Senate should decide verdict in public; Trial climax: Secret deliberations would only add to travesty after publication of grand jury testimony.


THE PEOPLE need to know how their senators vote on the proposed removal of President Clinton from office, and why. Senators are not mere jurors but judges. The verdict is the most public part of a trial that must be wholly transparent.

The secrecy imposed in 1868 on the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson was unprecedented then, and does not bind senators today.

Should the conclusion of the current trial be kept secret -- and then subject to leaks -- the Senate would join the House of Representatives in travesty.

The House, with the complicity of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, subverted justice by publishing the part of the proceeding that should be secret -- the grand jury testimony. After that break in tradition and decorum, no excuse remains for secrecy in the public trial.

Nor should the Senate be distracted by the affidavit of the British polemicist Christopher Hitchens contradicting the deposition of White House aide Sidney Blumenthal on one point. It sheds no light on whether President Clinton obstructed justice, and little on Mr. Blumenthal's truthfulness.

Mr. Blumenthal testified that on Jan. 21, 1998, President Clinton lied to him about his liaison with Monica Lewinsky, but that Mr. Blumenthal did not instruct White House staff to mislead the public.

The next day, The Sun reported that White House interns were told not to approach the president lest they be labeled "stalkers." On Jan. 28, The Sun reported that some White House workers considered Ms. Lewinsky a "stalker," or "clutch," for trying too hard to get near the president.

If Mr. Blumenthal's deposition is honest, he did not instruct White House staffers; if dishonest, he did. Mr. Hitchens' asserts that two months later Mr. Blumenthal talked this way to him. If so, it was stale news in the public domain.

If Ms. Lewinsky's concern at being labeled a "stalker" should never have been made public, blame the House of Representatives, Mr. Starr and Linda Tripp for blabbing. Ms. Lewinsky discussed it in phone calls that Mrs. Tripp illegally recorded, which thanks to Mr. Starr the House later published.

At this final stage, the Senate needs no more blind alleys. It must decide whether to remove the president for perjury and obstruction of justice, or not. The people have the right and need to see every bit of this end game.

Pub Date: 2/09/99

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