Sixteen years ago today, the House of Representatives impeached President Bill Clinton.
Let it be said that the House was right to do so. Clinton clearly committed “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The House impeached Clinton not because he took advantage of his position of authority and degraded the Oval Office by having sexual relations with an intern. Clinton was impeached because he manifestly, inarguably perjured himself in sworn testimony to officers of the law, and he took several actions to obstruct justice (and, in effect, to suborn perjury by others). Most directly, the case in question involved a sexual-harassment lawsuit by Paula Corbin Jones against Clinton. Sexual harassment, according to all of Clinton’s allies on the Left, was a horrendous crime — the crime du jour – that merited serious punishment. The suit contained plenty of substance. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ruled that the case should go forward while Clinton was still president.
The reason special prosecutor Kenneth Starr was handling the Lewinsky matter at all was because Attorney General Janet Reno petitioned a court to expand Starr’s jurisdiction to cover the issue, because of serious allegations of witness tampering and obstruction of justice. It is worth noting that these allegations mirrored similar, highly believable allegations in the ongoing Whitewater investigation. It was part of a pattern and practice of obstruction of justice, across a broad swath of issues and involving criminal activity of various sorts by a rogue’s gallery of close Clinton associates. The pattern and practice quite arguably demonstrated a mens rea – a criminal mindset — for what was not an isolated incident of sexual misconduct, but rather an interlocking series of scandals in which many of the same players engaged in similar activities to cover up wrongdoing. It included a pattern of misusing protective details, and allegedly of threats to a series of women.
It was the interlocking nature of so many of the scandals that led Starr and, more important, even Reno to decide there was a legitimate nexus between Starr’s broad investigation into what was known by the shorthand of “Whitewater” (even though it included many more scandals than just the failed land deal) and the obstruction of justice in the Jones suit. The practice of cover-ups of sexual relationships, as alleged in the Jones suit, clearly was followed in the Lewinsky affair, which was therefore quite evidently relevant to the Jones suit.
When the president perjures himself — not just to cover up an “affair,” but to protect himself from liability for particularly egregious sexual harassment — that is a crime. When he suborns other government officials — other people supposedly there to serve the public — to obstruct justice in order to protect his own skin, that is a crime.
Clinton did not just “lie about sex.” Clinton lied under sworn oath, before a grand jury, about a practice of sexual misdeeds that included fairly ample evidence of sexual harassment (and, frankly, worse: see the story of the rape of Juanita Broaddrick). It included highly believable accounts of sexual assault in the Oval Office itself.
When someone uses the power of the highest office in the land to obstruct justice, to suborn others to do the same, and at least allegedly to threaten others who would blow the whistle on all sorts of misdeeds, those are impeachable offenses.
The House was right to impeach Clinton. The Senate should have removed him from office.