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Wednesday, January 27, 1999 Published at 23:37 GMT

Vote to call witnesses

Monica Lewinsky: Called to testify

The US Senate has refused to dismiss impeachment charges against President Bill Clinton, voting instead to call witnesses to testify at his trial.

The trial of the president
The Senate voted by 56 to 44 to issue subpoenas to three witnesses - including former White House worker Monica Lewinsky.

Before voting on witnesses, the senators decided by the same margin against a Democrat motion to dismiss the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice

The BBC's Stephen Sackur in Washington: "The President knows the battle is far from over"
Both votes were along party lines with a single exception - Wisconsin Democrat Russell Feingold who voted with Republicans.

Though the Democrats lost, they pointed out that the votes showed the two-thirds majority of 67 votes needed to remove President Clinton from office is not there.

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"Forty-four senators have now voted to dismiss the articles of impeachment. The president will not be removed from office," Senate Democrat Leader Tom Daschle said after the vote.

"For the good of the country and keeping with the constitution, it is now time to end this trial. It is time to move on," Mr Daschle said.

The Republicans have come up with a new proposal which they say could complete the hearing by the end of next week.

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Under a draft outline of the deal, the three witnesses would be questioned over the weekend.

Testimony would be videotaped during a series of private interviews in the presence of one senator from each party. Witnesses would be questioned only on matters of factual dispute.

A decision on whether to cross-question witnesses would be subject to a separate vote next week after senators had reviewed their evidence.

Tom Daschle: "The president will not be removed from office"
Such an agreement could see a final vote on impeachment concluded by the end of next week.

The Senate is due to reconvene at 1300 local time (1800 GMT) on Thursday.

Trent Lott: "We'll have these depositions and we'll see what the witnesees have to say"
"I think at the moment everybody understands that we're going to the subpoenas and depositions of these three witnesses. We'll need to see what that reveals," said Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott.

"Then everybody will have a chance to read it and decide what to do," Mr Lott said.

Mr Daschle said earlier he was "optimistic" that a compromise on the proceedings could be reached.

The witnesses

On Tuesday, the Republican prosecutors cut down the witness list to three:

  • Monica Lewinsky, whose affair with the president sparked the allegations which have led to him being charged with perjury and obstruction of justice
  • Vernon Jordan, Mr Clinton's friend who is said to have secured a job for Ms Lewinsky in return for her silence
  • Sidney Blumenthal, a White House aide to whom Mr Clinton initially denied having had an affair with Ms Lewinsky

The prosecutors also wanted President Clinton to give evidence, but the White House is likely to resist this.

The prosecutors trimmed the list of possible witnesses down from a possible 15, at the request of Republican senators who feared for the political consequences of lengthening a trial which is already very unpopular with the American public.

A poll on Tuesday indicated that two-thirds of Americans want the trial ended immediately.

Limiting the number of witnesses has helped the Republicans win back the support of some doubting senators, who feared that a prolonged trial would cost the party further public support.

Tough decision for White House

Press Secretary Joe Lockhart said the White House was concerned that Republicans were trying to "put a blindfold on us" with an accelerated plan to end the trial without defence witnesses.

"The country wants this over ... As we move forward here, the country will understand that this trial belongs to the Senate Republicans and the Republican House managers and that they alone are responsible for extending this process," Mr Lockhart said.

BBC Washington Correspondent Philippa Thomas says the president's team might consider calling witnesses - perhaps Linda Tripp or even Kenneth Starr - to support the argument that the investigation that led to Mr Clinton's impeachment was politically motivated.

But in doing so, the White House would run the same political risk as the Republicans in prolonging the trial.

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