No one sure what comes after opening of impeachment trial

 

The impeachment trial of President Clinton will open tomorrow in the Senate, but no one is sure what happens after that.

The tentative plan to have a truncated trial next week lasting three or four days is meeting strong objections from Republican senators who want a full hearing of the charges with witnesses being called.

The Senate Republican leader, Senator Trent Lott, made a brief announcement yesterday that the trial would open tomorrow and then "beyond that will be determined by the discussions" with senators in both parties.

Senator Lott and his Democratic counterpart, Senator Tom Daschle, yesterday met Chief Justice William Rehnquist who will preside over the trial in the Senate. Judge Rehnquist is expected to swear in the senators for the trial tomorrow.

Mr Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, may also present the two impeachment articles to the senators. But what happens after that is still unclear.

The compromise plan drafted by Republican Senator Slade Gorton and Democratic Senator Joseph Liebermann envisaged several days of hearings next week. These would allow the prosecution team of "managers" from the house, led by Mr Hyde, to present its case followed by the White House lawyers' answer to the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Then in a "test vote", the 100 senators would see if there was a twothirds majority in favour of proceeding with a full trial.

If there were not such a majority, there would be another vote by simple majority to bring the trial to a close. Then the Senate could vote on a motion censuring President Clinton for his conduct.

But this plan has now run into difficulty as an increasing number of Republican senators, especially from the conservative bloc, are expressing their dissatisfaction with it. Some of them are insisting that witnesses be called such as Ms Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern with whom Mr Clinton had the affair which has led to his impeachment.

In a letter to Senator Lott, freshman Senator Rod Grams of Minnesota said: "I simply believe we must accept our responsibility to conduct the impeachment trial, followed by a vote to remove or retain the President." He warned against any proposal to "shortcut the procedure" envisaged in the constitution.

Meanwhile, President Clinton is going ahead with the preparations for his State of the Union address to the joint Houses of Congress on January 19th, but his aides have indicated that the address could be postponed for a week or two to allow an expedited trial to take place. The situation will be clearer after the Republican caucus of 55 senators meets today to map out strategy.

The Republican members in the new House of Representatives met yesterday to elect Mr Dennis Hastert as their nominee as the new Speaker of the House. He replaces Mr Bob Livingston who stood down because of extra-marital affairs.