Should Hillary testify? If needed, yes: But a committee appearance might become a political circus.


WHITE HOUSE Chief of Staff Bernard Nussbaum agreed on July 21, 1993, to allow law enforcement officials to search the office of his deputy, Vincent Foster Jr., who had committed suicide.

On July 22, a series of telephone calls took place among Hillary Clinton, her chief of staff Margaret Williams, her friend Susan Thomases and Mr. Nussbaum. Mr. Nussbaum changed his mind and refused to allow the Justice Department to conduct the search.

Last week, Ms. Williams and Ms. Thomases denied again under oath before the Senate Banking Committee that there was any connection. Several Republican members of the committee said they didn't believe the testimony; Chairman Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., said he might refer the matter for a possible perjury charge to the independent counsel investigating the Foster suicide in connection with Whitewater matters generally. He called Ms. Thomases' testimony "not believable."

Whether it's perjury or not, the Williams-Thomases testimony does not sound right. Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla., summed up the suspicious-minded view: "Ms. Williams started the day at 6:44 a.m. Arkansas time with discussions that something needed to be done to keep the law enforcers out of Foster's office. She ended the day with a conversation with Ms. Thomases and a conversation with Hillary Clinton to let them know mission accomplished."

He doesn't know that. But it is not too great a leap of faith. Consider that six minutes after that 6:44 call from Ms. Williams ended, Mrs. Clinton called Ms. Thomases, and one minute after that call ended, Ms. Thomases called Mr. Nussbaum, who previously testified that she brought up the matter of limiting the search in phone calls that day.

Some Republicans want to subpoena Mrs. Clinton to testify. Why? Were she to ratify what Ms. Williams and Ms. Thomases said, the doubters on the committee would not believe her. Her appearance before the committee, even voluntarily, might well, as Paul Sarbanes said, quickly become a "political circus." If there are reasonable suspicions of perjury or obstruction of justice involving anyone, the independent counsel can pursue them out of the spotlight, quietly and, we trust, professionally and non-politically.

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