THE HOUSE Judiciary Committee is plunging this week into the most theatrical phase of its impeachment inquiry and should wind it up. Knowing the Lewinsky matter to be unworthy of the constitutional requirements for impeachment, the committee last week dived into campaign finance and, finding it too cold, jumped right out again. Independent counsel Kenneth Starr's referral on the Lewinsky matter is all there is.
Chairman Henry Hyde of Illinois should have read the referral for what it said between the lines. After four years of investigating suspicions, Mr. Starr could find no possible grounds for impeachment in the property deal known as Whitewater, in the suicide of Vincent Foster, in the replacement of White House travel office personnel or in the White House's possession of FBI files.
What Mr. Starr did produce was not a crime but a scandal, publication of which would embarrass out of public life a man of thinner skin than Mr. Clinton's. Prosecutorial overkill and apparent entrapment, as well as unprecedented FBI investigation of a president's private moments, may have produced a presidential lie under oath about the scandal.
That enrages or depresses many Americans in and out of Congress. But it does not constitute a high crime or misdemeanor in the meaning of the Constitution.
Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Paper No. 65 said such crimes "are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself."
Subverting constitutional democracy would be such a crime; lying about a sexual liaison in a civil lawsuit that never came to trial would not. Overturning the will of the voters, through impeachment and conviction, should not be considered lightly as mere rough-and-tumble politics.
The way for the House Judiciary Committee to discharge its solemn responsibility is to vote against any article of impeachment. Mr. Starr referred no evidence that rises to an impeachable offense, and the committee found none.
To send articles to the full House of Representatives would be a disservice to the nation. For the House to impeach the president, requiring a trial before the Senate, would deepen the national agony.
For the committee to vote an article of impeachment, expecting rejection by the House, would be dishonest and harmful to the Republican Party. For the House to vote impeachment as a political censure, without hope of conviction by the Senate, would harm and demean the nation.
Mr. Starr gave it his best shot and could not find a Constitution-worthy excuse for impeaching the president. The same must now be said for Mr. Hyde.
Pub Date: 12/08/98