Impeachment diary

A senior U.S. Senate aide writes about the coming impeachment debacle.

By Anonymous
January 8, 1999 1:00AM (UTC)
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From time to time during the impeachment trial, Salon will publish this impeachment diary by a senior aide to a U.S. senator who must remain anonymous.

Tuesday, Jan. 5

8 a.m.: Talk till you die

My boss gets a call from Sen. X, a well-known windbag who is pretending he has the clout to work a deal. Sen. X expounds on the virtues and history of the Senate, the chamber of honor and caution, aka the "talk till you die and still do nothing" chamber. Everybody knows that two-thirds of the Senate will not vote to remove the president. But in time-honored Senate tradition, we're going to talk about it until we bore to death every voter in America.


Sen. X, though, holds out some hope that right-thinking men like he and my boss can work out a deal to spare the country death-by-impeachment. Conversations like this are taking place all over the Senate. Sens. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., came up with a workable compromise to shorten a trial to just a few days and then have a preliminary vote to see, even if all the charges were proven, if there were enough votes to remove the president. If not, we'd move to a quick censure deal.

But by early Tuesday it was clear that the Gorton-Lieberman deal would die, leaving the field open for new heroes. Sen. X, like many others, thinks he could be just the man to make a deal. Would we look at a deal? Of course. Senators are always interested in making a deal, especially if they can get something in return for the effort -- like a bridge or a new highway project. Don't laugh; every time there's a close vote, Clinton's allies dole out the pork. If this vote ever looks close, the potential for pork is there. But not today.

9:45 a.m.: Goodbye reason and quick justice


We turn on CNN to watch Phil Gramm of Texas put the nail in the coffin of the Gorton-Lieberman deal, which was far too sane and rational for these proceedings. No, Gramm promised, he and others would not allow a truncated trial, nor an early vote to determine whether to proceed with a full trial. Gramm, in the finest Senate tradition, vows to ensure the proceedings will go long enough to let each senator give America the full glory of his thoughts and questions.

11 a.m.: Impartial justice? From whom?

"I solemnly swear that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of President Clinton, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help me God."


We get the exact language each senator will utter as the Chief Justice swears them in as trial jurors. We laugh about "impartial justice." Is anyone in Congress impartial? Are they going to lie under oath? And doesn't the fact that 100 senators take an oath they know to be untrue make them perjurers? Does that mean we'll have to face 100 more impeachment trials?

The staff spends time deciding which two senators deserve impeachment first -- just to shut them up. We immediately resolve to start with Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and Rick Santorum, R-Penn. C-SPAN, still trying to recover from losing Al D'Amato and Dale Bumpers in one year, might shut down from lack of news if Wellstone and Santorum's rambling, impassioned speeches suddenly ceased.


1:30 p.m.: We love poll results

I go to another office to hear the results of a poll that told us what swing voters in key states want to see and hear from their elected officials. In essence, someone paid $20,000 to find out that people want us to shut up immediately -- which everybody already knew.

But the poll answered such important questions as how many voters want the evidence fully debated, what percentage wants the juicy details and what percentage wants the whole thing to go away now. I'm told that most respondents favor a senator who appears impartial and wants to hear the evidence. A high percentage wants a senator to be a leader in finding a compromise. Most voters want Clinton to face some kind of sanction, but most don't want him removed. We discuss at great length the public positioning of senators and how it is crucial they appear impartial, serious and steadfastly committed to doing the work of the people. This is a lot of homework for supposed "impartial" jurors who have all probably long ago decided how to vote.


3:30 p.m.: Spin session

Senior staff meet to decide our senator's strategy. We adopt words like "thoughtful, considerate and determined" to guide our talking points. We strive to show that we take this entire deliberation very seriously, and really, really want to get back to helping average Americans. As for the trial, we decide to "look at the facts and then make a decision." We discuss the very tiny problem that our senator went all over the place during the House debate telling anyone who'd listen exactly what he thought in advance. We decide not to worry about this, remembering that no one remembers anything, anyway.

5:15 p.m. Press and beers


After ducking press calls, we adjourn for beers, hoping to run into some leadership staff who can tell us what the hell is going on.

Wednesday, Jan. 6

All day: Free food

Feast today, the slaughter starts tomorrow. Today was a day to celebrate the new arrivals and the victorious incumbents. All 33 senators who won elections in November got sworn in by Vice President Al Gore. As he says "congratulations" to each Democrat, his smile reminds them: "You owe me." And to each Republican, he serves as a reminder that removing the president gives Gore the Oval Office to run from.


The chief justice will swear in the "jurors" Thursday. Trent Lott and Tom Daschle spent today announcing that tomorrow they would announce "the plan." It looks like nothing will start for real until Monday or Tuesday.

We spend the day surfing the inaugural parties. Doesn't matter the senator's political persuasion: The food is all good. At every party someone is hatching a new idea to get us out of this mess. Now, if we could just get the lobbyists to shut up and stop eating all the food their PAC dollars bought.


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Bill Clinton Joe Lieberman