LIMITED ACTION, UNLIMITED DISASTER This whole scandal looks to be ending in absolutely the worst way possible — a giant mess of loose threads, rumor, smears, and innuendo. This morning, Senator Orrin Hatch is arguing in the NY Times that we should adjourn the trial in order to keep the scandal a giant mess rather than settle it definitively in the president’s favor. If the Senate acquits the president, the Republicans shudder, Clinton will declare victory, have a balloon drop on the White House lawn, and order up a fresh batch of interns to go with his happy meals. By adjourning with explanation or by having a “finding of fact” and then acquitting, the Senate Republicans and Democrats will be helping themselves by hurting history.
What is so scary about a full trial? Just a few months ago, Republicans and Democrats, Jews and Gentiles, Klingons and Tribbles solemnly intoned that impeachment was the most solemn constitutional duty short of declaring war. Well, if Vietnam taught us that limited wars can be a disaster, we are learning today that limited trials are also. There are so many loose threads and barely hidden lies just beneath the surface that we are going to be arguing about this crap for years.
For example, yesterday, White House lawyers declined even to ask Monica Lewinsky any questions. The Fox News Channel was the only network to report that Lewinsky’s lawyers and the White House lawyers exchanged knowing glances, winks, etc. In fact, Fox reported that at times White House lawyers were signaling Lewinsky to stop talking. Indeed, all the lawyers did was apologize on behalf of the president. Already some anonymous spinners are saying it wasn’t in fact an apology so much as an “expression of sympathy.” The question remains, what kind of signal is it? This is just one tiny example of how small scratches can fester into gaping wounds. Many of us have written about the possibility of legal (and illegal) collusion between Monica and the White House. Is this more grist for the conspiracy mill? A short-circuited trial will make it so, whether it deserves to be or not.
Another example is the Lisa Meyers interview with Jane Doe #5. The interview was shelved for as yet unknown reasons. The speculation is that NBC deemed the interview too inflammatory. Perhaps it is, perhaps not. But we do know that the White House put considerable pressure on NBC. Whether Mr. Lockhart was persuasive or not will remain an open issue — forever. The New York Times story that Ken Starr is weighing whether or not he can indict the president is another example. Clearly this story has been inflammatory. Why did the Times choose to run a story helpful to the president, while NBC chose to kill a story detrimental to his interests? Where did the story come from? Why did it appear the day before Lewinsky was going to testify? A full story might not answer these questions directly, but it would answer the important questions — the full extent of the president’s guilt or innocence — sufficiently, that the stench of cover-up and back-room deals would dissipate. Why do Senators assume we won’t be hearing more about the intimidation of Kathleen Willey? Or the that Secret Service agents will stay silent as they rotate into retirement? Or that Nate Landow won’t spill the beans. After all, and I say this seriously, there is not a single person in Washington who believes — away from the cameras and off the record — the specifics of the White House denials. Why aren’t Democratic and Republican Senators worried that this tissue of lies may not hold up? A let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may trial would obviate any such worries. But we won’t have that. No, we can’t have anything like that.