- The Washington Times - Friday, January 28, 2000

The five Republican presidential candidates faced a real moment of truth Wednesday night as they parried and postured before the cameras during a televised debate.
And it was a question about truth.
CNN's Bernard Shaw wanted to know: "Should it be a felony for the president to lie to the American people?"
The five talked primarily most talked exclusively about lying under oath with Bible in hand and lawyers present and assumed that Mr. Shaw was referring to President Clinton.
* George W. Bush: "Lying under oath is a felony. And all of us on this stage can make the pledge that we will swear to uphold the laws of the land and the honor, integrity of the office to which we have been elected… ."
* John McCain: "I voted to convict the president of the United States on grounds that he lied under oath… . The people of this country are suffering from Clinton fatigue, and it's because they want someone who will look them in the eye and tell them the truth. That's the pledge I've made to the people of New Hampshire and the people of this country."
* Steve Forbes: "This president has lied repeatedly, and I don't think it's going to work to, say, try to get in a situation where he may not say something for national security reasons, as Dwight Eisenhower did. But that is very different from lying under oath, which this president did. That is a felony, and he should have been removed for it… ."
* Gary Bauer: "Lying under oath is a felony. That's absolutely right… . Presidents have sat there in that office and have made decisions that resulted in our sons going off to foreign battlefields. This president sat in that office, and we know what he did… . This brings shame to our country."
* Alan Keyes: "Well, I think that lying under oath is clearly a felony. But we shouldn't think that that's how you take care of a president when he lies and disregards his oath. That is the responsibility not of the courts but of Congress. And I think that this Congress under the corrupt pressure from a Democrat Party that surrounded its corrupt president that refused in fact to apply the necessary strictures in order to call this nation back to accountability and integrity they need to be held accountable… ."
Mr. Shaw said he asked the question "without qualifiers or clauses" because he "wanted the candidates to fill in the blanks, to reveal thoughts and feelings. The prime issue in this race is character, and that question was designed to get at that quality."
But nobody replied with much "historical width," Mr. Shaw said.
If the president lies to the public or "misleads" them, as Mr. Clinton said during the battle over his impeachment is it a major crime?
"The line is not bright or clear on this," said presidential scholar Bruce Buchanan of the University of Texas. "The nature of politics and the presidency itself is the strategic maneuvering and shading of information.
"But if lying to the public was a felony," he added, "They all would have gone to jail."
Presidents have fibbed for personal reasons, to protect the American integrity or the national interest, Mr. Buchanan said.
Defining the parameters of all this maneuvering, Mr. Buchanan said, helps define the nature of the presidency itself. This notion has intrigued and perplexed many.
Independent prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr wrote in his report to Congress that grounds for impeachment included the fact that "President Clinton abused his constitutional authority by lying to the public and the Congress in January 1998 about his relationship with [Monica] Lewinsky."
In three impeachment articles approved by the House Judiciary Committee against President Nixon in 1974, one paragraph indicted Mr. Nixon for "making false or misleading public statements to the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States… ."
During the founding period, Alexander Hamilton noted in one of the Federalist Papers that an impeachable offense hinged upon "injury" inflicted upon "society itself."
Beyond legalities, lying is also an emotional offense. In the months surrounding Mr. Clinton's impeachment, polls gauged the subjective side of things.
A Gannett survey last year asked respondents if it was acceptable for public officials to lie if their "motives are good."
Eighty-two percent said "no," while 60 percent said politicians lied more often than the average person.
A U.S. News & World Report poll taken after the president's acquittal tallied the fallout of fibbing: 56 percent said Mr. Clinton is the least moral of modern presidents and more than two-thirds thought the scandal had affected America's moral fiber.
A 1998 book called "A People's History of the United States" cited multiple "lies" of the last six presidents that involved national security. Another book "The American Leadership Tradition: Moral Vision from Washington to Clinton" reviewed the connection between private and public morality.
A few months ago, Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Bradley told CNN that Mr. Clinton lied to the American people during the Lewinsky matter and that the nation paid a price.
"Any time a president lies, he undermines his own authority and squanders the people's trust," the former New Jersey senator said.
And maybe not just the nation.
Thursday, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered its professional conduct committee to investigate a complaint that Mr. Clinton lied and obstructed justice in the Paula Jones sexual misconduct case which could lead to disbarment proceedings against the president.

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