Magazine article Insight on the News

Can Clinton Be Impeached?

Magazine article Insight on the News

Can Clinton Be Impeached?

Article excerpt

The nation has been enthralled by the continuing allegations concerning presidential immorality. But who will decide if the president has done anything to warrant removal from office?

Much has been made of the political implications for both political parties of a possible pre-impeachment inquiry concerning President William Jefferson Clinton. Most Americans are willing to wait until the facts are in before jumping to conclusions, but already the polls suggest a weariness with the daily drumbeat involving repeated and new allegations of wrongdoing -- a weariness with both the news and the president himself.

To help put into context some of the issues that might be considered in any congressional inquiry, it is useful to examine how possible impeachable offenses might be categorized by the House, which would act like a grand jury, and the Senate, which would serve as the judge should the impeachment process ever get that far. What reasonably can be considered -- or more precisely, what might the lawmakers actually consider?

Generally, the issues fall into two categories -- those involving criminal offenses and those involving political issues.

In the criminal category the guessing goes that it will be issues related to obstruction of justice that will capture congressional interest. Into this very broad category will fall not only evidence and information referred to the House by Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr, but also a plethora of materials already gathered by investigating committees of both the House and Senate. For example, testimony and evidence gathered by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and similar materials collected by the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee.

The records of these two congressional panels -- plus anything Starr sends -- will provide fodder for Clinton critics who have argued for years that his White House has engaged in a pattern of stonewalling that has stymied probe after probe. However, unlike earlier investigations plagued with fits and starts and dead ends, a House special inquiry would examine the complete body of evidence from the record to piece together otherwise unconnected or isolated events into a broad mosaic capable of revealing any systemic scheme to thwart or obstruct justice. In other words, there will be enough evidence to expose the shape and body of any purposeful effort to whitewash mendacity or to hide or destroy information.

To begin, the House inquiry will need to secure from other committees individual reports of documents incomplete, unaccounted for, delayed in transmission or flat out withheld from earlier panels. It will need to secure and examine the fullest range of testimony collected by other inquiries and compare what officials or others have said under oath to determine whether there are holes and identify overt acts of obstruction of justice that were missed or overcome by events.

The investigating panel also will have to review the record of civil litigation such as Judicial Watch's long-running freedom of information lawsuit against the Commerce Department and, of course, the Paula Corbin Jones sexual-harassment lawsuit against Clinton. For example, in the Jones case, the failure to hand over the subpoenaed Kathleen Willey letters to Clinton is a prime example of what Congress may view as an attempt to obstruct justice. The White House did not deliver the now-famous correspondence because, its lawyers claimed, the Jones subpoena only asked for materials in the president's custody, not official government files -- ostensibly where the Willey material was kept -- as if the broad subpoena for specific documents were not completely clear and correct. Then there are the incomplete and missing records involving the White House Travel Office where employees were summarily fired and then subjected to trumped-up criminal investigations. The congressional record is replete with instances of official stonewalling in these matters, including refusal to reveal who in the White House actually ordered the firings and subsequent official harassment. …

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