Should He Be Impeached?

Article excerpt

The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton: A Political Docu-Drama

R Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. and "Anonymous" Regnery / 275 pages / $24.95

When the effort of the Jeffersonians to remove Federalist judges from the bench culminated in the Senate's failure to convict Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase, Thomas Jefferson called the impeachment procedure a "farce" and "not even a scare-crow." And so, for most of our history, it has remained.

Only two presidents have been seriously threatened with impeachment. The first, Andrew Johnson, escaped conviction in the Senate, and hence removal from office, by a single vote. The second, Richard Nixon, aborted the process by resigning. Nevertheless, that resignation was forced by the looming specter of impeachment: there was little doubt that Nixon lacked the votes in either the House or the Senate had he chosen to fight.

Now, we are invited for a third time to contemplate the removal of a president from office through the impeachment process. R Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. and "Anonymous" make the case-and a powerful case it is-in The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton. If Nixon deserved impeachment, Clinton certainly does. The scandals of the two Clintons continue unendingly, from Arkansas to Washington. A new instance of misbehavior in office seems to surface every week.

Tyrrell and Anonymous present their case as a narrative of the ordeal that awaits Clinton: the House hearings and adoption of a bill of impeachment; trial on the bill's charges in the Senate; conclusions of previous investigations; newspaper articles and television news clips. The authors skillfully produce an aura of reality and immediacy, a vividness that can be produced only by the narrative form. The earlier materials are real while the later ones, carrying the story forward to its conclusion, are necessarily products of the authors' imagination. The real past materials and the imagined future ones blend seamlessly because the authors know firsthand the cadences of political partisanship, its sonorities and its bickerings.

Bill Clinton came to office promising the most ethical administration in our history and has instead given us the sleaziest. But sleaze is not the gravamen of the authors' case for impeachment. The real charge, as Tyrrell and Anonymous make clear, is abuse of power. Of that there is ample evidence-enough to make the Nixon administration seem merely, almost mildly, errant by comparison.

The story opens with a Committee of Six-three Democratic Six-three Democratic Senators and three Democratic Representatives-calling on the president, just as a committee of Republicans had called on President Nixon, to inform him that hearings are imminent and inevitable on a proposed bill of impeachment. They didn't have the votes to block the process. Henry Hyde, a highly respected representative from Illinois, was to chair the hearings. Clinton responded with a television address on June 24, 1998, claiming he had been subjected to "an unprecedented and mean-spirited campaign of lies, half-truths and vilification" from the first day of his presidency. This attempt to overthrow the will of the people wasn't aimed at himself alone, he said, but was aimed at usurping the Constitution. The stage is set.

All of the scenery is not in place, however, because a major factor, the Report of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, has not yet been submitted. The authors assume that it will be by mid-1998, though they can say only that the report concerns "the Whitewater cover-up." That there has been a Whitewater coverup is, of course, obvious even now. Whether Mr. Starr will go beyond that, whether he will indict subordinates, how he will phrase what he learns, and how soon the special court that appointed him will make all or part of his report public are matters of crucial importance that lie in the future.

The Constitution says little enough about impeachment. …