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OK, He Did It. Now Let's Move On

Scandal: Here is one emphatic vote to take this impeachment process no further.

October 02, 1998|HENRY A. WAXMAN | Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) is the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee

The Clinton-Lewinsky fever that grips the capital (but not the country) continues to take its toll. Common sense and perspective were early casualties. Now the scandal has pushed aside all policy issues. Some wallow, others revel, in the scandal as if nothing else matters. And there's a determined effort to make it all seem serious, important and solemn.

But it's not. It's a farce. The president's conduct is an embarrassment. A score of adjectives--reckless and shameful are good starters--easily apply to the president. Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation is a bad parody. His obsession with the president's sex life defies reason and would be humorous if it did not set a foreboding standard of government as Big Brother. And Newt Gingrich's handling of the Starr report--from its made-for-TV arrival on the Capitol steps to the release of the president's grand jury testimony--is pure political theater. Partisan calculations are driving decisions; real fairness is an illusion.

I don't want any part in keeping this circus going. That's why I plan to vote against any motion that would authorize Congress to continue its investigation of the president's sex life and trigger an impeachment process.

Most Americans believe the government has no business prying into consensual sex between adults. Starr initially thought he had a compelling exception, but he's known for months that his original rationale for expanding the Whitewater investigation into the president's relationship with Lewinsky was flawed. His theory--that the president was allegedly offering Lewinsky a job in exchange for her silence, which paralleled alleged similar conduct in the Whitewater investigation--was an illusion created by Linda Tripp.

Notwithstanding that core defect, the Starr report exists. It has already told me more than I wanted to know about the president's sex life, and I have no reason to pretend that I have a constitutional need to know more.

No committee hearings are necessary to convince me that the president had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. He did, and his actions were especially wrong since Lewinsky was a federal employee. It's also clear the president lied about his conduct repeatedly in public and under oath. On all counts, he set a miserable example for our country.

But the Starr report fails to make a credible case for impeachment. In the thousands of pages that have been released, there's no misuse of the powers of the presidency.

Perjury is, of course, a serious matter and one none of us should take lightly. But the proper place to resolve perjury charges regarding the president's sexual conduct is in a federal criminal trial, not congressional hearings. If Starr has a strong perjury case against the president, he should bring an indictment against Clinton after he leaves office on Jan. 21, 2001. That would ensure that the president receives no special treatment. Indeed, the possibility that the president could face a criminal conviction for his actions would send the strongest possible signal that lying under oath will not be tolerated.

The alternative of congressional hearings is ludicrous. It would elevate the president's private conduct into a constitutional crisis. Starr's best chance for proving an impeachable offense may be the contradiction in testimony on whether the president touched Lewinsky during their sexual encounters. She says he did and he denies it. But hearings on that topic would be the most embarrassing congressional spectacle imaginable.

The president's conduct has been and should continue to be denounced. Although he has already been publicly humiliated by the Starr report, I believe it would still be appropriate to censure him formally for his conduct. That, combined with any indictment Starr may bring after the president leaves office, seems to be a sensible response to the president's actions.

I doubt, however, that Washington will get to that proportionate result on its own. Which is why the country needs to step in and help.

The reality is that President Clinton, Ken Starr and Newt Gingrich have given the entire country a reason to vote in November. This election matters and can decide what happens next.

Voters who fear President Clinton won't be held accountable and want Congress to hold hearings should vote Republican. An overwhelming Republican vote in a high turnout election will ensure that the next Congress spends most of its time and more taxpayer dollars on impeachment and other investigations focused on the president.

Voters who have had enough and want Congress to at least try to deal with some of our nation's other problems should vote Democratic. Democrats should promise to pass legislation in the first 100 days of 1999 to deal with issues that have stalled in this Congress: ensuring quality care in HMOs, tobacco legislation that protects our kids and is fair to tobacco farmers, landmark campaign finance reform and legislation that makes sure Social Security is there for the next generation.

It's been at least 25 years since we've had an election that presents such a fundamental choice. The country shouldn't let this one be decided by default.

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