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Jewish World Review/ September 8, 1998/ 17 Elul, 5758

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez When silence is
truly golden

BILL CLINTON HAS TALKED his way out of every mess he's ever been in his whole life, but suddenly words fail him. The more he says, the deeper his problem becomes.

No one, least of all Democrats in Congress, wants to hear any more from Bill Clinton about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, certainly not another half-hearted apology. But Democrats -- and the whole nation -- are waiting to hear from Independent Counsel Ken Starr. And many members of Congress -- both Democrats and Republicans -- fully expect Starr's report will generate an impeachment inquiry. Barely one month ago, impeachment was unthinkable to any but a handful of conservative die-hards. What happened?

Democrats are clearly concerned that the Clinton scandals will hurt them at the polls in November, by depressing turnout if for no other reason. But there's more to it. Democrats appear fed up with a president who not only lied to the American people on television but who looked members of Congress in the eye in face-to-face meetings and lied to them, sending many stalwarts like Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., out to defend him at their own peril.

Others feel strongly that the president's actions are more than personal betrayal and have hurt the country. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said so in his lengthy speech on the Senate floor last Thursday when he upbraided the president for having engaged in behavior that was not only inappropriate, as the president claimed, but "immoral. And it is harmful, for it sends a message to the larger American family -- particularly to our children -- which is as influential as the negative messages communicated by the entertainment culture."

Lieberman's speech was followed by an even harsher judgment from Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., who suggested over the weekend that an impeachment inquiry was inevitable. Several other Democrats have suggested as much publicly and many more admit so privately. Wisely, most Republican elected officials have kept relatively quiet on the matter, letting Democrats send Bill Clinton the message that this problem isn't going away.

If and when an inquiry begins, the president's fate will rest entirely with the Democrats. Conventional wisdom has it that Republicans would just as soon keep Bill Clinton in office, preferring an admitted prevaricator to the straight-arrow Al Gore. Don't believe it. If there is any support among Democrats to vote impeachment in the House, Republicans will be happy to lead the charge, especially as the vice president's own ethical problems around campaign fund raising deepen.

What few people believed even weeks ago -- that a president could face impeachment because of a sex scandal -- now seems probable. And, ironically, it's the Democrats who will try to keep the focus narrowly on the Lewinsky matter. Even those Democrats willing to dump Clinton overboard aren't anxious to have an impeachment investigation look too closely at whether Chinese communists helped finance the president's re-election or whether administration and Democrat Party officials were trading national security secrets and policy favors for campaign cash. Because they feared any such conclusions would tarnish the whole Democrat Party, congressional Democrats hued to a strictly partisan defensive line during earlier congressional investigations into these matters. Now, it would be difficult to change course.

It's too bad the inquiry is likely to remain on sex and lies, because it allows some Clinton apologists to maintain he has simply been the unfortunate victim of a witch-hunt by sex-obsessed conservatives. But the sad truth about the Clinton White House is that it has been rife with ethical transgressions, big and small.

Bill Clinton came into office promising the most ethical administration in history. Instead, his staff illegally obtained FBI files on their Republican predecessors, tried to funnel lucrative travel contracts to the president's cronies and fired career professionals who had held those jobs, then tried to get the FBI and IRS to intimidate them.

Clinton appointees have withheld subpoenaed documents and other evidence from federal investigators, including the first lady's own incriminating law firm records, which contradicted her own grand-ury testimony in the Whitewater investigation and turned up mysteriously in the White House residence after they had been kept from investigators for years.

What's more the president himself has entertained in the White House a legion of scurrilous characters from convicted cocaine dealers to Chinese arms merchants, so long as they could come up with enough cash to fill Democrat campaign coffers.

All of these incidents deserve full investigation by any impeachment inquiry. Anything less won't begin to fathom the depths of corruption that have defiled this White House.


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©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.