Rising To The Level Of ...


By William Westmiller

The impeachment debate has, after much ado, resolved itself into a debate over degrees. Like trying to decide how much water makes a flood, the debate over the coming week will be whether the apparent faults of William Jefferson Clinton "rise to the level" of terminating his services as Chief Executive. For many Americans, it is much ado about being wet behind the collar. For others, it is a raging torrent that will surely destroy the entire nation.
Parsing Words
A good part of Judiciary Committee deliberation was spent reading dictionaries. Did Clinton have "sex", "sexual relations" or a "sexual relationship" with Monica? Pick your favorite dictionary. Mine says "sexual relations" is the plural of "coitus", ie: multiple instances of sexual intercourse. That didn't happen. But, a "relationship" is different, meaning a connection between two people. Bill and Monica had many different types of relationships, (employer-employee, etc) but "sexual" was certainly one of them. Clinton's obfuscation depends on only three little letters "...hip". When asked whether he had a sexual relationship, he ignored the "...hip" and denied having coitus. Those three little letters determine whether Clinton lied or told the truth.
Legal Fuzzies
Perjury is well defined in law. It means the intentional assertion of a substantial and material falsehood under oath. There are three important adjectives in that definition that distinguish a lie from perjury. If Clinton skipped the "...hip" accidentally, his falsehood wasn't intentional. His defenders point to the perverse legal definition of "sexual relationship", endorsed by the trial judge, as grounds for confusion. However, even her contorted definition did not limit the question to whether or not coitus occurred. So, his assertion of a falsehood under oath was clearly intentional. Absent that contorted definition, there are grounds to believe Clinton would have answered in the same way, with a full intention to deceive.
Irrelevant Facts
Republican Lindsey Graham made a relevant point on the issue of whether Clinton's lies were material to the Paula Jones case. His conclusion was that the trial judge's ruling resolves the issue: any Clinton lie was of no consequence to the outcome of the case and was therefore immaterial. On that ground, Graham voted against the second finding the Committee, that Clinton's civil deposition was not perjurious and therefore not an impeachable offense. He could as well have voted that the first finding failed the same test. Lies to the Grand Jury about his relationship with Monica were also immaterial, since Ken Starr found no grounds for alleging sexual harassment against the intern's boss.
Indict or Impeach
Equality under the law demands that every individual face the same procedures and consequences for illegal conduct. By failing to indict the President for perjury, Ken Starr either granted an unequal deference or he believed that perjury had not been committed. There is no Constitutional or legislative ban on indicting a sitting President for criminal acts and Starr was obliged by his mandate to issue indictments against anyone, executive or civilian, who violated the law. Whether such an indictment should be postponed for trial is a determination that is made by the courts, not the prosecutor. If Starr had concluded that the President's actions were perjurious, he has had ample time to file that charge. He hasn't.
High Crimes
If there had been reason to believe that the President had committed murder, rather than perjury, there would have been no doubt about whether to indict, nor any doubt about whether it constituted a high crime suitable for removing him from office. During weeks of hearings, no one has explained how high a crime has to be to justify impeachment. Are lies under oath high enough? How about drunk driving? Fleeing the scene of a fatal car crash? Manslaughter? The issue has been obfuscated by equating the Constitution's "High Crimes" with Treason and Bribery, listed first among the impeachable offenses. No one has pointed out that those two acts were the only federal crimes in existence at the time that the impeachment clause was written. They were listed only to include them with the other common law crimes normally administered by the states, including felonies such as murder and perjury. But the bar was substantially lowered by inclusion of "misdemeanors", which are crimes only punishable by fine, not imprisonment. That includes speeding tickets. The point is that impeachment and removal can only occur after the commission of a crime, not simply for bad acts or politically unpopular conduct.
Violating the Oath
There is only one oath taken by the President upon assuming office: to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. Rather than the four articles reported by the Judiciary Committee, absent a court finding of perjurious conduct, there are other, more substantive, grounds for impeachment. In dozens of ways, the President has violated his oath of office by contesting and assaulting the Constitution of the United States. Whether the issue is violating the enumerated and separate powers, executing orders beyond the laws adopted by Congress or conducting undeclared war acts, they all rise well beyond the level of impeachment. I would vote for any of those counts in a moment. Few members of Congress could do likewise without exposing themselves to the same allegations.
Therapeutic Principles
The Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Henry Hyde, acknowledged this complicity last Sunday by noting that "every once in a while, it's therapeutic to get back to first principles, the notion that we are a government of enumerated powers." This is an astounding concession of contempt for the Constitution. The assertion claims that fundamental principles like the Tenth Amendment are mere therapeutic niceties, to be indulged whenever political expedience requires. If this is the Chairman's foundation of righteous indignation at the President's ethics, then political depravity has risen to a whole new level.

©1998, William Westmiller
California Coordinator of the Republican Liberty Caucus
Past Candidate for the Republican Nomination for (24CA) Congress
Former National Secretary, California Chairman, Libertarian Party
risingto.c19 ~960 Words
Feedback Welcome
Get Columns via Email

Home List Previous Next