No grounds are shown for an impeachment Vote needed: Based on evidence and Starr report, House committee should reject an inquiry.

September 27, 1998

NOTHING produced by the Starr report or the subsequent deluge of evidence and testimony comes within the historic understanding of grounds for impeachment of the president.

That need not stop the House of Representatives from reinterpreting the Constitution for the next century. But should the House expand the meaning to lesser and private misdeeds, it would drastically reduce the four-year presidential term to four years pending good behavior in the eyes of one's enemies.

Politics would be redefined around "gotcha"-style investigations for all office-holders to come.

Rep. Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, assures the people that he -- and not Speaker Newt Gingrich -- is in charge of the process, and that the committee will decide Oct. 5 or 6 whether to recommend an impeachment inquiry to the whole House.

Mr. Hyde's committee has already incurred public disapproval by releasing secret grand jury testimony to public prurience. Now it is deciding how much more to publish.

What the committee should do on Oct. 5 is vote against an impeachment inquiry. The charges in the Starr referral, if true, fail to approach what the framers of the Constitution meant by "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

The president has, indeed, let down his countrymen with his deplorable behavior. His ability to govern is questioned. Should he resign? No -- based on what we know now, and on respect for stability of constitutional institutions.

The framers rejected a system in which the prime minister governs at the pleasure of a majority in parliament. The framers did not want presidents hounded from office.

Serving out the four-year term is not the president's entitlement, but his duty. Every member of Congress, having a comparable duty, knows it.

The current paralysis of Congress and the White House on crucial issues, the leading rationale for demanding Mr. Clinton's resignation, would subside upon rejection of an impeachment inquiry. Official Washington could then resume its business.

That might include a congressional resolution of reprimand or censure without any bargaining by the White House. Mr. Clinton's lawyers need have no say.

As the nation digests the outpouring of report, testimony and evidence, it is clear that Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr failed to find the crimes he was empowered to seek. The more he labored, the more the substance of his inquiry shrank.

To distract from that shrinkage, he reported unnecessarily graphic sexual material, as if to convince the jury pool of the American people that Mr. Clinton is a bad person. Publishing the grand jury testimony -- mocking the essence of a grand jury -- Mr. Hyde's House Judiciary Committee did the same thing. This tactic worked, to some considerable extent.

The principal accusation that vanished before Mr. Starr's eyes was that President Clinton and Vernon Jordan had suborned Monica Lewinsky to perjure. Ms. Lewinsky swore to the grand jury that they had not.

Everything else Mr. Starr released was premised on her truthfulness before the grand jury. He ignored this allegation in .. his 11 possible grounds for impeachment, though it had been bruited as the rationale for expanding his inquiry.

Similarly, the allegation of presidential groping of Kathleen Willey -- the most serious charge of personal misconduct -- appears to have vanished as her credibility receded. Mr. Clinton's flat denial in grand jury testimony was not contested by Mr. Starr.

The most discussed charge now is that Mr. Clinton may have lied to the grand jury when denying that he had lied in a civil lawsuit that never came to trial about something that was not a crime.

Mr. Clinton's wordplay is too lawyerly by half; so is that of anyone who tries to build this -- if true -- into a high crime deserving removal from office under the Constitution.

Mr. Starr spent four years investigating the alleged misdeeds known as Whitewater, Travelgate and Filegate without referring any to the House Judiciary Committee as substantial and credible evidence of possible grounds for impeachment.

Barring a further referral, revival of credibility of the Willey allegation or a whole new scandal, the conclusion must be that Mr. Starr gave all this his best shot. The House Judiciary Committee and the whole House should quickly see that it was not enough.

Pub Date: 9/27/98

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