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Morris says he took a poll on the voters' willingness to forgive confessed adultery. He phoned back a few hours later to tell Clinton that voters would forgive adultery "but not perjury or obstruction of justice." In other words, it was already too late. Morris testified that Clinton said, "Well, we just have to win then."
So the President denied the affair on television and in one-on-one conversations with aides who, perhaps believing the lie, repeated it endlessly when spinning the press and testifying before the grand jury. He used the power of the Executive Branch--the White House megaphone and the counsel's office--to attack Starr and impede his investigation with a series of privilege claims that were rejected by the courts. Through such tactics, the independent counsel's report claims, Clinton "abused his constitutional authority."
The charge echoes the second article of impeachment passed by the House in 1974, the one that charged Richard Nixon with "abuse of power." That count, an especially eloquent and sorrowful passage in the impeachment record, accused Nixon of no specific crime but rather of acting "in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States." Such abuse of power goes to the heart of the framers' conception of high crimes and misdemeanors, by which they meant offenses against the state and injuries to the Republic itself. Does Clinton's conduct reach that level?
Anyone with children may easily say yes. Yet clearly, nothing Clinton did sinks to the depths of what Nixon did, such as using the IRS to hound opponents and dispatching the CIA to thwart an FBI investigation. The claim that Clinton abused the counsel's office by invoking privilege claims is "nonsense," said White House counsel Charles Ruff, a respected former Watergate prosecutor and U.S. Attorney. "He did so on my advice. I went to the President and said the independent counsel is seeking to intrude into the legitimate, confidential discussions you have with your lawyers and that your senior staff have among themselves. It is your obligation as the President to protect the core constitutional interests of the presidency."
Some constitutional scholars argue that Clinton's more frivolous privilege claims injured the presidency, because Supreme Court rejection of the claims narrowed the circle of confidants any President can count on. But whatever the merits of the ploy, it is to Nixonian abuse as the Berkshires are to the Rockies.
What's more, Clinton's entire campaign of lies and obstructions in 1998 was designed to combat an investigation that Clinton--and many other Americans--viewed as fundamentally illegitimate. The only justification for Starr's probe of the Lewinsky affair--the reason Janet Reno authorized it--was an alleged pattern of obstruction that Starr said stretched back to the Whitewater case.