Impeachment, 15 Years Later

by Quin Hillyer

Fifteen years ago today, the House of Representatives impeached a president for only the second time in history — and the first in well over a century. At some point, some fair-minded historian should go back and publish a thorough account of that year-long controversy, just to set the record straight. Some may argue over whether Clinton’s perjury and obstruction of justice amounted to “high crimes or misdemeanors,” but the case needs to be established for the record that Clinton did, without a doubt, perjure himself and obstruct justice. (I believe he also suborned perjury, among other misdeeds.) Moreover, it just wasn’t true that Republicans were obsessed with Clinton’s sexual misconduct; indeed, it was an amazing bit of jujitsu for the Clintonites to make illicit sex a defense, in its PR strategy, so as to make the perjury and obstruction seem less important, rather than making it seem even worse. But the truth is that this wasn’t a prurient effort by Republicans to make hay of private sins. Instead, the private sins were just features of a more widespread web of corruption — but they just happened to be the features about which the perjury was provable.

From memory: In the whole Whitewater/Madison Guaranty scandal, several people went to jail for fraud or other crimes. Arkansas governor Jim Guy Tucker was forced from office for transgressions related thereto. Throughout, there was reasonable evidence of Bill Clinton misusing public employees. Then, in the private lawsuit by Paula Corbin Jones, there were other allegations of misuse of public employees, for several illicit ends. The whole thing was complicated — but it was laid out carefully, point by point, by the independent prosecutor and by outlets such as the Wall Street Journal editorial page. 

The affair with Monica Lewinsky was a perfect parallel to some of these other incidents. The modus operandi was the same. The misuse of public employees seemed to be occurring again. A mindset of skirting the law — a mens rea – was evident. That is why the independent counsel was interested in the Lewinsky case in the first place: It was part of the picture of public, not just private, misconduct. When Clinton perjured himself about that, and obstructed justice, it was absolutely material to the (alleged) underlying crimes, which were not about sex, but about his conduct in office.

Frankly, Clinton was fortunate to be made to answer only for the Lewinsky perjury. The renting of the Lincoln bedroom, the “coffee klasches,” and what really did look like illicit foreign donations, and so many other sordid activities (several of which involved Hillary Clinton as well, as did the later scandals over wholly corrupt pardons, including those given to Puerto Rican terrorists): All were part of an administration that didn’t know the meaning of “propriety.”

Again, this is not the place to lay out the full case; it is merely a plea for somebody with the right skill set to return to the subject, explain it all soberly without breathless overstatement in either direction, and create a historical record that is both eminently reasonable and factually, yes, unimpeachable.