Politics, politics, politics'


The third time around, The People's Panel takes no prisoners. Is a lie just a lie?

October 09, 1998

The People's Panel convened again the other night to talk about the latest developments in L'Affaire Monica, including the party-line vote by the House Judiciary Committee to recommend an impeachment inquiry, which the full House approved yesterday.

Some panel members want President Clinton to leave office. Some want him to stay. Some want him to stay and be punished. Some want him to get therapy. One wants him to get therapy and not tell us about it. We all want the president to come to Baltimore, have a coffee and cookie with us, and talk. (We invited him two weeks ago -- no spin doctors allowed -- but are still waiting by the phone.)

In our third meeting, panelists appeared to become more comfortable with each other, and with speaking their minds. The conversation became quite spirited at times -- but no injuries were reported.

Moderator Dan Rodricks: Well, it looks like we're going to have impeachment hearings. The Republican counsel to the judiciary committee says there's significant, credible evidence that the president lied and took part in an effort to obstruct justice.

Elayne Smith (administrator at a counseling center): He may have obstructed justice, but he was covering himself to avoid being found out about an extramarital affair.

Rabbi Martin Siegel: He was covering himself after not covering himself.

Rodricks: I keep hearing people say -- Bobby Knatz, you said this in previous meetings of this group -- that anyone would lie in that situation.

Bobby Knatz (Democratic precinct pol): Yes, I have said that. We've had many philosophical discussions here. They've been discussions, not debates, and I've enjoyed it. But anyone who doesn't think what's going on in Washington is politics, politics, politics, and anyone who thought the hard-line, Republican-controlled judiciary committee was going to do anything other than keep this moving in an election year is just not realistic. I think the GOP majority is absolutely astounded that, after putting Clinton up against the wall by having his videotaped grand jury testimony released, the reaction was not what they anticipated; it wasn't a coup de grace. In fact, his approval rating increased.

Rodricks: What about the law, Bobby? A lifelong Democrat, David Schippers, the GOP lead counsel to the judiciary committee, came up with this report. Are you going to dismiss everyone who sees wrongdoing by the president as part of a right-wing conspiracy?

Knatz: There is unquestionably a hard-line, far-right in the GOP that is not going to let this thing die. Ken Starr and the far right take no prisoners.

Rodricks: Man, you don't give any ground.

Knatz: I'm not going to, because of Ken Starr. I don't believe

Starr was an unbiased special counsel when he took the job.

Nance Jacobs (medical assistant and teacher): He had three judges supervising him; they could have stepped in at any time and said, "Enough, you're out."

Daniel Myung (certified public accountant): Bobby, the question we should be asking is: Do we allow the president to lie, to get away with perjury? I think the consensus of the American people is yes, that it's OK.

Rodricks: At least in this case, because it involved a sexual relationship.

4 Myung: I don't think he should get away with it.

Smith: Get away with what?

Myung: Perjury, breaking the law.

Smith: He broke the law but ... about what?

Rodricks: Elayne, I have that problem, too. I think a lot of Americans do. But are you going to say to your kid, it's all right to lie about this, but not that?

Smith: No. But this comes down to an extramarital affair that anybody would have lied about.

Myung: He was under oath. Under oath!

Smith (to Myung): You think you wouldn't lie under oath?

Jacobs: No.

Smith (to Jacobs): If you didn't want your spouse to know that you were having an extramarital affair?

Jacobs: No, because if I say, "I swear to God," I am not going to lie.

Smith: That's what you would do.

Dee Herget (screenpainter): OK, Clinton had a sexual affair. Kenneth Starr is going after him hook and nail and Clinton will live with it for the rest of his life, whereas Ms. Lewinsky will be a millionaire.

Rodricks: Dee, get to the legal question. This isn't like we're in the supermarket and we see a headline that says, "Clinton and I had affair, intern says." This was brought into a legal framework.

Herget: We had 14 presidents who had affairs, I just read that somewhere. We all have skeletons in our closet. Chances are we all know someone who had a boyfriend or girlfriend on the side. The morals of this country are not what they used to be.

Myung: But people did not elect us ...

Herget: You want Clinton to be thrown in the stocks and be beaten.

Myung: No.

Rodricks: Daniel's denying that, Dee. I want that noted. He does not want Clinton thrown into the stocks and beaten. ... But you didn't answer about the legal questions.

Herget: He covered it up. You think I wouldn't?

Jacobs: In a court of law?

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