What president did was not a high crime; Senate: Acquit Clinton of charges, then censure him for behavior that provoked this mess.


THE CHARGES against President Clinton never added up to high crimes and misdemeanors as the Framers of the Constitution defined them.

To pretend that they did would judge President Clinton by a standard to which no previous president has been held. It would weaken the presidency, making the hunt for impeachable scandal the great political game in coming decades.

The impeachment trial managers did not prove President Clinton guilty even of low crimes and misdemeanors. Instead, they counted on senators' willingness to convict on suggestibility and inference.

For those reasons, the Senate can hold high its own place in history only by a majority vote to acquit President Clinton of the two articles of impeachment.

A two-thirds vote for conviction, however unlikely, would remove him from office and permanently lower the bar for removing future presidents at whim. Who can doubt that the means by which independent counsel Kenneth Starr dogged this president for four years would be used against other men and women in high office?

Even a simple Senate majority vote for one or both articles, while leaving the president in office, would undermine the stability of future administrations and encourage more Starrs, more Hydes, of either party.

In this case, the alleged obstruction was on matters that a judge found not material to a civil lawsuit and on a grand jury inquiry into that.

Whatever one thinks of Mr. Clinton's too-nimble verbalization, no citizen should be comfortable ousting a president for an offense involving entrapment on a matter fundamentally irrelevant to his office and the Constitution. President Clinton, however slimy his behavior, did not undermine the nation's institutions. Mr. Starr and Rep. Henry J. Hyde -- in their unbridled zeal to get him out -- did.

Republican senators can best serve their nation and their party by voting to acquit the president. The Republican Party is either conservative about the institutions and stability of the United States, or it is not conservative after all.

House managers insisted the trial was about perjury and obstruction and not about private behavior or general deceit. Yet that is what disgusts Americans about their president.

Not high crimes and misdemeanors, which were not committed; not low crimes and misdemeanors, which were not proved; but reckless personal misbehavior, which no one doubts.

Many would say these private matters should not be known. Once revealed, however, they cry out for censure.

The Senate should censure President Clinton for disgracing his nation and office. What Mr. Clinton did with Monica Lewinsky was wrong; what he did about it was morally deficient.

The Senate should, more honestly than the House, denounce Mr. Clinton for his behavior. Then everyone should get back to work.

Pub Date: 2/11/99

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