Loading...

The Grand Inquisitor 

Kenneth Starr's theocratic law

Wednesday, Sep 16 1998
Comments
II. Protector of the Law

How much legal sense does the Starr Report make? On his allegations of abuse of power - which hold that Clinton was acting impeachably when he appealed his claims of executive privilege all the way to the Supreme Court -Starr has overreached wildly. His allegations of obstruction of justice are more well founded than that, but in many particulars surprisingly shaky. As Lewinsky tells it, it was she, not the president, who first thought of asking Vernon Jordan for help in getting a job, and she, not the president, who first suggested returning his gifts.

Perjury's another story. No matter how Clinton attorney David Kendall may parse the president's answers, Bill Clinton certainly wasn't telling the truth in the Jones deposition, and his characterization of that deposition before the Grand Jury last month left no hair unsplit. (Given two more weeks in the media spotlight, Kendall and Starr could by themselves destroy all respect for law in this land for generations to come.) But to argue that lying to cover up an illicit affair, and then lying to deny that one was lying, constitute high crimes and misdemeanors is to misconstrue the meaning of impeachment - and to dismiss almost cavalierly the verdict that the citizenry renders when it elects a president.

In 1974, when the House Judiciary Committee was investigating Watergate, it considered looking into allegations that Richard Nixon had cheated on his taxes. In the recollection of Elizabeth Holtzman, then a member of the committee, later the district attorney of Brooklyn, the committee decided not to pursue that avenue of inquiry. Tax evasion was a crime, she and her colleagues reasoned, but did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. Perjury is a crime, too - but I suspect there are fewer people doing time for perjury than there are for tax evasion. I'm not sure there are very many people at all doing time right now for lying about an affair.

Related Stories

  • How to Vote 8

    You know the incumbents. So our June 3 voter guide is about the other stuff - like a comedic race for judge featuring candidates so bad the bar association finds both "Not Qualified." One is Charles Calderon, who L.A. Weekly previously reported as one of the worst legislators in California. There's...
  • Jay Leno's Favorite Target Was ... Bill Clinton

    For all the talk about the "liberal media" (both news and entertainment) favoring Democratic candidates, you'd think a West Coast comedian like Jay Leno would practically be an honorary party chairman. But he embraced former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, his friend, and always gave a warm, respectful platform to presidents...
  • Fighting for the Right to Lose to Gov. Brown 50

    Like most people, Bill Bloomfield does not think Neel Kashkari will be the next governor of California. Jerry Brown, he says, is "clearly going to be re-elected." Nevertheless, Bloomfield has decided to dip into his family's wealth — he made a pile on coin-op laundry machines — to pay for...
  • California Controller's Race: Swearengin Wins Spot But Did John Perez? 4

    Betty Yee, Ashley Swearengin and a relatively known Republican, David Evans, are pushing California Speaker John Perez into a tie for third place for California Controller in early returns, mostly absentee ballots. Evans' solid showing in absentees is somewhat unexpected in the fight to replace the popular outgoing Controller John...
  • Jeb <3 Mexicans

    Why would the leader of L.A.'s true-blue Federation of Labor invite a member of the uber-Republican Bush family to town? To talk about immigration, of course. L'est you forget, George W. Bush was generally seen as being pro-immigrant (as well as a friend of then-Mexican President Vicente Fox), despite launching...

III. Tribune of the People

The Starr Report has intensified people's feelings about Bill Clinton's presidency, but it has not changed them. Poll after poll shows that the right considers Clinton a usurper who must go - more or less what the right has always felt. Poll after poll shows that virtually everyone else views the allegations as insufficient grounds to remove Clinton from office, and the evidence that Starr has now produced has altered that view hardly at all.

With the Starr Report now littering the land, it's not clear what exactly the impeachment process is supposed to resolve. Evidence painting the president's conduct in the most damning light possible is already on the table. Clinton critic Charles Canady, a Florida Republican who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, has inspected the boxes of evidence that Starr also sent over and reported back to the Washington Post that, "[M]ost of the story has been told in the report. I don't think any shocking revelations are going to come out of any other source."

They're certainly not going to come out of Starr's Whitewater investigation, which doesn't even rate a passing mention in his brief for impeachment. Starr has spent four years and $40 million in a vain search for Clinton's Whitewater transgressions, while the press, according to this week's Newsweek, has produced an astonishing 80,000 Whitewater stories during this time - tales, not necessarily told by idiots, but certainly full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.

The very idea of an evidentiary phase of the impeachment process, then, seems utterly redundant. For now, however, Congressional Democrats lack the standing and the votes to move either to drop the matter or - more appropriately - to pass a censure motion, which could include some fines the president would have to pay. For their part, the Republicans favor neither censure, which is too quick, nor impeachment, which if carried too far would lead to a Gore presidency. They favor Perpetuating the Crisis.

The Perpetual Crisis, of course, enables the GOP to commit all kinds of mischief out of the public eye, and oppose popular Democratic programs without paying a price. On Thursday of last week - the day between the Starr Report's delivery to Capitol Hill and its release - Senate Republicans killed campaign finance reform for the year. The battles around campaign finance reform had been front-page material for many months, but buried under the Lewinsky scandal, the account of its death was carried on page 14 of The New York Times and page 28 of the L.A. Times. If that's a portent of the press coverage that will be given to non-Lewinsky issues on the campaign trail over the next two months - and it is - it's going to be all but impossible for Democratic candidates to connect with their voters.

Still, the Democrats do have one option if election day looms and the campaign season remains an endless rehashing of All Things Lewinsky. They could make the following October Surmise: the voters are fed up with this thing. We will attack the Republicans (and the media, too, if we have the guts) for stretching it out and ignoring the public's business. A vote for us is a vote for wrapping it up.

Besides, the Starr Report may have handed the Democrats something they've hitherto lacked in this campaign year: a cause around which to mobilize their base. Kenneth Starr has now taken center-stage in the Democrats' demonology; he is the New Newtster, the man you can repudiate by voting Democratic. In the politics of '98, Clinton will get the Republicans to the polls; Starr may do the same for the Democrats.

Related Content

Now Trending

  • L.A. Porn Production Shuts Down Over HIV Report

    The adult video industry's trade group today called for a moratorium on production after a performer might have tested positive for HIV. The Los Angeles-based Free Speech Coalition said in a statement that one of the facilities used by porn stars under the industry's voluntary, twice-a-month STD testing protocol "reported...
  • Venice Boardwalk Beat-Down Caught on Video

    A brutal beating next to the Venice boardwalk this week was captured on video (on the next page). Los Angeles Police Department detectives are asking for your help in tracking down not only the suspect, but the victim, who "we haven't been able to locate," Officer Nuria Venegas told us...
  • Woman Fatally Struck by Vehicle at Burning Man

    A woman was fatally struck by a vehicle at Burning Man today, organizers said. The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office in Nevada identified the deceased as 29-year-old Alicia Louise Cipicchio of Jackson, Wyoming. Burning Man spokesman Jim Graham said she fell under a bus or "large vehicle" that was carrying participants early today. See...
Los Angeles Concert Tickets