Today's Papers

Witless for the Prosecution

Everybody leads with the emerging ground rules for the Senate impeachment trial that starts today. The headlines emphasize various aspects of what’s in the works. The Washington Post big print stresses the likelihood of live testimony, particularly that of Monica Lewinsky. The New York Times headline dwells on the probability of a “full trial” leading to a vote on the two articles of impeachment. The Los Angeles Times header says the new Congress is in “turmoil” and claims that the trial may “eclipse all public business.” And the USA Today headline says a short trial is unlikely.

According to the papers, what is emerging from yesterday’s full shift of Senate pre-trial conferences is a trial of some weeks’ length that will lead not to a censure vote, but to an up or down vote on the specific charges the House brought against Bill Clinton, perjury before a grand jury and obstruction of justice. A trial that will probably include live witnesses. As the papers went to bed, the witness question remained unresolved, but indications are that a list of between 8 and 15 persons to be subpoenaed will be approved.

But apparently the procedural discussions are far from over. For instance, the WP reports that the White House or Senate Democrats might start out the trial by offering a motion to dismiss, requiring only a simple majority to prevail. The paper also observes that if the House trial managers get to call live witnesses, the White House may want to do so as well, with Linda Tripp and Lucianne Goldberg the most likely candidates. The Wall Street Journal also makes this point, but quotes Sen. Christopher Dodd saying that once the door is open to calling witnesses, the danger is that the Senate yields control of the proceedings to the White House and the House GOP. The NYT reports that Clinton’s lawyers have offered to stipulate to certain evidence in return for an abbreviated trial. No word on which evidence, though. The Post says the president’s strategists believe the witnesses likely to be called–Monica Lewinsky, Vernon Jordan, and Betty Currie–may not be that problematic because none is hostile to Clinton. But the NYT quotes a spokesman for Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle saying, “Our position continues to be no witnesses.” On the other hand, USAT reports that the 55 Senate Republicans met Wednesday night and voted for witnesses by a 4-1 margin.

A big story that broke in yesterday’s WP and Boston Globe was inadvertently omitted from yesterday’s TP (without getting too specific, let’s just say it had something to do with either a faulty T1 line/browser interface or too much wine with dinner): namely that UN weapons inspectors in Iraq had in fact been doing something that Saddam Hussein had long accused them of– providing the U.S. government with intelligence information not related to their assigned task. Today’s Post reports that in response, Clinton administration officials acknowledge that the U.S. had received intel from the inspectors, but that this was only a “byproduct” of their inspection chores. The NYT has U.S. officials saying something stronger: that American spies worked undercover on the UN teams. The WSJ gives chase too, reporting that UN inspectors employed a sophisticated eavesdropping device that automatically transmitted signals from Saddam Hussein’s communications network to the U.S. National Security Agency. The deal, says the paper, was that the inspectors did this in return for getting worked-up information back from the NSA relevant to where and how Iraq was hiding evidence of its weapons programs. The Post reports that the head UN weapons inspector, Richard Butler, has issued a blanket denial of the spying charges.

In the WSJ’s other bit of detailed intelligence reporting for the day, the paper claims that China received secret design information for the most modern U.S. nuclear warhead, the one that sits atop the submarine-launched Trident II ICBM, and that U.S. officials suspect an American scientist working at a Department of Energy lab. The incident occurred in the mid-1980s and was only discovered in 1995. The FBI is still investigating. There is debate about what China has done with the purloined information, but, says the Journal, in the mid-nineties, it did test a warhead similar to the Trident’s.

A WSJ headline proclaims that “Disney CEO Eisner’s Bonus Was Cut Nearly 50% Due to Mediocre Earnings.” But in the second paragraph the reader learns this means Eisner received a 1998 bonus of $5 million. That’ll teach him.