Politics & Policy

Perjury Pitfalls; Where Bill’s Head Is At


I’m filing late today and the Senate trial is underway. Henry Hyde gave his dignified opening and Mr. Sensenbrenner is giving his factual overview. It’s a fairly humbling and impressive proceeding. I do wish the cameras would wheel around so we could actually see the Senators listening quietly.

But what I really wish is that Ken Starr had really set a perjury trap for the President. I still don’t really understand what perjury traps are. It seems to me that the White House definition of a perjury trap is any question in which the president has to tell the truth and doesn’t want to. They say he was caught in a perjury trap — and yet he didn’t commit perjury. Huh. They say this because the testimony the president gave in the Paula Jones deposition was immaterial and therefore not perjurious. But, the ruling on materiality came weeks later. When the president lied he had been told the subject matter was material. He intended to perjure himself, and that’s all I need to know. In the grand jury testimony he affirmed that his previous testimony was truthful, which is perjury too. And that’s all the Senate needs to know. Nevertheless, the perjury trap I wish Ken Starr had set for the president is the one he chose not to. The independent counsel informed the president in advance that the stain on Monica Lewinsky’s dress was in fact left by the president. All of the “legal experts” said it would be unethical and irresponsible for Starr to withhold the results of those DNA tests and let Clinton testify in the dark. At the time I grudgingly agreed even though, moron that I am, I still didn’t know what a perjury trap was since Clinton actually knew the truth. But, okay I said, people think it’s the right thing to do.

Now that it has come to all of this, I think that was the wrong decision. It was the wrong decision precisely because it would have caught Clinton. Does a-n-y-b-o-d-y believe that Bill Clinton would have told the truth before the grand jury if he knew he could get away with a blatant, unequivocal lie? Catching him that way would not have added any new charges to the ones before us today. It would not have entrapped the president into any further criminal conduct. No, instead it would simply but firmly have caught the whole weasel in the “perjury trap” rather than allow him to gnarl his own leg off with weasel words, half truths, squeaky lies and clouds of word-fog. This way, duty is still clear but the task is just so much harder. For now the House managers must follow the bloody trail of the tortured truth through the muck and the mire and drag the rest of us along.


The Washington press corps prides itself on not buying into the spin. Well, good for them. It would be the height of hypocrisy for me to criticize any other journalist’s cynicism. But reporting spin as news is sometimes worse. White House correspondents for most of the networks cavalierly report that the president is “committed to projecting the image that he is too focused on doing the work of the American people to pay attention to the impeachment proceedings.” But, the reporters add, behind the scenes the president is very involved in his legal travails . . .la de da, la de da, and that’s it. They go on with their reports. Wait a second. That’s an important story. The president is saying to the American people that he is focused on his job. But, he isn’t. He’s in there screaming himself into a purple rage about the fact that his lawyers spelled his name wrong on their briefings to the Senate (they spelled his name “Cinton” — no irony there) and that dial-an-intern won’t deliver. If, in fact, the impeachment hearings are paralyzing the president in his duties, that’s not “color,” that’s news, big news. Even if it is only partial paralysis, reporters should follow up. How much time is the president taking with his lawyers? Don’t ask Joe Lockhart, he’s no good. Dig around.

Throughout the Summer the president insisted that he wasn’t distracted at all from doing the job the American people sent him to do — a job description that apparently included playing baron and the milkmaid with the help. And then he said he was striving for peace in the Middle East because he wanted to atone for his misdeeds. So, in fact, the only way this scandal has affected the president, according to Clinton, is to make him a better statesman. Gosh, well then: let’s throw a few more girls on the fire (in his loins).

If the reports are true and the president is consumed with impeachment fever, we deserve to know.


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