A royal flush

August 22, 1994|By Andrew J. Glass

Washington -- THE SIXTH-grade teacher told her class that the best writing often takes in four major spheres of life: religion, royalty, mystery and sex. She asked her pupils to write essays that used all those elements.

Freddie finished first. He wrote: " 'Good God,' said the Queen. 'Pregnant again? I wonder who did it?' "

It could be said that President Clinton covered three of the four spheres when his attorneys went to court to argue that the Constitution protects him from being sued for damages while in office.

The Clinton brief traces its lineage to the credo of the Stuart monarchs that "the king can do no wrong." This was an ancient doctrine that finally begot a revolution -- ours.

Presidents, our forebears held, were not kings. When in 1807 Mr. Clinton's namesake, Thomas Jefferson, was served a subpoena in the treason trial of Aaron Burr, he subjected himself to the

judicial process just like the next guy.

So much for royalty. Mystery and sex enter into it because a former Arkansas state employee, Paula Jones, sued Mr. Clinton, claiming he asked her to perform a sex act in a Little Rock hotel room a few years before he moved to Washington. Mr. Clinton, saying he can't remember any such thing, wants the court to quash the lawsuit.

To be sure, the Clintonian stab at immunity is, in reality, a legal ploy aimed at putting the Jones case on the back burner via years of appeals in the federal courts. Yet the recent 20th anniversary of President Richard Nixon's abrupt departure from the White House -- to avoid impeachment and a Senate trial -- serves as a handy benchmark for looking at the issue.

The judge in the case might ask Mr. Clinton's lawyer, Robert Bennett, whether he thinks the vice president similarly merits the right to avoid pesky legal distractions. After all, should not Al Gore be free to reinvent government and build infobahns for the new century?

And what about Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who is also very busy seeking to bring peace to the Middle East? Doesn't he deserve a pass as well?

Actually, there's a firebreak to the immunity flame to be found with Henry Cisneros, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He has been sued by a former mayoral aide with whom he had an affair on the grounds that he promised to pay her $4,000 a month after their affair had ended.

Mr. Cisneros says he is "ashamed and embarrassed" by his past conduct. While he claims the lawsuit has no merit, he does not claim he should not be sued because he is too busy seeking to save America's cities from ruin.

Is the White House a different kind of place from where the Clinton cabinet folks hang out? That's what Doris Kearns Goodwin holds in a new biography of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. An excerpt has run in The New Yorker.

The historian recounts in detail the rather bizarre living and sexual arrangements in the FDR household as the nation girded for war in 1941. The message is that, despite all of that stuff, the Roosevelts made their marriage work, and that the press, which knew about the hanky-panky, looked the other way.

But you have to wonder if the message to the refined New Yorker in-crowd is: For God's sake, give the Clintons a break.

Andrew J. Glass is chief of the Cox Newspapers Washington bureau.

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