Senate kept the faith with American People

Acquittal: Case against Clinton never justified overthrow of voters' will.

February 13, 1999

AT LAST the Senate has redeemed Congress and kept faith with the nation, its history and Constitution.

The Senate acquitted Bill Clinton of high crimes and misdemeanors, because he did not commit them. It refused to convict him of unproven low crimes.

Had the Senate removed Mr. Clinton from office, the Constitution would have been changed irrevocably. The finality of elections and stability of institutions would have been undermined.

Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr dogged the president more than four years, turning an instruction to investigate impartially into a license to oust Mr. Clinton by any means. Despite his resources and relentless purpose, what Mr. Starr referred to the House of Representatives was a scandal not a crime.

A man of thinner skin than Mr. Clinton would have resigned, and the independent counsel would have set a precedent for hounding a president from office.

The House of Representatives was wrong to impeach Mr. Clinton on the material Mr. Starr presented. Its great failure was a lapse of proportionality.

The acquittal, however, does not vindicate Bill Clinton as a public figure, or as a man -- his apology on Friday notwithstanding. Mr. Clinton's scandalous behavior and devious cover-up, while not rising to the level of impeachable offense, disgraced the nation and demeaned the office of president.

Censure remains called for. Whether that resolution is allowed or not, senators who properly acquitted Mr. Clinton have already denounced his behavior in ways that will endure.

The Senate acquittal catches up with the people's wisdom. House managers had expressed befuddlement at popular refusal to share contrived hysteria. The American people displayed a clearer grasp of the Constitution and the essentials of U.S. history than did the talking heads of Washington and denizens of Capitol Hill.

The Senate, however, should restrain the self-congratulations on process. It struck a middle note between the dismissal called for by the weakness of the case, and a complete trial which serious consideration of removal would demand. This was for the sake of appearances only.

For those countless citizens who now want closure, tough luck.

Kenneth Starr has more defendants to try. Whether Mr. Clinton will be among them is Mr. Starr's great secret. Attorney General Janet Reno has begun investigating old charges of misbehavior on his office's part. All the people with stories to tell and books to write are opening up. The folks who despise Bill Clinton will go on saying why.

The nation has lost self-esteem. None of the players escapes blame for that.

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