- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2000

The case for disbarment of President William Jefferson Clinton by the Arkansas Supreme Court is as simple as simple addition and as ethically compelling as the biblical injunction against false swearing.
The president was saddled with a constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, not circumvented. A parallel moral obligation of honesty under oath was likewise attached.
The Chief Executive is the nation's chief role model. He teaches by example. Mr. Clinton's derelictions require stern sanctions because of their incalculable damage to the rule of law, which is the cornerstone of civil society. Youngsters and adults alike are inclined to imitate presidential lawlessness on the theory no one is required to be holier than the Pope in Rome.
As U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright explained in her contempt citation of President Clinton for giving intentionally "false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process" in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit, "[s]anctions must be imposed, not only to redress the president's misconduct, but to deter others who might themselves consider emulating the president of the United States by engaging in misconduct that undermines the integrity of the judicial system."
Judge Wright was not plowing virgin territory. A New York court disbarred President Richard M. Nixon in 1976 for his Watergate cover-up misconduct, though he had been pardoned by Gerald Ford. The Appellate Division elaborated: "The gravamen of [Nixon's] conduct is obstruction of the due administration of justice, a most serious offense, but one which is rendered even more grievous by the fact that in this instance the perpetrator is an attorney and was at the time of the conduct in question the holder of the highest public office in this country and in a position of public trust."
Mr. Clinton's defenders might argue that Nixon's wrongdoing impaired a criminal investigation, whereas Mr. Clinton's prevarications that occasioned Judge Wright's civil contempt fine thwarted a less serious private civil suit. The distinction is unpersuasive because Mr. Clinton repeated his lies under oath to Judge Wright virtually verbatim before a federal grand jury investigating the president's alleged criminality: perjury, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice.
Mr. Clinton's wrongdoing, moreover, is compounded by his strutting impenitence over Monicagate and continuing counterfactual distortions. He persists in denying that he lied under oath in denying a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a fact that Judge Wright had held would be pertinent to the Paula Jones suit. After all the due process in the world, the federal district judge found by clear and convincing evidence that the president's testimony was knowingly false and calculated to subvert the judicial process. She expressly offered Mr. Clinton an opportunity to present exculpatory testimony. He declined. Neither the law nor experience knows any more reliable method of proving facts than that employed by Judge Wright. Yet Mr. Clinton audaciously insists before the public and the Arkansas state disciplinary authorities that her unchallenged fact-finding was flawed, bettering the instruction of Alger Hiss' lifelong denial of perjury before Congress in the face of a criminal conviction and layers of judicial appeals.
In addition to scorning contrition, Mr. Clinton's false swearing and attempt to derail justice was aggravated because the unclouded prohibition forecloses any claim of ignorance of the law. Under Rules 8.4 (c) and (d) of the Arkansas Model Rules of Professional Conduct, attorneys are enjoined from "conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation," or "prejudicial to the administration of justice." The U.S. Supreme Court made unmistakably clear in Nix vs. Whiteside (1986) that a political vendetta, right-wing conspiracy, or other circumstance does not excuse false testimony. Indeed, the idea was so outlandish that it prompted then Chief Justice Warren Burger to remark that a right to lie under oath in any circumstance "has never been responsibly advanced."
In sum, what is astonishing about the initiation of disbarment proceedings against President Clinton in an Arkansas circuit court last week by the Committee on Professional Conduct of the Supreme Court of Arkansas is not the ethics indictment itself, but the criticism of some who should know better. Sen. Charles Schumer, New York Democrat, for instance, who voted against Mr. Clinton's impeachment as a House Member and after elevation to the Senate refused recusal at the impeachment trial, fumed to the New York Times that the disciplinary panel was "a kangaroo court" unworthy or respect. The senator was cleverly juggling the record to influence public opinion since even the president himself did not dispute his full defense presented by rich and powerful aristocrats of the bar. Mr. Schumer deserves credit, however, for exercising heroic restraint in declining to fashion a fable that former independent counsel Kenneth Starr had covertly manipulated the panel by tainted money from wealthy troglodytes or otherwise.
Mr. Clinton's disbarment case will be heard by one of five circuit court judges who sit in Little Rock, all of whom are registered Democrats. An appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court will be available if Mr. Clinton loses. At the least, the proceeding itself discredits Judge Starr's detractors who teemed with accusations of a politically motivated plot to transform a trivial presidential legal sin into a capital offense.


Bruce Fein is a lawyer and free-lance writer specializing in legal issues.

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