When Henry Hyde accuses his Republican colleagues in the Senate of cowardice, and complains that his impeachment team was allowed only three “pitiful” witnesses, it is hard not to sympathize with the old blowhard. He brought this farcical compromise upon himself, of course, by failing to call factual witnesses before he rammed articles of impeachment through the House. Still, he has a point.
The only thing worse than this botched pseudo-trial, now thankfully in its waning hours, is the “split verdict” that some Republican Senators believe will preserve their vanishing dignity. How do they propose to issue “findings of fact” when they have so obviously evaded the unpleasant (and unpopular) fact-finding that was their duty under the law?
Unfortunately for Mr. Hyde, he and his colleagues have eagerly colluded in their own embarrassment. Their mismanagement of the limited examination they have been permitted by the Senate is epitomized by the decision to interrogate Presidential aide Sidney Blumenthal. This decision was prompted by Lindsey Graham, who publicly suggested during the House Judiciary Committee hearings last December that the President had employed Mr. Blumenthal in a nefarious scheme to smear Monica Lewinsky as a stalker. Mr. Graham reportedly got this clever idea from Mary Bono, widow of the beloved entertainer and now the distinguished Representative from Palm Springs, Calif.
So says Jude Wanniski, a conservative publicist and consultant who has been advising Mr. Graham informally about “the importance of Sidney Blumenthal” and other timely topics. (Until now, Mr. Wanniski’s greatest contribution to our national discourse was his promotion of “supply-side economics;” more recently, he has taken up the political redemption of Louis Farrakhan.) He says Mr. Graham recently told him that “this [idea] came from Mary Bono. One day during the hearings she had been reading Sidney’s [grand jury] testimony and she turned to Graham and said, ‘Oh look, Lindsey, here’s something really interesting.'”
What Ms. Bono pointed out was Mr. Blumenthal’s recounting of an Oval Office meeting with the President on the evening of Jan. 21, 1998–the same bleak Wednesday that the Lewinsky story broke in The Washington Post . In that conversation, the President told Mr. Blumenthal that “Monica Lewinsky came at me and made a sexual demand on me.” The President went on to misinform his loyal aide that after he rebuffed the former intern, “She said that she would tell people that they’d had an affair, that she was known as ‘the stalker’ among her peers, and that she hated it and if she had an affair or said she had an affair, then she wouldn’t be the stalker anymore.”
To Mr. Graham and Mr. Wanniski, this incident was both an “evil” conspiracy to smear a young woman and yet another element in the President’s scheme to obstruct justice. Mr. Graham has cited scant proof of his sinister theory about Mr. Blumenthal, beyond a handful of vague press reports, including columns by Maureen Dowd of The New York Times and Michael Kelly of the National Journal , both hostile to Mr. Blumenthal. (Here I should note that I am a longtime friend of Mr. Blumenthal.) Anyway, the simple and more pertinent fact is that the “stalker” canard originally came to public attention in Ms. Lewinsky’s own words.
On that busy winter evening when the President summoned Mr. Blumenthal to the Oval Office, Newsweek magazine posted a lengthy story on its Web site, titled “Diary of a Scandal.” This account highlighted a document allegedly provided by Ms. Lewinsky to coach Linda Tripp about what to tell the Paula Jones attorneys, which came to be known as the “talking points.” As Newsweek reported, “In case Tripp is questioned about the rumors about Lewinsky by Jones’s lawyers, the talking points suggest that she say Lewinsky ‘turned out to be this huge liar’ who ‘left the White House because she was stalking the [President] or something like that.'”
So much for the “stalker” scenario.
The antics of Mr. Graham are mildly funny; the Senate majority’s transparent maneuvers are not. How insulting for them to pretend that they have conducted due process, when they have done nothing except cover their own partisan backsides. After the curtain falls on this quasi-judicial burlesque, the Republican Senators may yet compound their disgrace by finding the President “guilty,” in order to soothe a minority of outraged conservatives, while declining to remove him, so as not to further outrage the majority of voters.
The nation’s founders did not intend an impeachment trial to serve as a face-saving charade for fearful politicians. They risked everything to establish a government that would protect the procedural rights of the accused, up to and including the President of the United States. They set forth in plain language a democratic method by which the people’s representatives could remove a President whose behavior threatened the Republic. And now their unworthy heirs, having contemptuously spurned the process outlined in Article II, Section 4, dare to treat the Constitution as if it were written on toilet paper.