Renewing bipartisanship

When both sides are ably presented in a trial, the last presentation often seems the more convincing.

Some Senate Democrats were badly shaken by the House managers' case for President Clinton's removal from office on grounds of perjury and obstruction of justice.

But the strong arguments put forth by the president's legal team last week on the facts of the case visibly restored Democrats' confidence and shifted momentum.

Finally, after all these months, the White House legal team disputed the House managers' and independent counsel Kenneth Starr's conclusions from the facts.

One can only wonder if such a defense might not have headed off impeachment in the House.

The president's lawyers still have a problem contending that his statements to a grand jury about his Paula Jones deposition testimony were true. But they were on surer ground finding the weak spots in the House's obstruction-of-justice case.

The House prosecutors made an effective case for calling at least a few witnesses. There are serious conflicts in the testimony of Monica Lewinsky, presidential secretary Betty Currie, and presidential friend Vernon Jordan about Lewinsky's job search, the gifts Mrs. Currie hid for Ms. Lewinsky, and the origin of Lewinsky's false affidavit in the Paula Jones case.

The odd question-and-answer sessions that ended Saturday brought out useful information from both legal teams. Unfortunately, at the end it too often degenerated into Mr. Clinton's allies replaying stale political attacks on MR. Starr and the House impeachment process.

The Senate has now run out the string on its bipartisan agreement regarding trial procedure. As early as today, it may hear motions to dismiss the case and to call witnesses.

Calling witnesses would be a two-step process.

Senators would first approve in a group any witnesses to be deposed. After deposition, the Senate would vote on a case-by-case basis to bring witnesses to the Senate floor.

Under Senate impeachment rules, a simple majority will decide each motion.

A two-thirds vote to convict isn't likely. So the problem senators of both parties face is how to wrap up the trial in a fair and constitutional manner.

Votes on motions to dismiss the case and calling witnesses seem likely to fall largely along partisan lines. Since no one really knows which Republicans and which Democrats might break ranks, the outcome of either vote is difficult, if not impossible, to predict.

These are the stalking horses in the behind-the-scenes partisan struggle: Senate Republicans want to ensure House managers a full hearing; Democrats run interference for the White House team.

The House managers' politically questionable move over the weekend to meet with Ms. Lewinsky complicates matters.

It is time for another bipartisan meeting in the Old Senate Chamber.

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