and the House managers to call witnesses. Again, a simple majority will decide both matters.

By and large, senators have performed their duties admirably so far, though fewer talk-show appearances and less commentary on the facts and outcome of the case would be welcome. The men and women of the Senate have listened closely, taken notes, and sat respectfully through hours of argument.

The questions still loom before them: Did the president commit perjury before a federal grand jury, obstruct justice, tamper with witnesses? And if so, does that require Mr. Clinton's conviction and removal from office? As we've said before, a strong congressional censure with teeth could well be more appropriate.

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