Tuesday, April 18, 2000

Looks like we’ve been all wrong about Bill Clinton. When it comes to impeachment and the constellation of scandals orbiting his office, it turns out that the president has not, in fact, committed perjury and obstruction of justice in a federal courtroom, resorted to witness tampering, or even besmirched his office (and office furniture) by engaging in repulsive acts that recently launched a line of handbags. Nor has he abused an assortment of powers and persons, nor even lied, lied, lied. Then again, maybe he did. But he did it to save the Constitution.

That’s what he told a gathering of American newspaper editors last week and his message was not a punch line. In answer to a couple of questions on the endlessly fascinating subjects of presidential pardons and impeachment, a testy Mr. Clinton offered the presidential take on what a misguided few persist in seeing as a historic political disgrace. “On the impeachment, let me tell you I am proud of what we did there because I think we saved the Constitution of the United States,” he said. “… I’m not ashamed of the fact that they impeached me. That was their decision, not mine, and it was wrong. You have to understand, I consider it one of the major chapters in my defeat of the revolution Mr. Gingrich led.”

One may begin to get a sense of the man’s self-sacrifice by considering just how far he has been willing to go on behalf of the republic an attribute his critics may not have weighed seriously before. The fact is, Bill Clinton essentially laid the groundwork for saving the Constitution years ago, first by exposing himself to Paula Jones (allegedly), then moving on, Jane Doe by Jane Doe, to his Oval Office intimacy with that woman, Monica Lewinsky, before finally perjuring himself and obstructing justice in a federal courtroom. His impeachment thus practically assured, he was positioned perfectly to head off Newt Gingrich and his dastardly House Republicans at the pass. The Constitution lives. What a guy.

And there’s more. “I gave away half of my life savings to settle a lawsuit I’d won, because I wanted to go back to work being president,” the president continued. “Eureka,” they all must have thought. So that’s why Mr. Clinton paid Paula Jones $850,000 after Judge Susan Webber Wright (hardly ruling in Mr. Clinton’s favor) dismissed the infamous sexual harassment lawsuit for insufficient evidence. Mr. Clinton’s payment had nothing whatsoever to do with the fact, as Michael Isikoff reported in his book “Uncovering Clinton,” that “after Clinton’s [Monica Lewinsky] confession, the president’s lawyers got concerned that Wright would be reversed,” convincing Mr. Clinton to fork it over. Why, the poor man just wanted to go back to work for the American people and he would pay half his life’s savings to do it. (No word on his wife’s contribution).

No wonder, then, that Mr. Clinton isn’t “interested in being pardoned.” After all, what did he do? He saved the Constitution. Men have made it to Mount Rushmore for less. Not that Bill Clinton has anything so grand in mind. In his remarks, Mr. Clinton made just one, small request: “I would like just once to see someone acknowledge the fact that this Whitewater thing was a lie and a fraud from the beginning.” Sure he would.

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