All show, little trial

Senate votes: Compromise among Republicans makes no legal or constitutional sense.

January 28, 1999

HAVING Monica Lewinsky, Vernon Jordan and Sidney Blumenthal deposed on videotape by House managers and White House lawyers falls short of the dozen witnesses that House managers said they needed to prove President Clinton guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice.

But the same decision by the Senate prevents the White House from mounting anything resembling a defense in a criminal trial. It allows no cross-examination of witnesses whose grand jury testimony was taken as evidence, no calling of its own witnesses, no scrutiny of the prosecution.

If the Senate is truly considering removing the president from office -- the only purpose of an impeachment trial -- its insistence on speed and few witnesses denies justice to the electorate. But if it has decided against removing Mr. Clinton from office, the trial should not be prolonged.

What the Senate did yesterday was a political compromise for party unity between Republican senators who want to remove the president and those believing there is no reason to do so.

The fix would appear to be in -- for acquittal. If that proves untrue, a conviction would have been obtained by sleight-of-hand.

In reaching this point, bipartisanship was abandoned. All the Democrats but one voted to dismiss the case and call no witnesses. All the Republicans plus Sen. Russell Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, voted to prolong the case and depose three witnesses.

This trial is about whether President Clinton committed perjury and obstruction of justice amounting to constitutional high crimes. Even House managers say it is not about whether he had a reckless, illicit affair with a young woman in the White House or is morally deficient.

Since the trial will continue, there should be no more calls for a speedy conclusion. If the president is going to be removed -- an awesome precedent -- the Senate should take as long as needed for fairness.

As for finding that he committed crimes that do not justify removal, the Senate has no standing to do so. The Constitution reserves that job for prosecutors and courts.

Pub Date: 1/28/99

HAVING Monica Lewinsky, Vernon Jordan and Sidney Blumenthal deposed on videotape by House managers and White House lawyers falls short of the dozen witnesses that House managers said they needed to prove President Clinton guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice.

But the same decision by the Senate prevents the White House from mounting anything resembling a defense in a criminal trial. It allows no cross-examination of witnesses whose grand jury testimony was taken as evidence, no calling of its own witnesses, no scrutiny of the prosecution.

If the Senate is truly considering removing the president from office -- the only purpose of an impeachment trial -- its insistence on speed and few witnesses denies justice to the electorate. But if it has decided against removing Mr. Clinton from office, the trial should not be prolonged.

What the Senate did yesterday was a political compromise for party unity between Republican senators who want to remove the president and those believing there is no reason to do so.

The fix would appear to be in -- for acquittal. If that proves untrue, a conviction would have been obtained by sleight-of-hand.

In reaching this point, bipartisanship was abandoned. All the Democrats but one voted to dismiss the case and call no witnesses. All the Republicans plus Sen. Russell Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, voted to prolong the case and depose three witnesses.

This trial is about whether President Clinton committed perjury and obstruction of justice amounting to constitutional high crimes. Even House managers say it is not about whether he had a reckless, illicit affair with a young woman in the White House or is morally deficient.

Since the trial will continue, there should be no more calls for a speedy conclusion. If the president is going to be removed -- an awesome precedent -- the Senate should take as long as needed for fairness.

As for finding that he committed crimes that do not justify removal, the Senate has no standing to do so. The Constitution reserves that job for prosecutors and courts.

Pub Date: 1/28/99

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.