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The Big He Is At It Again; The Perjury Trap; All The News That’s Fit to Print


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Jonah Goldberg

THE BIG HE IS STILL AT IT
Elizabeth Shogren from the Los Angeles Times has gotten a great deal of play for her recent article about how Clinton is handling the trauma of being impeached. Invited to a White House Christmas party, Shogren was able to query Clinton about how he was coping with the fact he was impeached. She then wrote up the conversation and portrayed Clinton as cheery and over-confident. The Sunday shows quoted from it extensively. The other major pieces are reporting his comments to her as real news — something rival newspapers hate doing.

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The “news,” of course, is that Clinton is not contrite, not good news for the honorable Democrats in the Senate trying to save his butt with a censure deal that first and foremost calls for contrition. But no, he thinks in a decade or two history will judge him well and Republicans badly for impeaching him. He compares himself to Nelson Mandela. (This makes more sense than you’d think at first. They are both, after all, the first black Presidents of their respective countries.) How can the man be so arrogant and so stupid?, ask his friends and foes alike. This sort of smugness barely a day after he became the first elected President ever to be impeached is strategically ill-timed and unbecoming any President. Why did he do it? Well, in all the hoopla over Shogren’s piece, it seems to me one obvious element has been left out. Shogren is a widely respected, eminently capable and impressive young journalist. She is also probably the cutest member of the White House press corps. Do you think that Clinton would have been caught dead making those comments to Richard Berke of the Times or Peter Baker at the Washington Post? Hell, no. Clinton was flirting. It seems so obvious to me. Read the interview again. He’s all smiles and he’s bragging like a high school kid.

I don’t think this takes anything away from Shogren. Good for her; getting him where he’s vulnerable — in the pants. I think other journalists don’t want to raise the point because it sounds sexist and it reveals that journalists are often far more of the story than the public thinks.

But, as for Clinton himself, wouldn’t you think after the last eleven and half months that he would work a little harder at stemming his impulses a day after being impeached because of them?

THE PERJURY TRAP
Since the vote to impeach, I have thought the specific articles of impeachment were flawed. By separating the one alleging perjury in the Paula Jones deposition from the article alleging perjury before the grand jury, the House made its job harder for the Senate trial. Oh, Clinton certainly did commit perjury in both instances, but, it seemed to me, the proof of the perjury before the grand jury is of tackier content and is generally trickier to present. The Jones deposition lies are blatant, obvious, and irrefutable.

What I believed the House Judiciary should have done was say that Bill Clinton did “willfully commit perjury” in the Paula Jones deposition and “compounded that perjury with lies and falsehoods” before a federal grand jury. But the reason I took this position was largely due to the fact that I took the Clinton chorus’s word for it that perjury in the grand jury was hard to prove.

Now I have never understood the line — peddled by Van Susteren, Cossack, Alksne, Reps. Waters, Schumer, Wexler, Conyers, et. al. — that Clinton did not commit perjury because the Lewinsky affair was ruled immaterial in the Jones lawsuit. The President not only believed, but was told by a judge sitting in front of him, that the testimony was material. Who cares if another judge rules it immaterial later? The intent at the time was to lie about a material fact. It was never Clinton’s prerogative to decide silently and independently what questions were material and therefore required truthful answers and which were immaterial and required false ones. If I rob a bank, my intent is to steal money. If it turns out that the teller gives me counterfeit cash, am I no longer guilty of the intent to steal money?

But the blow-dried legal scholars said this is precisely how perjury works and so I bought it. Apparently, I was wrong and so are they. Perjury is perjury. So says Robert Bork. And, so say a number of lawyers I’ve talked to recently. Well, that’s good news. It also turns out, according to Stephen Giller in today’s New York Times, that the grand jury testimony is rife with provable and obvious perjuries. The game that Clinton played in his testimony was patently illegal. In short, categorically specific answers that mislead are perjurious.

He cites the case of Robert DeZarn, the former Adjutant General of the Kentucky National Guard. DeZarn used the imprecision of the questions to give misleading answers which he knew would result in innacurate conclusions. When asked whether he attended an illegal fundraiser at a friend’s home “in 1991″ he responded, “absolutely not,” even though he clearly knew that they were referring to a party in 1990. DeZarn’s reliance on their bad question didn’t save him from a perjury conviction. Clinton’s subjective use of words formerly considered unambiguous like “alone” and “is” were “contextually false” because he knew what the questioners were getting at.

Which raises my biggest peeve, the “Perjury trap.” How is it a trap if he knew they were going to ask him about Monica Lewinsky — he had the witness list for several weeks — and he knew what the truth was. The only surprise was that he wasn’t going to be able to lie.

ALL THE NEWS THAT’S FIT TO PRINT
The Sunday New York Times ran a piece on the front page about an “ugly truth.” According to the first paragraph, “Some condom makers have been dumping their substandard wares” in Africa. Many Africans, have been “risking their lives on brittle, leaky, or ill-fitting condoms.” The “deviousness or sloppiness of some manufacturers,” the article goes on, have “contributed to the disease’s [AIDS] spread.”

This is a classic Times. story. It turns out later in the article that a) the problem has largely been solved; b) the companies in question are British and Indian; c) barely a fraction of African AIDS cases can be blamed on faulty condoms; and d) the real problem is that Africans won’t use condoms when they are available. Still, why not put the moral burden on the shoulders of big corporations? At least for the first few paragraphs. After all, nobody will read the jump page.



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