Witnesses May Help Clinton’s Defenders

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 Senate.)

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

Linda Tripp.

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

matter.

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.