We, The Jury

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NANCY GIBBSThere is substantial and credible information supporting thefollowing eleven possible grounds for impeachment: 1. PresidentClinton lied under oath in his civil case when he denied asexual affair, a sexual relationship, or sexual relations withMonica Lewinsky...You could almost hear the country go quiet as it started to turnthe pages. After eight months of watching a grand jury at work,we've become one. Court is in session around the dining-roomtable, at work and at church and, ultimately, in the halls ofCongress. For month after month as this story unfolded, theAmerican people have shown their sense of fairness: pressed fortheir judgments by pollsters, they said, again and again, let'sgive him the benefit of the doubt until all the evidence is in.They know that juries are supposed to go slow, weigh thearguments and do justice, no matter how long it takes. When thedefendant is the President and the charges without precedent,the ultimate test for him is no less a test of us.And so on Friday, in the breathtaking opening arguments fromboth sides, the combatants placed before us a choice betweencore values: between privacy, which has become so fragile, andmorality, which has become so debased. Kenneth Starr and BillClinton, hunter and quarry, one wielding his scorchingflashlight, the other his anointed cigar: Which troubles peoplemore? One prosecutor, unaccountable, brought the full force ofthe legal system to bear in probing private sexual behavior; onePresident, implacably evasive, drew on the full weaponry of hisoffice simply to hold on to it. The verdicts the American peoplewill render in the weeks to come are less legal judgments thanmoral and political ones about both sides, which is why the casefinally arrived last week where it ultimately belongs: in thepeople's hands.Holding those hands for dear life are members of Congress, whoset off last weekend to their districts, trying to figure outwhere we are. They know that a majority of Americans havebelieved for months that the President was lying when he deniedan affair, a failing that they have always distinguished from hisconduct in office. But that may not have prepared voters for theexperience of paging through the sad, smutty chronicle that Starrhas provided in his effort to remind voters that this was noordinary case of adultery, that the lies Clinton told came infront of a judge and jury. Many will throw down the text indisgust, both at what the President did with Monica Lewinsky andwhat Starr did to expose it.Those who read on will be forced to make judgments. Of Starr,some have already concluded that he was carrying out his swornduty in the face of a conspiracy to stop him; others argue allhe proved in the end was his own willingness to humiliate thePresident and horrify the public with a report so gratuitouslydetailed and pornographic that it warranted warning stickers anda plain brown wrapper.As to Clinton, confessed sinner, the choices are harder; for inhim the public and private are utterly fused. It is one thing toengage in a private affair between consenting adults. It isanother to have a 22-year-old intern performing oral sex on thePresident while he talks by phone to a Congressman about thefate of Americans stationed in Bosnia. It is one thing to turnthe Lincoln Bedroom into a campaign ATM machine, another to turnthe Oval Office into a hot-sheet motel. It is one thing for thePresident to invoke the cleansing powers of repentance. It isanother to suggest that he deserves to serve out his term sothat he can help teach our children about integrity and show byexample that God can change us and make us strong at the brokenplaces.Before it is all over, the really hard test won't be whetherlegal scholars reach some consensus on whether Clinton's conductmet the standard for high crimes and misdemeanors; or whetherRepublicans would rather a weakened President Clinton serve outhis term than an energized President Gore; or whether thecommentariat declares that Clinton is a dead man. The hard testis whether in 50 years Americans will look back at 1998 and saythat we raised the bar for public office so high that onlysaints need apply, or that we dropped it so low that moralauthority fell out of the job description.PAGE 1  |    |    |    |  
 
Ken Starr's long journey down the dirt road takes the readerpast things most would rather not see, to places they wouldrather not go. The most shocking aspect of the report was thesheer quantity and raw quality of sexual detail. Starr's grandjurors received this evidence drop by drop, day by day; lastweek it came in a torrent over the wires in an instant, floodingthe circuits of conscience and calculation and taste. Starrtakes readers through the entire history of Clinton'srelationship with Lewinsky, from their first flirtations duringthe government shutdown in the fall of 1995, when the internshad the run of the West Wing because the grownups had to stayhome. Lewinsky ran into him in the hall on her way to theladies' room. She lifted her jacket to show him her thongunderwear. He asked if she wanted to see his private office. Andan affair was born.With that begins the narrative of 10 sexual encounters, which,according to Lewinsky's testimony, included oral sex, oral-analsex, phone sex and much mutual groping--through phone calls, orin hallways, on Easter Sunday, while Hillary was out of town--acatalog aimed at demolishing Clinton's claim that his sworndenial of sexual relations was legally accurate. Starr'sversion left members of Congress expressing a desire to take ashower after they read it.The volume of sexual detail represents an enormous danger to theWhite House; everything whispered, rumored and wondered aboutthis story now goes directly into the public consciousness aboutClinton. He is immune to filters now. And so the detailsthemselves needed to be turned into a weapon against Starr,which is exactly what presidential advisers began to do evenbefore his report was released. White House aides charged thatStarr had gone way too far in including so much embarrassingdetail, all designed to do nothing less than force the Presidentfrom office one way or another. Including all those bluefootnotes, the Clinton team argues, was simply part of ahit-and-run smear campaign. The President, they argued in theirrebuttal on Saturday, had already admitted that he had had animproper relationship and apologized repeatedly for it. That mayhave been a sin, but it was no crime. The referral is so loadedwith irrelevant and unnecessary graphic and salaciousallegations that only one conclusion is possible: its principalpurpose is to damage the President.Starr, in turn, has had his response to this charge ready andwaiting for weeks: the President's evasive testimony made thedetail essential to proving the case for perjury. Though thePresident promised at his Friday-morning prayer breakfast not tohide behind legalisms, that is precisely what his lawyers putforward at a news conference that very afternoon, when theytried to argue--once again--that lying did not necessarilyconstitute perjury. Monica's recollections of their activitieswould clearly fall under the definition of sexual relations,which the President denied having in his deposition for thePaula Jones case. So the President's lawyer, David Kendall,offered this explanation last week: It may well be thatpeople's recollections differ. That does not necessarily meanthat one is lying.The other pillar of Starr's case has to do with the wholeattempt to cover up the behavior Starr chronicles in Part 1.Americans may be troubled by the amount of time and energyClinton spent last winter helping Lewinsky find a job, returngifts he had given her and prepare for her testimony in theJones case. Clinton's lawyers maintain that in each case thesewere innocent activities. But Starr's report argues that witheach effort, Clinton was working to conceal the affair fromlawyers in the Jones case and thereby derail their lawsuit, andthen derail Starr's own investigation when it got under way inJanuary.Clinton could not have pulled off this deception alone. In fact,given all the people in a position to see Monica coming andgoing delivering papers, pizza and presents, Clinton appears tohave been surrounded by the most supine courtiers sinceClaudius. Until last week his secretary, Betty Currie, wasportrayed as a warm-hearted yet harmless bystander in the OvalOffice; the Starr report suggests that she was something morethan that. Currie, as much as Vernon Jordan, emerges as thePresident's co-conspirator in covering up the affair, which mayhelp explain why she testified five times. Clinton deniedputting Currie up to these chores; and Currie could not, almostwithout exception, recall if he did.  |  2  |    |    |  
 
Starr's report was so novelistic that reading it had the effectof redrawing the characters we have watched now for so long. Itis above all Monica's story, breathless, girlish, reckless,clueless. And yet it was Clinton who had the most to lose:Monica's popularity ratings have been close to the single digitsfor months, while the President, riding a muscular market andpeaceable times, seemed invulnerable to redefinition no matterhow lurid the rumors of his personal conduct. But that was ajudgment made about a public man: Starr has now introduced hiswanton private shadow, and asks us to reckon with both. There isClinton, servicing a major donor on the phone as Monica lurksnearby. There he is plotting chance encounters in the hall so heand Monica could slip into the private study, while indirectlywarning the men who guard him that indiscretion will cost themtheir jobs.For all of Lewinsky's fantasies of a blossoming emotionalrelationship, a merry tumble into love with Handsome, theaccount portrays the President as a varsity cad. He had hisfirst lengthy conversation with her after their sixth sexualencounter. Time and again, Clinton would interrupt Monica'scheery chatter by kissing her, kind of to shut me up. In onetelephone conversation he told her he wasn't interested inhearing about her job problems so he could quickly move on tosexually arousing banter. According to her testimony, heappeased her restless heart by holding out the prospect of alife together after the White House, musing about his marriageand whether he would be alone in three years. In the most secure18-acre complex on earth, the only place he could find someprivacy was in a windowless hallway outside his office, leaningagainst a doorjamb, because, he told her, it was easier on hisback. When she found out from a White House guard that he was inthe Oval Office entertaining the attractive Eleanor Mondale andstormed off in fury, he called her later to say, It's none ofyour business.A President beloved by his people and his party would bestaggered by the blow the report dealt him. But Clinton wentinto Friday morning already reeling. Whatever his shortcomingsas a person, many fellow Democrats figured long ago, he was atleast a gifted athlete, an ambidextrous operator who could caperand maneuver and keep his feet dry. It would be nice, of course,to have a grownup in the Oval Office, but voters have settledtwice now for something less than that because he seemed so goodat the job that kept tripping others up. And yet here he was,with his very survival at stake--the thing he cared mostabout--and he suddenly couldn't find his footing in one failedapology after another. Lawmakers, even those who never muchliked Clinton but respected his talent, were spooked by thesight of Houdini drowning in his chains.Then there was the sheer impact of his recklessness andarrogance. He had chosen to seduce, under the eyes of his staffand security detail, not only an employee half his age but onewho was indiscreet from the start, sending mushy notes bymessenger, telling her mom and her friends and her therapist,all but skywriting over the Capitol that she had bagged the BigGuy. It's not comfortable to be a politician riding thecoattails of a man with a death wish. Among the requirements ofhis apologies to fellow Democrats was the assurance that therewere no more high heels to drop.With Clinton judgment in tatters and his skills in question, itmade sense to ask the next question: Well, if he can't retrievethese things, if he can't put those talents to use making ourlives better or safer, and if he sincerely cares aboutpreserving his policies, then why not do the honorable thing?The notion of resignation, dismissed as unfair and inconceivableonce the overwrought January days had passed, rumbled back intothe national conversation. Even before the report arrived,lawmakers were surprised by how quickly the mood was changing.They came back to work last week after spending some time athome and getting an earful. Real people, the lawmakers learned,were sick and tired of turning off the TV when the news came onand hearing their kids use Monica like a cussword. They keptasking each other how they were supposed to explain to theirconstituents why the President of the U.S. was allowed to keephis job after admitting to behavior that would get a high schoolprincipal fired. Even Republicans like Representative FredUpton, a moderate Michigander, called for Clinton's resignationafter being asked over and over by voters what he could do aboutit. When Newt Gingrich heard about his colleague's announcementon returning from several weeks out of town, even the Speakercould hardly believe it. Wow, things have really changed, hetold a friend.  |    |  3  |    |  
 
With each passing day, the situation became more and moreuncertain. You've got your clear attack dogs. They love it,they don't mind living in glass houses and throwing rocks, saidMark Sanford, a South Carolina Republican. But most of us feeluncomfortable in the role of judge. It isn't exactly why we cameto Congress. We're off center and edgy. Democratic lawmakerswho had been suggesting privately for weeks that the Presidentstep down found new allies in corridor conversations and even inleadership meetings. At Clinton's appearance Wednesday inFlorida, the audience inside was supportive, while the hecklersoutside waved posters: DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR DAUGHTERS ARETONIGHT? CLINTON IS IN TOWN; IT'S MORALITY, STUPID; RESIGN, YOUSWINE.At the White House, spirits were lodged somewhere in thesub-basement. The President was isolated from all but a handfulof aides, and they admitted that he is past taking muchdirection on these matters. At one low point, he complained thatthe only people sticking with him were the black members ofCongress. It is a B-team White House now, with the best leavingand the ones who remain lacking the stature to tell thePresident what to do, much less how. Attempts to find astraight-talking TV lawyer to defend the President continue tofizzle, with three and then four candidates having refused thejob. Of the current crowd, a former high-ranking White Houseofficial says, They were all kind of standing around waiting tosee if he would ever come to Jesus, waiting to see where hishead was. The staff took its lead from him. In fairness, too,staff members never knew what the facts were, and the lawyerswouldn't tell them. They had no choice but to wait for signsfrom the top. An aide, asked what the strategy is, said thePresident will continue to talk but won't pretend to change thesubject; the White House knows this scandal is not going away.Then he paused and conceded, I guess that's not a strategy.That's a philosophy.The lack of clarity could be traced back to Clinton himself.Even as he embarked on his grovelthon--aides took to referringto CNN as the Contrition News Network--he signaled in privatethat his anger still trumps his sorrow. When he sat down withhis Cabinet Thursday afternoon, for the first time sinceenlisting their support to defend him last January, he bared hissoul and watered his eyes and shared some Scripture and defendedhis record in office. But when Health and Human ServicesSecretary Donna Shalala suggested that surely your personalbehavior is as important as your policies, his face went red,and he slapped her down hard. If you were judging on personalbehavior and not policies, he snapped, then Richard Nixonshould have been elected in 1960, not John Kennedy. The roomwent silent. It was clear that this guy did not want to hearany criticism, said an official familiar with the meeting.If Clinton was having mixed success with his Cabinet, his stockwas sinking even faster with his party on Capitol Hill.Clinton's official supporters, Tom Daschle of South Dakota andDick Gephardt of Missouri, urged members to stay cool, butcongressional aides were quick to acknowledge that their bosseswere appalled by the President's behavior. Members were worriedthat they would be guilty by association--a chain the G.O.P. wasbeginning to forge in some ad campaigns in key districts. Thewidely cited Battleground poll released last week showed thatClinton's personal problems have elevated moral and religiousissues to the top of the voters' agenda. They tie with crimeand drugs as the No. 1 problem facing the nation. The poll alsoshowed that scandal is discouraging traditional Democraticvoters from voting. That fueled a growing fear that theRepublicans could pick up enough seats in the House and as manyas six Senate slots to make their power exponentially greater,impervious to filibuster. White House aides fanned out amonglobbyists and labor unions and financiers last week to shore upsupport, having backers call lawmakers and urge them to stand bythe President. Most of them just kept quiet.That dynamic explained why, for all the professions of decorum,Republicans were playing for keeps and Democrats were trying tomake it all a fairness issue. It was hard to square Gingrich'stalk about sober bipartisanship with the impeachment war roomset up by Republican whip Tom Delay, who has already called forClinton to resign. Staff members from his office had compiledbinders full of material on impeachment procedures. By waging aphony war over whether to give Clinton an advance look atStarr's report, Democrats laid the groundwork for a claim thatthe whole process ahead will be a show trial. I feel that theRepublicans were so wrongheaded not to let the President have acouple of days to review this document, said Democrat HenryWaxman, who nevertheless voted for the resolution to release thereport. However deplorable Clinton's conduct, the hurry to sendthe report out over the Internet, he said, looked to him like aclear partisan effort at railroading.  |    |    |  4  |  
 
Having asked for 48 hours, the White House managed to releaseits own prebuttal by Friday morning, charging in 78 pages thatStarr had unleashed a one-sided, salacious screed that failed tofind any impeachable offenses relating to Whitewater orTravelgate or the FBI files or anything under his originalmandate, and instead focused on sexual misdeeds for which thePresident had already apologized. The second rebuttal, onSaturday, again blasted Starr's biased recounting, skewedanalysis and unconscionable overreaching. But a rebuttal couldonly go as far as the facts allowed: it did little to combat theoverall picture of what a White House aide described as apathetic predator who is just depraved. And to go down the roadof contesting each tawdry detail is to get into a game, WhiteHouse aides say, they could never win.The President's approval ratings held up the first night, butFriday is always an imperfect night to poll, and many people hadnot yet had any chance to digest even a summary of the report.By Saturday afternoon, Republicans seemed more troubled thancertain of what to do next. Some were ready to take theirassigned seats right away: What has struck me is that if thisis true, it'll be difficult for many members not to vote toimpeach the President, said Florida's Bill McCollum, the thirdranking Republican of the Judiciary Committee. I think we'rewell beyond the option of censure. He could already be censuredfor what he admitted a few weeks ago. I don't know how anyonecould possibly consider keeping him if he lied under oath, if hewitness-tampered, suborned perjury--it doesn't matter what thesubject matter was.But other Republicans, anxious to avoid stridency in any form,began warily to name Clinton a likely survivor. Several saidStarr had so overplayed the sex that it might ultimatelyundercut his argument and obscure what many Republicans hadhoped would be more open-and-shut cases on obstruction. Few, ifany, said Clinton looked easily impeachable on perjury charges,which most members of the leadership want to avoid anyway.However obvious it was that Clinton had repeatedly lied underoath, most were doubtful that the country would be willing toimpeach Clinton over lies about sex in any form. Evenrock-throwing Republicans like Georgia's Bob Barr stopped shortof calling for Clinton's head right away: I've called for aninquiry into impeachment, not impeachment. Most were leftshaking their head. This is just sad, distressing, FloridaRepublican Charles Canady noted softly. On a personal level,I'm stunned by the picture of the President treating a youngwoman in such an exploitative way. And I'm also struck by themore serious issue of whether the President committed perjurybefore the grand jury.Democrats, meanwhile, grumbled in grim disgust. After readingmuch of the Starr report, six-term Democrat David Skaggs ofColorado said, I'm not sure we have a proper basis forimpeachment, but I'm pretty sure the effectiveness of thispresidency is pretty well destroyed. A six-term Midwesternlawmaker could barely finish his sentences as he tried to sum uphis feelings, but he said he suspected Clinton would pullthrough. I don't think this is impeachment, but that could turnas this report sinks in. Another Democrat said he waspersonally outraged by Clinton's behavior, but added thatStarr lacked all sense of proportion. He's trying to getClinton by shocking the sensitivities of the public. There verywell may be a snap-back reaction to this. California DemocratZoe Lofgren said that for all the stomach-turning detail,Clinton doesn't appear to have crossed the bar for impeachment.If you look at the supporting evidence, it's kind of shaky [onobstruction and tampering]. It's really about sex and lyingabout sex, she said.With resignation unlikely and impeachment still unappealing,some on Capitol Hill were thinking that something in the middlemight be best. Censuring the President in a symbolic vote byboth houses has all the music of compromise that lawmakers love:it sends the moral signal that Clinton's behavior was wrong andunacceptable, but it stops well short of running him off. BothRepublicans and Democrats could take their pound of flesh just afew weeks before the election, but without lowering themselvesto Starr's level. Under the circumstances, says a presidentialadviser, they would gladly settle for a censure. If we couldget a deal, we'd take it and run.There is no guidance on the books about what constitutes actualgrounds for impeachment: Nixon resigned before a Senate trialunfolded. But at the time, a third-year law student named JohnWhitehead interviewed a congressional candidate on the subject:I think the definition should include any criminal acts, plus awillful failure of the President to fulfill his duty to upholdand execute the laws of the United States, the candidatereplied. The third factor that I think constitutes animpeachable offense would be willful, reckless behavior inoffice, just totally incompetent conduct in the office and thedisregard of the necessities that the office demands. Yearslater, Whitehead would found the Rutherford Institute, whichfinanced a sexual-harassment lawsuit aimed at toppling aPresident. And years later, the candidate would be sitting inthe Oval Office, still parsing definitions.  |    |    |    |  5