Months of sleaze

Interview with Tom Daschle: Monica Lewinsky's return to Washington could herald months of sleaze in the Senate.


Jeff Stein
January 26, 1999 1:00AM (UTC)

Tired of sleaze?

Get used to it, says Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. Monica Lewinsky's uproarious return to Washington to be interviewed Sunday by House managers opens the floodgates to months more testimony on presidential sex and the meaning of "is," the South Dakota Democrat said.

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Lewinsky returned Saturday at the demand of House Republicans managing the impeachment trial of President Clinton, setting off a media firestorm and scuttling the prospect of a swift end to the proceedings, which seemed to be at hand only a day before.

Daschle, venting uncustomary anger, denounced the summons of Lewinsky, aided by the last-minute intervention of independent counsel Kenneth Starr, and predicted it would "backfire" on the Republicans. Neither side has the votes to win its case decisively now, he said.

"This new development is just an incredible demonstration of raw partisanship on the part of the House," Daschle told Salon Saturday night as TV pictures of Lewinsky, eyes downcast and wearing a baseball cap in a shouting mob of reporters and camera crews, flashed across the screen.

"I don't know how it's going to play out," Daschle said, "but when the American people see CNN pictures of Monica Lewinsky being dragged in to testify with bodyguards around her just to protect her -- that's not a pretty sight, and I think the American people are going to be pretty unhappy."

Daschle said the Republicans were jumping off a cliff in their rabid pursuit of the president against their own self-interest..

"They don't get it. They can't help themselves. They have so much venomous hatred towards the president that they're on this path of self-destruction that will lead them ultimately, I think, to an extraordinary demise," Daschle said. "I think that it's clear that they're just on this path that they can't get off."

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The Democrats will not let the Republicans get away with a quick
dog-and-pony show if they call Lewinsky and other potential witnesses, such as
presidential
secretary Betty Currie, Clinton friend Vernon Jordan and other alleged
Clinton paramours, Daschle said. If the Republicans insist on taking
depositions from witnesses, he said, the Democrats will insist on cross-examining them, which will open the doors to months more of "ugly"
proceedings.

"The Republicans would like to bring in Monica rather quickly and ask a
few
questions just so they can say, 'We did it,' and then get on with it. But I
don't
think it's that simple," he said. Could White House lawyers feel compelled
to
pursue Lewinsky's past flings, such as the one alleged by her former
college
professor? "Yes, that's right," Daschle said.

A proposal by veteran West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd to dismiss the
charges against Clinton, widely heralded on Friday, especially when
television
evangelist Pat Robertson declared the impeachment effort "over," would
fail
at present, Daschle also said. But Republicans still don't have 67 votes to
convict him.

"Things are incredibly fluid and volatile right now. I think they're
volatile in part because sides are hardening, and ... because sides are
hardening, I'm not sure whether we have any real prospect of bringing
people over." Solutions to the deadlock are being kicked around by "little cabals of
senators," he said, with none currently gaining momentum. He predicted the
Senate would vote on the issues of deposing witnesses and dismissing the
charges Monday.

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"I would say there's a 70 percent chance right now that we're going to
have a vote on dismissal and a vote on witnesses, and I don't know what will
happen. My guess is that dismissal will fail and the vote to depose
witnesses will succeed. "

Then what?

"If we go down the witnesses road, this thing is going to take a while,"
Daschle said, his voice thick with regret. "We're gonna fight to protect the
rights of the White House to ensure that they can take full advantage of
discovery, and to have the period that will be required for them to prepare
for whomever they bring [as witnesses]."

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How long will impeachment drag on? "[Presidential lawyer David] Kendall
said months, and I don't think that's an exaggeration," Daschle said.


Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the coauthor, with Khidhir Hamza, of "Saddam's Bombmaker: The Daring Escape of the Man Who Built Iraq's Secret Weapon." He writes frequently for Salon on national security issues from Washington.

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Bill Clinton

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