Rushing to judgment on President Clinton not good idea

March 27, 1998

An excerpt from a Friday Chicago Tribune editorial.

IF anything ought to have come by now of the so-called Clinton White House scandals, it should have been a large measure of intellectual humility among all who observe and comment on it. In this episode, one day's gospel truth becomes the next day's discredited rumor.

Never has that been more the case than last week, which began with Kathleen Willey's "60 Minutes" appearance, which left the president looking like political road kill, and ended with Ms. Willey looking like a clumsy hustler who tried to parlay 10 minutes with Mr. Clinton into a lottery jackpot.

Seldom has the admonition taught at Chicago's venerable old City News Bureau seemed more appropriate: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

Gingrich & Co.

So it is especially disturbing to see the House Republicans, under Speaker Newt Gingrich, squabbling about and ramping up for presidential impeachment hearings. To be sure, if credible evidence develops that Mr. Clinton lied under oath or tried to obstruct justice, impeachment proceedings will be in order. But we are not at that point yet, and Mr. Gingrich, by jumping the gun, makes himself and his party look like jackals, eager to feed for their own political gain on what would be a tragedy for the nation, no matter how much Mr. Clinton might deserve it.

Last week Mr. Gingrich suggested he might appoint a special committee to deal with an impeachment, if it came to that. Not surprisingly, Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, bridled at the notion that his panel might be cut out of a proceeding that ordinarily would belong to it.

On Thursday, it was reported that Messrs. Gingrich and Hyde had reached an agreement: A small, bipartisan group of representatives would be dispatched to Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr's offices to assay the nature of the evidence against the president and decide whether there is a basis for impeachment proceedings.

What's the big rush here? Can this be the same Newt Gingrich who less than two weeks ago was reproving Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott for saying Mr. Starr had had enough time and should lay his cards on the table so the country could see what he had?

Fact is, we agree the Starr probe has gone on too long. But he doesn't think so and, as things currently stand, only his opinion counts.

Pub Date: 3/27/98

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