Of all the arguments offered by Democrats during the impeachment of
President Bill Clinton, the weakest is their objection to calling witnesses
before the Senate. Having denounced the Republicans on the House Judiciary
Committee for failing to take direct factual testimony before they approved
the articles of impeachment, how could the Democrats seriously suggest that
the Senate commit the same error? (This fallacious proposition wasn’t
strengthened by the mirror-image hypocrisy of the Republicans, who saw no
need for witnesses in the House but now insist that they are essential in
The Democrats’ desire to avoid unpredictable testimony and complete
the proceedings with dispatch was understandable, even if logically
insupportable. And now that a full trial appears inevitable, the
President’s defenders should turn their deserved defeat into a
forensic opportunity. Relying wholly upon well-worn allegations in the
Starr report, the Republican case is unlikely to provide any new or
startling revelations. But with skillful questioning and a bit of boldness,
the Democratic defense may well make the prosecutors regret the fulfillment
of their demands.
Despite the sometimes painful windiness of their speeches, the
emissaries from the House–and in particular Representative Asa
Hutchinson, the former prosecutor from Arkansas–presented a reasonably
coherent case that Mr. Clinton perjured himself and obstructed justice.
Like independent counsel Kenneth Starr, however, they also omitted
important testimony from Monica Lewinsky, Betty Currie and Vernon Jordan
that tends to exculpate the President. And still more significant and
dramatic evidence against impeachment may arrive with the testimony of
No doubt the Republicans would prefer to avoid an appearance by the
unpopular Ms. Tripp. But if they call Ms. Lewinsky, they will have
difficulty insisting that the notorious taper should not testify about her
role in the events in question. For example, the notion that Mr. Jordan was
enlisted by the President in an obstruction conspiracy is directly
contradicted by Ms. Lewinsky’s grand jury testimony.
After all, it was Ms. Tripp, and not the President, who first suggested
that Ms. Lewinsky should seek the assistance of Mr. Jordan in obtaining
employment in New York. It was Ms. Tripp who demanded that Ms. Lewinsky
refuse to sign the false affidavit about her relationship with Mr. Clinton
unless and until Mr. Jordan secured a cushy private-sector job for the
former White House intern. And it was Ms. Tripp–under the direction of
agent-provocateur Lucianne Goldberg–who compiled evidence of the
Clinton-Lewinsky relationship, urging Ms. Lewinsky to send letters to the
President through a courier firm owned by Ms. Goldberg’s brother and
to keep the semen-stained dress.
All these circumstances suggest that Ms. Tripp and her covert allies
were setting up evidence for an obstruction case. Remember that by the time
Ms. Tripp urged Ms. Lewinsky to seek help from Mr. Jordan, she already was
taping their conversations, anticipating that she would eventually reveal
the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship in the media. When she urged Ms. Lewinsky
to demand a job in exchange for her affidavit in the Jones case, Ms. Tripp
was even more determined to expose the affair. So her insistence that Ms.
Lewinsky withhold the affidavit until Mr. Jordan produced a job had nothing
to do with Ms. Lewinsky’s future welfare, and everything to do with
framing evidence of obstruction. Even more suggestive is Ms. Tripp’s
remark, on one of her taped chats with Ms. Lewinsky, about Mr.
Jordan’s previous assistance to Webster Hubbell. It was that
connection, of course, which permitted Mr. Starr to win approval from
Attorney General Janet Reno for his investigation of the Lewinsky
So the President’s defenders can use testimony from Ms. Tripp to
outline an alternative scenario, in which she and Ms. Goldberg (and perhaps
others) used Ms. Lewinsky to create an obstruction conspiracy, with the
express purpose of ending the Clinton Presidency. Ms. Tripp is not the only
witness whose testimony might prove embarrassing to the House Republicans.
The President’s attorneys also could call Mr. Starr to the witness
stand, to discuss exactly how and why he embarked on the Lewinsky
investigation. Evidence that he has refused to produce so
far–including his communications about the case with the Attorney
General a year ago–could be useful in exploring pertinent questions of
prosecutorial misconduct. Did Ms. Tripp and others conspire to set up the
President? If so, was Mr. Starr aware of their machinations, and did he
participate in them? Did he know that his law partner, Richard Porter, had
been contacted by Ms. Goldberg, and that Mr. Porter had been working with
the attorneys for Ms. Jones?
Perhaps Ms. Jones and her associates should be questioned publicly, too,
now that her case against Mr. Clinton is settled. For the first time, they
might be required to reveal under oath exactly who was paying for the
politically inspired lawsuit that led to this crisis. Such information
wouldn’t diminish the President’s liability for his deplorable
behavior. But it would reveal the sinister context within which he fell
prey to his own weaknesses.
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