- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 1999

In the beginning, there was the wagging finger to punctuate the first big whopper Bill Clinton told his fellow citizens about Monica Lewinsky. Now comes the outstretched hand as the president reportedly plans to ask the American public to foot the legal bills he and his wife ran up during the Monica Lewinsky and Whitewater investigations undertaken by the Office of the Independent Counsel.

According to The Washington Post, Mr. Clinton is “strongly considering” asking Uncle Sam for $5 million to pay off the Clintons’ remaining legal expenses a move the independent counsel’s office is prepared to challenge.

One would hope so. The independent counsel law provides for the reimbursement of legal fees in instances where an investigation’s target is not indicted, and would not have required legal services “but for the independent counsel statute.” Mr. Clinton has not, to date, been indicted, but he was, if you recall, impeached by the House of Representatives, which in political terms is much the same thing. (Maybe it depends on what the meaning of “indictment” is.) As for the famous “but for” clause, given the examples of successful prosecutions of ordinary citizens for perjury in sexual harassment cases that came to light during the impeachment hearings, it is going to be mighty tough to make the case that Mr. Clinton’s acts of perjury in the course of the Paula Jones proceedings for which he was ultimately fined $90,686 by Judge Susan Webber Wright would never have triggered legal repercussions “but for” a government inquiry.

According to The Washington Post, the conventional legal wisdom has it that Mr. and Mrs. Clinton’s strongest arguments for reimbursement lie, amazingly enough, in their conduct in the Whitewater scandals, “in which they often were little more than witnesses.” Setting aside the question of the accuracy of that characterization, it’s fair to say that if, indeed, they acted as little more than witnesses at the time of all that Whitewater scheming, they never exactly acted like innocent bystanders during the subsequent Whitewater investigations. The fact that the Clintons’ tactics delay, deny, obstruct, obscure, omit and, of course, lie were greatly responsible for both the duration and cost of all the investigations that mark the Clinton years should be enough to ensure that it is the president and his supporters who must pony up the first family’s share of the legal costs, and not the American taxpayer.

As it turns out, even Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley agrees. His position, as told to NBC’s Tim Russert on “Meet the Press,” is that while what the president did failed to reach the level of impeachment, “I don’t think the taxpayers should have to pay for the consequences of that act” i.e., the lies that got him impeached. Somewhat illogical, perhaps, but we’ll take it.

Vice President Al Gore, on the other hand, responding to the same question, failed to shed much in the way of light as he tested various answers to the question, seemingly in an effort to make it go away. First, he insisted the Clintons had denied ever making such a request. Then, pressed to answer whether taxpayers should reimburse the Clintons, Mr. Gore, would-be leader of the Free World, went with, “Well, I have no idea.” Asked yet again, he said the Clintons “have the right to do it,” before finally offering only his personal opinion: “Would I do it in that position? No, I would not.”

Perhaps Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, described this latest twist in the Clinton saga best. Responding to a query from The Washington Post on the reimbursement matter, the former House manager in the impeachment trial said he would oppose any efforts by Mr. Clinton to pay off his legal debts with taxpayer money before adding, aptly, “The chutzpah of this administration knows no bounds.”

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