Distracted White House Sex scandal: Staffers are too busy for presidential and state concerns.

March 19, 1998

A BIZARRE casualty of the rolling scandal over President Clinton's alleged amorous adventures is the Supreme Court's reputation for predictive accuracy.

Last spring, it decided unanimously in the Paula Corbin Jones case that her suit against the president would not be delayed, because little likelihood existed that it would impose an unacceptable burden on the president's time and energy or impair his performance in office. Ouch.

Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for eight of the nine justices, rejected "the argument that the potential burdens on the president violate separation of powers principles. Other than the fact that a trial may consume some of the president's time and attention, there is nothing in the record to enable a judge to assess the potential harm that may ensue from scheduling the trial promptly."

He brushed away "the risk that our decision will generate a large volume of politically motivated harassing and frivolous litigation, and the danger that national security concerns might prevent the president from explaining a legitimate need for a continuance. We are not persuaded that either of these risks is serious."

As the scandal progresses, it consumes the time of White House staff, devoting more attention to Kathleen Willey than Saddam Hussein. What the justices could not know in May was the synergy between the Jones lawsuit and independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's criminal hunting expedition. What they did not consider was the inescapable battle for public opinion when impeachment proceedings loom. This has the White House releasing Mrs. Willey's supplicatory letters to Mr. Clinton to refute her.

There are no good guys in this struggle, no winners. The nation's dignity and its leaders' focus on matters of state are being compromised, which makes all Americans likely losers.

Pub Date: 3/19/98

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