- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2000

Subject of article, editorial makes corrections

Two items about me in The Washington Times, the July 6 article "Democratic loyalist twice urged independent counsel" and the July 13 editorial "Investigate Al Gore, again," contained several errors.
First, I am not at the Department of Justice now and have not been for about 18 months.
Second, whatever a "certified friend of Bill" may be, it's not me. I have met President Clinton once, when I was briefly introduced to him at a large public gathering. And while I was a partner of David E. Kendall's six years ago (as well as a partner of Oliver North's lawyer), I did not go back to that law firm when I left the government.
Third, readers may erroneously conclude that I thought Vice President Al Gore lied to Justice Department investigators. In fact, I did not. Memos from FBI Director Louis J. Freeh and others indicated that they also believed that no responsible prosecutor would actually bring charges against the vice president. Rather, the only issue was whether the technical requirements of the Independent Counsel Act required that that decision be made by someone other than the Department of Justice a question that everyone recognized was a very close call. Attorney General Janet Reno considered all of the evidence and decided, based entirely on the facts and the law, that an independent counsel was not required.
Chevy Chase

Readers battle over column on tower removal at Gettysburg

Having read Kenneth Smith's July 6 column about the "confiscation" of the Gettysburg observation tower by the Interior Department, I was shocked at the extent of the mischaracterizations of the facts in this matter ("Babbitt's charge," Op-Ed). Whatever one thinks about the merit of the removal of an observation tower from the Gettysburg battlefield (and there are undoubtedly many people who think its presence was a sacrilege ), that does not justify representing the incident as little more than government theft of private property.
The tower was taken through the process of eminent domain, the government's legal right to force a sale of private property for necessary public purposes. Eminent domain happens all the time, in every state, every day. That's how the government acquires land for roads and highways, as well as parks and other recreational areas. The property is taken through a legal process, but it is not "confiscated." Mr. Smith knows as well as I do that confiscation without just compensation is unconstitutional and would not be tolerated by any court in the land.
The fact is the owners of this tower will receive just compensation, to be paid by the federal government when the legal process has been completed. The legal process of eminent domain frequently involves two steps, the first of which can seem quick: The first step is to determine whether or not it is property that can be taken (i.e., whether or not there is a necessary public purpose to be served). The court in this case determined that it was, and that was all that is necessary to transfer ownership to the National Park Service.
There is still a second part of the process to take place, which can, and often does, take place after the property has already been taken. It will be a hearing on the amount of compensation that the owners are to be paid. The owners will be entitled to a full court hearing and will be able to present all their evidence of what the property was worth. At the end of the day, these owners are going to be paid what their property was worth.
Mr. Smith could not possibly have intended to make a fair presentation of the true situation in this matter. There are a multitude of reasons why the government deserves to be criticized, but to do so in this way doesn't create any value for any of us.

I cannot speak to the details of the legal processes involved in this multiyear effort to rid the land of this eyesore (now you know my feelings on the recently removed tower at Gettysburg), but Kenneth Smith knows that governments at all levels seize land and property daily on the simple moral and ethical basis of what provides the most good for the most people. Mr. Smith surely realizes that the rights of land and property owners are not unlimited.
Instead of an observation tower, let's say the structure had a less edifying purpose, perhaps a strip club or adult bookstore. Would Mr. Smith be so quick to condemn the government's action in that situation? The details are different, but the principle remains the same: The greater good of the larger number of citizens are served by removing the unsightly blight. This tower should have never been built. Mr. Smith's argument is close to "oh well, what's done is done," instead of viewing the tower's removal as correcting an action that should have never been allowed in the first place.
The issue of the proposed visitors center is not as one-sided as Mr. Smith presented. I consider myself a preservationist, but the proposed "deal" may be a good thing for battlefield preservation by moving the visitors center and cyclorama away from the critical ground on which they now stand and relocating them onto less significant terrain. The issue of collaboration between commercial interests and preservationists is a hotly debated one, but cool and reasoned debate and discourse on how the two sides can work together for mutual benefit would be welcome.
One learns about the great and small issues of Gettysburg not by going 300 feet into the air, but by putting one foot in front of the other and walking the dusty ground that they the ones that consecrated this ground, to use Lincoln's words trod. One learns more about the battle, the war and ourselves as humans by spending an hour at the Angle and walking down to Emmitsburg Pike and back than one ever could in an antiseptic and air-conditioned room at the top of a tower.

While I'm in favor of properly compensating private property owners for any taking of their land, I'm also very much in favor of preserving national battlefields as sacred places.
I've been to Gettysburg a number of times, and I found the tower, which was certainly located on the battlefield, an inappropriate structure and an unjustifiable diminishment of such a sacred place.
I'm a member of the Civil War Preservation Trust, and I'm always saddened by the uncaring attitude of many of our citizens, which has led to the destruction of much of our battlefield lands.
The removal of the Gettysburg tower is a small reversal of that dominate uncaring attitude.
Portland, Maine

I agree with Kenneth Smith. The view from the tower at Gettysburg was beautiful. I still have color slides that I took there in the mid-1980s during a visit with my youngest son. The view gives a perspective to the layout of the battleground that no map or photograph can give.
Because of having visited there several times previously, including a trip there during the 1960s with my parents when I was a child, the tower was the first place I took my son during our visit because I realized that this view would assist in his comprehension of the vast area which comprises the Gettysburg battleground, including the town and surrounding countryside.
No doubt the absence of the tower view detracts from the visitor's perspective of the historical area. The government taking of the tower from private ownership without due process is despicable. Once again, taxpayers are forced to foot the bill for the idiocy of a few elitists.
Columbus, Ohio

Kenneth Smith's column on the Gettysburg tower was right on target. As an amateur historian focusing upon the War Between the States, I have made the pilgrimage to Gettysburg more times than I can count and have always been generally oblivious to the tower's presence. I am something of a purist when it comes to battlefield preservation, and as such should probably be able to see both sides of this story, but the unconscionable victory of power over rights blinds me from seeing the good in restoring the skyline.
I reckon that pro-Confederate British historian Lord Acton had it right when he stated, "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Kenneth Smith is right on target with his column on the audacity of the seizure of the tower at Gettysburg. In addition to the loss of jobs Mr. Smith mentioned, there is a loss to handicapped people like myself who are physically unable to traverse the terrain in order to view the various sites of the battlefield.
Selbyville, Del.

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