The mantra of the 1992 Clinton campaign was “It’s the economy, stupid.” The mantra of Independent Counsel Ken Starr ought to be, “It’s the obstruction of justice, stupid.” The White House spinmeisters have had enormous success in convincing the public that the Monica Lewinsky case is about sex between two consenting adults. A recent Zogby poll shows a sharp decline in the percentage of those who believe that the President should be impeached if he has lied and encouraged others to lie about this matter.
In February 47 percent of those polled believed that this would justify impeachment. When the same question was asked in mid-May, the percentage was down to 36%. When the Lewinsky story first broke, White House correspondents say there was panic in the White House caused by doubt that this scandal could be ridden out. This was reflected in Sam Donaldson’s comment on ABC’s “This Week” that the President could be gone within a week.
One person who didn’t panic was Bill Clinton. He declared his innocence, promised his complete cooperation with the investigation and assured the American people that he would fully explain his relationship with Monica Lewinsky at the proper time. He has done just the opposite. He has stonewalled the investigation and has refused to respond to questions about his relationship with Lewinsky. His agents have intensified their attacks on Kenneth Starr, accusing him of being obsessed with sex.
The public has largely lost sight of the fact that the issue is not the President’s alleged sexual misconduct. It is the evidence that the President has lied under oath and appears to have encouraged others to do the same. If this were an isolated case, it might be overlooked, but Starr appears to have seized on this case as a surrogate for others that might be a little harder to prove.
Numerous Clinton appointees have appeared before Congressional committees and pleaded loss of memory or given false testimony. Not one has been indicted and prosecuted for perjury. Federal Judge Royce Lamberth suggested that the Justice Department consider prosecuting a senior White House aide for false testimony he gave in a civil suit, but the department did nothing. Action to make it clear that lying under oath is a serious crime is long overdue. It should have been used in the Foster death investigation and in the probe of the payment of hush money to Webb Hubbell. Why should the crackdown on dishonest testimony be limited to civil suits filed by private attorneys?
Recently Judge Lamberth assessed former Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos hefty legal costs because he failed to make a diligent search for subpoenaed papers and made unbelievable claims of memory loss. Judicial Watch had deposed Stephanopoulos in connection with its civil suit filed on behalf of persons whose FBI files were illegally obtained by the White House. Harold Ickes, another top Clinton aide, may be similarly penalized. He exhibited an even greater loss of memory when he was deposed by Judicial Watch. There’s a lesson here for Kenneth Starr.