As a lifelong Democrat, I am saddened by the position being taken by my own party. I am especially concerned that President Clinton and his defenders are promulgating disinformation about Watergate, the law and the meaning of the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors."
Democratic politicians, attorneys and law professors now openly acknowledge that the president has:
* lied to the American people for more than seven months;
* lied under oath in the Paula Jones sexual-harassment lawsuit and before a criminal grand jury;
* and apparently even lied to his own lawyer.
Clinton's defenders now argue correctly that a "high crime or misdemeanor" need not be a felony -- and that there may be some felonies that are not impeachable offenses. As a scholar of the Constitution's impeachment clause for the last 25 years I also agree with that. But in my view many of my fellow Democrats now are sullying the Constitution by arguing that the commission of perjury by the president -- even if proved beyond a reasonable doubt -- does not rise to the level of an impeachable high crime or misdemeanor.
The current argument of Clinton's defenders is that even if the president is a felon who committed perjury and lied about oral sex in the oval office, it is not impeachable because he perjured himself only to cover up purely personal sexual matters. In support of this argument -- using what is the most effective federally funded political-propaganda machine in our history -- some Democrats now are promulgating outright lies about the true history of the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment proceedings in 1974.
Attempting to rewrite the history of the Rep. Peter Rodino panel (to which I was chief counsel) defenders of President Clinton now cite the fact that in 1974 a majority of the House Judiciary Committee voted down an article of impeachment charging Nixon with tax evasion (a criminal offense). Democrats now are dissembling the truth by arguing that the committee concluded that his income-tax return was completely a "personal" matter and therefore was not impeachable.
The truth is that before our vote the House Ways and Means Committee had audited Nixon's tax return and reported that the return showed Nixon had improperly taken a tax deduction for donating his personal papers. But they found no evidence that Nixon had knowingly, under penalty of perjury, failed to file an honest tax return.
It simply is not true that the vote to reject the income-tax article was based on a determination that the filing of a false income-tax return was purely a "personal" matter, and therefore not impeachable. The truth is that neither the House Judiciary Committee members nor my staff had found any substantial evidence that President Nixon had committed income-tax evasion, which is a felony. If he had in fact knowingly committed tax fraud, a crime against the state, there would be no basis for considering it a purely personal matter.
As for the question of the personal accountability of the president, his defenders -- including even some Democrats who participated in the Nixon impeachment proceedings -- now are intentionally misleading the present generation of Americans with still other disinformation regarding the true history of the Rodino committee's Nixon-impeachment proceedings.
In the summer of 1972 a group of burglars was arrested for breaking into the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. Their presumed purpose was to gather political intelligence of value to the reelection campaign of President Nixon. All had ties either to the Nixon White House, the CIA or FBI. We were later to learn that most of the burglars, including Howard Hunt, had a history of illegal CIA-sponsored activities that dated back to prior presidencies and were committed in the name of national security -- a fact that was not made known to the public until after Nixon resigned from office rather than face impeachment by the full House of Representatives. …