Fight Ends in Failure, Questions
Mary Jacobs and David Dahl
St. Petersburg Times, Saturday, February 13, 1999
© Copyright 1999 St. Petersburg Times
-- They've endured months of snarling partisan combat, jokes about
their competence and stinging revelations about their sex lives.
What kept them going, the House Republican prosecutors of President
Clinton insisted, was their conviction they were fighting for
truth and justice.
even this last shred of comfort was ripped from them Friday when
the Senate rejected their perjury and obstruction-of-justice case.
The GOP-led Senate failed to muster even a simple majority for
the two impeachment articles, much less the two-thirds vote required
by the Constitution to remove a president from office.
the House prosecutors, it was the final indignity, a rebuke for
history. And with it, the "13 angry men," as the managers
of the four-week Senate impeachment trial became known, slinked
off stage, some with battered reputations, all with wounds to
lick. "I have gone through it all by your side: the
media condemnation, the patronizing editorials, the hate mail,
the insults hurled in public, the attempts at intimidation,"
Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde told his team.
with the curtains drawn on impeachment, the House managers, including
Florida Reps. Charles Canady and Bill McCollum, have begun to
take stock. There were missteps, sure. But most agreed they could
not have won, no matter what.
not at all clear there's anything we could have done that would
have changed the ultimate outcome," Canady said after Friday's
vote. The Senate "was driven by the high popularity numbers
the president enjoys."
Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.: "There will be post mortems,
but not from . . . House managers." Privately,
however, there has been grumbling: about the unwieldy size of
the group, which made it difficult to focus the argument. About
miscommunications and ego-driven jockeying among the House managers
in this most high-profile assignment of their careers.
Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, reserved his most bitter comments for Senate
Democrats. "They had their minds made up, despite
the fact they took an oath to do impartial justice," Chabot
so. But the unavoidable question for the House managers is this:
How did they also manage to lose so many Senate Republicans along
explanation, managers said, is Hyde. He doesn't like to say no,
and so the prosecution team swelled to a clumsy 13. The result
was predictable, given congressional egos. Every one of the 13
paraded before the cameras for opening and closing statements,
regardless of their ability to illuminate or interest.
senators, required to sit quietly through all the speeches, the
trial became a test of endurance. "They ramble so!"
moaned Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. Later, senatorial impatience
contributed to a bipartisan rejection of the managers' drive to
extend the trial with witnesses.
for one, said he advised Hyde to cut the number of prosecutors
in half. "I think normally in an impeachment trial it would
have been better to have fewer than 13 managers," the Lakeland
Republican said in an interview. "I think with six or seven
managers you have the opportunity for more focus and have a little
bit less repetition." Unwilling to offend, Hyde kept
the number at 13.
though, a handful of managers drove the process. Most were members
of the "fact group," the subcommittee responsible for
nailing down the details of Clinton's alleged perjury and obstruction
maneuvering for membership in this high-profile group was intense.
Originally, Hyde appointed two former U.S. attorneys --
Reps. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., and Ed Bryant, R-Tenn. -- along
with an ex-judge, California Rep. James Rogan.
controversial Georgia Rep. Bob Barr got wind of Hyde's decision,
he lobbied the chairman to include him, too. Barr is a red-meat
conservative who had called for Clinton's impeachment in 1997,
back when it was dismissed as a crackpot idea. He told Hyde that
he was a former U.S. attorney, too, and thus should be included.
Hyde didn't say no, and Barr was on the team, despite other managers'
misgivings. He was flamboyant and had recently admitted
to appearing before the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group
with white supremacist beliefs. Barr insisted he did not
know the group's background. But another shoe was about to drop.
Hustler publisher Larry Flynt had an affidavit from Barr's ex-wife,
saying her former husband, who opposes abortion, had encouraged
her to terminate a pregnancy. Clearly, Barr had to go. Republicans
already had been hit with too many sex scandals, including revelations
of Hyde's own affair 30 years ago. The chairman moved swiftly,
replacing Barr with Bill McCollum shortly before Flynt's Jan.
11 expose. Barr was upset by his demotion, McCollum said:
"I knew he was disappointed. That was not what he wanted.
I sat with him and talked, and told him I had had no knowledge
of it but for an hour or so, maybe two hours of his (Barr's) learning
of it." In an interview, Barr declined to comment on
his demotion. "Probably all of us would have liked to do
more," he said. "I would have liked to do more."
not a sentiment shared by weary senators, especially openly scornful
Democrats. "The House managers -- with the exception
of Hutchinson and in more general terms, Hyde -- have been very
inept," said Rockefeller, the West Virginian.
House managers, Hutchinson emerged as the only true star. A former
Arkansas Republican Party chairman and the younger brother of
Sen. Tim Hutchinson, R-Ark., Hutchinson laid out a compelling
time-line of presidential pal Vernon Jordan's efforts to obtain
a New York job for Lewinsky after the Jones lawyers subpoenaed
her. "A few have displayed real rhetorical skills:
Lindsey Graham and Asa Hutchinson," conceded Sen. Robert
Torricelli, D-N.J. Graham, in his South Carolina up-country
twang, made a compelling speech comparing the House prosecutors'
work to the great civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Though
Democrats and many Republicans later scoffed, they were at least
fared less well. His House colleagues winced when he repeated
several times the words "breast" and "genitalia,"
(or, gen-i-TEE-lia, as McCollum carefully enunciated) during a
Jan. 15 speech. But while the Orlando-area Republican wasn't
a hit as a public speaker, he was working behind the scenes on
another important area: securing an interview with Lewinsky herself.
McCollum's machinations took place as Hyde and Democrats battled
over whether witnesses would testify.
managers pleaded that without them, the trial was just a sham.
But Senate Republicans, afraid witnesses would become an embarrassing
spectacle, resisted. Friction with their House counterparts grew
after presidential attorney David Kendall hammered the managers
on the Senate floor Jan. 26.
ridiculed the prosecutors for not having called witnesses when
they had the chance to do it last November and December while
the House debated whether to impeach.
public battle over the direction of the trial could have been
much worse. Behind the scenes, Hutchinson beat back attempts by
Graham and Rogan to expand the investigation into charges of intimidation
against women who had come forward with stories damaging to Clinton.
three met in Rogan's Capitol Hill office with former White House
aide Kathleen Willey, who said Clinton had groped her. The Arkansan
also flew home to meet with another woman, Juanita Broaddrick,
who claimed Clinton had raped her 20 years ago, and then recanted.
Hutchinson concluded there was not enough solid evidence to introduce
a new and potentially explosive line of inquiry so late in the
game. "We made the right decision," Hutchinson
the same time, McCollum worked quietly to obtain an informal interview
with Lewinsky as a prelude to deposing her. For help, he
pressed Hyde's chief investigative counsel David Schippers into
service. Schippers, a shoot-from-the-hip former Chicago
prosecutor, did not tell Hutchinson or other key managers of his
work for McCollum. Several learned of the efforts in the
newspaper, when they read that Hyde sent a letter to independent
counsel Kenneth Starr seeking his help in gaining access to Lewinsky.
Several managers blamed Schippers for the blind-side blow, and
for a resulting barrage of criticism from Democrats who claimed
the House members were sneaking access to Lewinsky behind their
backs. McCollum, however, said he was the real force behind
the drive to meet Lewinsky. "I initiated the meeting.
I did it initially by pressing Mr. Schippers to try to get her
attorneys to see to it. When that was not successful, I personally
got on the phone" with Lewinsky lawyer Jacob Stein.
Of the letter to Starr? McCollum seemed surprised to hear it was
controversial. "It was an open secret," he said.
24, McCollum, Bryant, and Hutchinson met with Lewinsky in the
presidential suite of the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington.
His colleagues wore sweaters and slacks to the Sunday meeting.
McCollum dressed more formally, in sports coat and tie.
"I don't want to wrinkle your shirt," Lewinsky coolly
House managers took Lewinsky's deposition Feb. 1. Bryant conducted
the questioning, fumbling over discussions of her intimacies with
Clinton. Lewinsky seemed to be in control, often responding
to questions with her own question.
won praise for his skillful deposing of Jordan, and Rogan fared
well with White House aide Sidney Blumenthal, but it all had the
feeling of a Hail Mary pass. Indeed, when Friday's vote
came, the only suspense was how many Senate Republicans would
abandon their House brethren.
jumped ship on the first impeachment article, charging Clinton
with lying before a grand jury. Five bailed on the second article,
obstruction of justice.
Hyde, whose stewardship of the failed impeachment trial will headline
his obituary, held a news conference in the House Judiciary Committee
hearing room. A reporter asked how it felt to have an otherwise
distinguished quarter-century career in Congress defined by this
failure. "I hope to slay many more dragons," the
74-year-old Hyde answered hopefully. But his stooped frame and
sagging eyes suggested Clinton had worn him out.