WASHINGTON -- Conceding witnesses "may be inevitable," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle signaled Monday that if Senate Republicans choose to have live testimony at President Clinton's impeachment trial, Democrats might object to placing limits on who can be summoned.
"Who are we to tell either the House or the White House how they're going to run their case?" Daschle asked in an interview with The Associated Press.Daschle said he continues to believe witnesses are unnecessary but acknowledged the political momentum was moving toward having some witnesses.
"We do have the right to say no witnesses; the Supreme Court says that every day. But once we say we have to have witnesses, then it seems to me we've given up the ability to tell the House or White House how to present their case," he said.
White House lawyers were busy Monday putting the final touches on their opening arguments, set to begin when the trial resumes Tuesday. The presentation is to take three days, after which senators will have 16 hours over two days to ask questions of both sides through Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
House prosecutors wrapped up their opening arguments over the weekend, asserting that Clinton should be removed from office for perjury and obstruction of justice because he had "violated the public trust."
Senate officials said Majority Leader Trent Lott and Daschle have agreed on the format for the questioning by the senators. The 16 hours will be equally divided between Republicans and Democrats but will switch back and forth be- tween the two sides every two hours.
The questions will be gone over by each caucus to avoid at least some repetition. Before each question, Rehnquist is expected to name the senator who wanted it asked, Senate officials said.
Democrats continue to press for censure, insisting the 67 votes don't exist in the Senate to remove Clinton from office.
One of the House members prosecuting the case, Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., said Monday nothing should be considered a foregone conclusion. He defended the decision not to call witnesses before the House impeached Clinton but said the Senate has a different role. "If the president wanted to call witnesses in the Senate, certainly he would be permitted to do so, and the House (prosecutors) should have that prerogative as well," he said on NBC's "Today."
Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, also on NBC, said the Senate should have no qualms about consulting public opinion polls when considering Clinton's fate -- just as it would if it were passing a tax bill. "That's why the Founding Fathers selected the politicians and not the Supreme Court" to try impeachment charges against a president, Cuomo said.
Most polls show strong support for keeping Clinton in office.
Clinton's lawyers open their defense Tuesday and will insist that the allegations against the president aren't supported by the facts and don't warrant nullifying a national election, White House spokesman Jim Kennedy said Sunday.
"We will also point out the significant holes in the presentation by the House of Representatives managers as well as their misleading and overreaching characterizations of the evidence and testimony," he added.
Tuesday night, with the trial recessed, senators will proceed to the House chamber to hear Clinton deliver his annual State of the Union address. "Quite frankly, I'd rather go to the dentist," Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, said on ABC's "This Week."
Last week, "you heard what some might call good old street attorneys make one very strong case," Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said of the 13 House lawmakers who presented the case against Clinton. This week, "you're going to have the best attorneys money can buy make another probably very strong case," he said on "Fox News Sunday."
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, expressing an apparent consensus among Republicans, told NBC's "Meet the Press" that it would be "pretty tough under these circumstances not to have witnesses."
But Democrats warned that the trial could be stretched interminably if both sides began calling witnesses and said they would contribute to that process by seeking testimony from such people as Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and informant Linda Tripp.
"If I'm any reader of the tea leaves in this situation, front and center is going to be Kenneth Starr," Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "We will go through prosecutorial abuse, how he came by information, who he talked to, and we're going to put the system of justice on trial."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., suggested on ABC that witnesses could not add to the volumes of existing testimony. "Be real. This is not Perry Mason."
But Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on CBS that "we are not going to let this spin out of control. The Senate controls the witnesses." Republicans control the Senate, 55-45, and only a simple majority vote is required to call individual witnesses.