- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2000

President William Jefferson Clinton's impeachment ordeal has spawned several books offering choreography but not substance to the familiar drama. Peter Baker, a reporter for The Washington Post, has added to the heap with an interior look at the political jockeying and intrigues that drove events in the House and Senate. If you are one of the handful of people not bored with impeachment commentary and minutiae, then you might find Mr. Baker's non-electrifying and occasionally tedious blow-by-blow chronicle of the affair satisfying.

"The Breach: Inside the Impeachment and Trial of William Jefferson Clinton" is devoid of partisanship. It avoids advocacy. It makes no pretense at serious constitutional analysis. It resists prophecies over the Clinton precedent and the future of American politics. The overwhelming proportion relates the political calculations and strategies of Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate, with a minor role for the White House. No minds will be changed regarding the president's guilt or innocence of impeachable offenses. But that is not the author's objective.

Much of what is recounted in the book is commonplace, and not uplifting. Emblematic was the cynical but stupendously successful Democrat plan championed by House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt to contrive excuses and occasions for party-line votes to create an appearance of a partisan witch-hunt conducted by Clinton haters. The Democrats accurately forecast that the strong evidence of lying under oath and obstruction of justice would be pushed to the margins of debate and public attention.

Mr. Baker's meticulous account reveals not a single Democrat who questioned the substantiality of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's impeachment report, and some who conceded its factual persuasiveness. Then-House Democrat and future New York Senator Charles E. Schumer, in the House Judiciary Committee, acknowledged: "To me, it's clear that the president lied when he testified before the grand jury." And even Mr. Clinton's counsel, Charles Ruff, agreed that, "Reasonable people … could determine that [he lied under oath] and what for him was truthful but misleading or nonresponsive and misleading or evasive was, in fact, false. In sum, the book conclusively discredits Clinton janissaries who then and now maintain that Mr. Starr's Monicagate investigation was a right-wing fishing expedition trolling the sliminess of the president's sex life and spinning impeachable offenses from trifles light as air.

Mr. Baker sprinkles his slow-footed account with vignettes of personal jealousies, sniping and rancor that are both unsurprising and unalarming. They deserve no reinforcement or amplification. To do so would only poison and degrade impeachment debate and understanding, while needlessly exacerbating already maligned reputations. Let's put the age of personal destruction into the history books.

Mr. Baker deserves credit for exposing in detail a profoundly troublesome element of the impeachment process that does no credit to the president's accusers, namely, the Juanita Broaddrick rape allegation, which was informally enlisted to advocate impeachment and conviction without notice to Mr. Clinton and an opportunity to defend.

Mrs. Broaddrick had submitted uncorroborated testimony to the independent counsel claiming that 20 years ago, Mr. Clinton, then attorney general of Arkansas, had sexually assaulted her in a motel room. Mr. Starr had not included the allegation in his public impeachment report, nor had he relied upon Ms. Broaddrick in making the case for impeachment. Her testimony had been deposited in a locked vault in the Gerald R. Ford House Office Building accessible only to members of Congress and cleared staff.

The rape accusation eventually splashed into the public media. But Mr. Clinton's accusers never formally presented the charge as part of their impeachment case. Indeed, Mr. Baker reports that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde of Illinois explicitly rebuffed the plan of impeachment counsel David Shippers to call Ms. Broaddrick as a witness for the prosecution.

If he had, then the president could have attacked her credibility. And he might have argued that whether true or not, a 20-year-old rape unrelated to presidential duties or performance was not an impeachable offense justifying removal from office.

According to Mr. Baker, nonetheless, the Broaddrick allegation was instrumental behind the scenes in persuading House Speaker Robert Livingston to champion impeachment; her rape accusation was also considered but then set aside by House Republican Christopher Shays; it was an element behind Rep. Mark E. Souder's pro-impeachment vote; House Judiciary Committee member Steven Buyer had invited House members to examine the Broaddrrick evidence in the secret vault during the impeachment debate in December 1998; and, he had loudly declared to the entire Republican conference that the impeachment case was not just about what was in the public record, but what was in the private record as well.

All this should be shocking. Impeachment is serious business, especially when the presidency is at stake. The most exacting standards of procedural fairness are imperative. Spanish Inquisition-type reliance on uncharged and secret accusations should be categorically denounced. Thus, the first act of the next Congress should be an impeachment rule that would prohibit secret evidence against the accused. Isn't the history of liberty the history of procedural fairness?

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