Starr report contains less than was promised Scandal: Clinton embarrassed himself and nation, as did the independent counsel.

September 12, 1998

KENNETH Starr's much-anticipated report tells, with more salacious detail, what the American people already knew. It confirms that the leaks were accurate while many of the rumors were not. The nation is embarrassed, President Clinton is diminished. But at first reading, the test of impeachable crimes is not met.

The massive dissemination of this report is the greatest exercise in history of mass prurience, character assassination, participatory democracy and lawmakers' sincere quest for guidance -- all in one. This newspaper is disgusted, proud and excited -- all at once -- to be part of it. At bottom, there is no doubt about our role. It is what we are for.

The U. S. House of Representatives must decide whether this scandal is worth pursuing in a full hearing on impeachment. Right now, there is little reason to think so.

Only the House can decide if Mr. Starr's 11 possible grounds for impeachment -- whether illegal or just disgusting -- constitute high crimes and misdemeanors in the meaning of the Constitution. To plunge the nation into such distraction, the members must be certain that this report is not at bottom, like a celebrated television comedy, about nothing.

The report tells of a furtive relationship between President Clinton and the intern Monica Lewinsky, including several sexual encounters. However dismal, these were not crimes warranting investigation.

It alleges that Mr. Clinton committed perjury by denying this relationship in Paula Corbin Jones' lawsuit against him, triggering investigation.

Would anyone else be prosecuted for perjury in a civil lawsuit that did not come to trial? Doubtful.

The report then alleges that Mr. Clinton went to illegal lengths to hide that cover-up from Mr. Starr's grand jury. The Starr investigation, in the end, was about itself.

To say that members of Congress are watching the polls is understatement. They want to do what the people think is right. Most people are disgusted. But are they more disgusted with Mr. Clinton, with Mr. Starr, with all the politics and endless babble or with the media itself?

Was this a private matter, a mere scandal that should never have been officially investigated? Or did the president's indignities constitute high crimes and misdemeanors?

Even if such matters should never have been made public, they can't be made private again. That is the harm Mr. Starr did.

The investigation weakened the nation without approaching grounds for impeachment. It contains nothing that was not generally known when the American people told pollsters that they wanted all this to go away.

Pub Date: 9/12/98

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