- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2000

There is a natural propensity to regard the post-impeachment maneuvers of Bill Clinton with half-closed eyes, with an almost careless indifference to the legal judgments soon to come on his many grievous injuries to the body politic. There is a sense again, understandable that the political, emotional and even spiritual energies expended during the impeachment process exhausted American citizens, depleting the feelings of outrage necessary to focus their attention, seemingly without letup. But this is no time to blink.

That's because the legal matters to be resolved this year pertain to something greater than the fortunes of any one individual. In other words, they transcend the political fate of Bill Clinton, the man and even Bill Clinton, the legacy. Under consideration now, in the Arkansas courts and in the Independent Counsel's office, is nothing less than the fate of the bedrock principle of the American experiment: namely, that no man is above the law.

Mr. Clinton continues to test that principle, most recently regarding his possible disbarment by the Arkansas courts. Last week, rather than respond to separate complaints lodged by U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright and the Southeastern Legal Foundation with the ethics committee of the Arkansas Supreme Court, Mr. Clinton asked whether he could put off his response until sometime next year say, Feb. 19, 2001, which just happens to be 30 days after his White House exit. Of course, one can see his point: The case against him is overwhelming, including Judge Wright's unprecedented contempt- of-court finding. Citing 10 count 'em, 10 specific lies in Mr. Clinton's testimony during the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit, Judge Wright wrote that Mr. Clinton gave "false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process."

Since your average, run-of-the-mill, non-presidential obstructer of the judicial process can usually expect an extension of between two and four weeks, the president was hoping for what you might call special treatment. Of course, an argument may be made (weak) that working for the American people leaves no time for disbarment proceedings, what with all the fund-raisers the president has to attend (seven in just the past two weeks). And in the end, the ethics committee agreed to give Mr. Clinton an extension but, in an inspiring display of backbone, only until April 21. While Mr. Clinton could save time and trouble by surrendering his law license consider that he never contested his contempt of court finding, paying his $90,000 fine without quibble the coming contest over his disbarment nonetheless offers an opportunity to demonstrate that justice can indeed be blind, and not political.

This theory of justice, antique and outmoded as it has become in the Clinton era, would seem to be the guiding inspiration for Independent Counsel Robert Ray. On ABC's "This Week," Mr. Ray outlined the task before him, distinguishing between the political process of impeachment that led to Mr. Clinton's acquittal, and the legal process he now oversees, which has yet to determine whether Mr. Clinton committed crimes for which he should be charged. "There is a bigger issue here, and the bigger issue has yet to be vindicated," Mr. Ray explained. "And the issue to be vindicated is that no person, including the president of the United States, is above the law. I intend, by following through with this process, to vindicate that principle. And that is not a partisan issue," he added. "When this matter came before the United States Senate, both Democrats and Republicans were of the view that the criminal justice process should be allowed to work once the president left office. This is not a right-wing matter; this is not a matter exclusively of the domain concern of Republicans. This ought to be a bipartisan matter."

Hear, hear. There are, of course, any number of curiously amnesiac politicians, such as Sen. Charles Schumer, New York Democrat, who once favored Mr. Clinton's Senate acquittal on the grounds, in part, that his offenses should be left to the courts. Now they say, as Mr. Schumer did on "This Week," that "we ought to go on to other things." Other things? No "other things" are more urgent than vindicating the principle that we are a nation of laws, not men.

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