WASHINGTON — Sen. John Edwards, welcome to the Senate.

In what he called a “great honor” the freshman Democrat from North Carolina on Friday was chosen to represent his party in the House prosecutors’ deposition of Monica Lewinsky. Edwards is the youngest of the three Democrats and three Republicans tapped to serve as presiding officers during the testimony of Lewinsky, Clinton confidante Vernon Jordan and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal.

Edwards, who has said little throughout President Clinton’s impeachment trial, was chosen to represent the Democrats along with Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, who have a combined 40-plus years of Senate experience on the former trial lawyer.

The Republicans chosen were Sens. Mike DeWine of Ohio, Fred Thompson of Tennessee and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

One Republican and one Democratic senator will be present at each deposition and will act as presiding officers. Unlike House prosecutors, who also plan to depose Jordan on Tuesday and Blumenthal on Wednesday, Edwards will not be asking questions of Lewinsky. His role is to ensure that judicial procedures are followed during the eight hours of videotaped questioning, which may be provided to all 100 members of the Senate. House prosecutors and Clinton’s lawyers each will have four hours to talk with the former White House intern.

“It came as a complete surprise to me,” Edwards said of his selection by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. “I’m not sure why I was chosen, but I’ve heard that the leadership tried to pick people who would be as fair as possible.”

Edwards said his selection “probably had something to do with” his decision to remain tightlipped throughout the Senate trial. “That, combined with the fact that our role in this case is to be impartial, not to pass judgment.”

Although his reputation as a tenacious trial lawyer in North Carolina helped him defeat incumbent Republican Lauch Faircloth and win election to the Senate last November, Edwards said he doubts his experience at depositions in the past will help him as he embarks on his “historic path.”

“I don’t know how much difference that will make,” said Edwards, who was told Friday afternoon of his selection. “There are lots of lawyers in the Senate, a lot of great legal minds. It’s a tremendous honor.”

In the meantime, Edwards said, he has plenty of weekend reading to do. He will pore over virtually every piece of legal evidence compiled to date on the Lewinsky scandal, including the Starr report, House Judiciary Committee hearings transcripts, and each of the multiple grand jury testimonies Lewinsky and other players in the saga have given. “I intend to be fully ready when I get up Monday morning,” he said.

Herald-Sun, The (Durham, NC) Date: January 30, 1999 Page: A9 Copyright, 1999, The Durham Herald Company