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Jewish World Review / July 28, 1998 / 5 Menachem-Av, 5758

Roger Simon

Roger Simon 'Man-of-da-people,' huh?

WASHINGTON -- The first sign came that something was up at the White House was when reporters sitting inside the briefing room heard the whup-whup-whup of Marine One's rotor blades outside.

The reporters were listening last Friday to Press Secretary Mike McCurry tell them how the president's personal attorney and Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr had become so lovey-dovey that they were figuring out ways for Clinton to "provide information" to the grand jury investigating him.

But when
Time to get off your high-horse, Bubba.
the reporters heard the helicopter blades, they knew something strange was going on: Reporters are almost always escorted outside when Clinton is leaving the White House so they can shout questions to him as he climbs on board.

This day, however, the White House wanted no shouted questions. This day, the White House was busy throwing up a smokescreen to disguise the fact that the president of the United States had been served a subpoena.

And this day, Bill Clinton learned the downside of being a man of the people: The people expect you to stay that way.

Clinton's job approval rating has remained high even in the face of the Monica Lewinsky investigation in no small measure because of his uncanny ability to connect with ordinary citizens.

But, as his political advisers have been warning for months, that is a double-edged sword: If you want to be of the people, you cannot place yourself above the people.

So when Clinton's legal team asserts that the president holds a special position that places him above certain laws, such as those covering subpoenas, it not only sets the stage for a constitutional showdown with unpleasant reminders of Richard Nixon and Watergate, but it undercuts Clinton's image.

While Clinton's lawyers are prepared to fight a subpoena from Starr all the way to the Supreme Court, they would rather negotiate a compromise that would allow Clinton to voluntarily provide information to the grand jury.

At the same time, Clinton's political team has formulated his last-ditch defense: If the Lewinsky case is just about sex, then it is not a high crime or misdemeanor, either of which could require Clinton's removal from office.

That defense, which has been made privately to reporters by Clinton aides for weeks, was publicly stated by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., on CNN Sunday. Frank sits on the House Judiciary Committee, which will eventually receive Starr's final report on Clinton and which may have to decide whether to impeach him.

Yet Frank said Sunday, "We are not talking about in my judgment a terribly serious allegation as to whether or not he had sex with a consenting adult and that is really at the heart of the only really remaining question."

And though the issue may not be sex, but perjury, Clinton's advisers are convinced that as long as the case stays about sex and not obstruction of justice or about urging Lewinsky to lie, Clinton's popularity with the American people will give Congress little stomach to impeach him.

Yet the unique nature of the presidency can hurt Clinton as well has help him: While a private citizen could invoke a Fifth Amendment privilege not to answer questions before a grand jury, this could be political suicide for Clinton.

Which means he is not really a private citizen and not really in a special place above the law, but somewhere in between -- a very lonely place in between.

Legal opinion is sharply divided over whether a president can be subpoenaed, in part because the court seems to have no remedy if Clinton refuses. Normally, if a person refuses to respond to a subpoena, he could be found in contempt and jailed.

But many Constitutional scholars believe that a president cannot be jailed without first being impeached.

Starr believes that such a subpoena would be enforceable and he has issued one, though he could later withdraw it if he can work out a compromise with Clinton.

While it has been Clinton's policy to continue to be seen "doing the people's business" and not letting the case effect him, the Starr investigation has been going on for nearly four years and is having a considerable negative impact on Clinton's battle-fatigued aides, with a number, such as press secretary Mike McCurry, planning to leave.

"The only thing I am convinced of is that this will never end," a top presidential aide said Friday with weary sarcasm. "Starr is going to go on forever and ever."


7/23/98: Can frequent-flyer miles alone earn Bubba a Nobel Prize?
7/21/98: San Francisco: not only 'gay,' but happy
7/17/98: Why Bubba claims Y2K is US' biggest problem
7/14/98: Close Amtrak --- PLEASE!
7/9/98: Flag burning is for nuts!
7/7/98: Forget about his legal defense fund, buy Bubba shirts!
7/1/98: Wall-nuts
6/26/98: Perks and the press
6/23/98: There's a good reason Bubba wants gun-control...
6/19/98: Why Clinton can get away with going to Tiananmen Square
6/16/98: Maybe Big Brother ain't so bad after all
6/11/98: He claimed responsibility for Rwanda, so why isn't Bubba stopping Serbian genocide?
6/9/98: The Internet president?
6/4/98: You can call me ‘slick;' and you can call me ‘sick;' but never call me ‘Dick' .... as in Nixon, that is
6/2/98: Being a 'talkin'-head' is hard work
5/29/98 Pay the pol, pick the policy
5/27/98 A 'loo' in London
5/21/98Buba is back from Europe ... but what did he accomplish?
5/18/98Roses for Buba
5/12/98: Just who is "Mr. Republican" these days?"
5/7/98:"Why Clinton keeeps "going and going and going""
5/1/98:"Bubba v. Tabacka"
4/29/98:"You may ask, but should they tell?"
4/24/98:"McCurry and the kids from the ‘hood "
4/23/98: "NOW" should change its name to "THEN"
4/20/98: Freedom to be a jerk?
4/14/98: Bill is Hef's kinda guy
4/7/98: South African memories --- and a paradise not yet found
3/24/98: Bill's 12-day safari
3/20/98: Peace for Ireland?
3/18/98: Flat tire? Spare me
3/13/98: Latrell Sprewell's genius
3/10/98: On truth and reality
3/5/98: No, I'm not harrassing Hillary
3/3/98: The Unforgettable Henny Youngman
2/26/98: Grow up, boys!
2/24/98: Go get 'em, Bill!
2/19/98: My 15 minutes
2/17/98: The manic-depressive presidency
2/12/98: Drip, Drip, Drip
2/10/98: Clinton tunes out the networks
2/5/98: The flight of the Beast: America's love-hate relationship with scandal
2/3/98: Speaking Clintonese
1/29/98: What the president has going for him
1/27/98: Judgment call: how Americans view President Clinton
1/22/98: Bimbo eruptions past and present
1/20/98: Feeding the beast: Paula Jones gets the full O.J.
1/15/98: Let's get it over with: it's time to deal with Saddam, already
1/13/98: Sonny Bono is dead, let the good times roll
1/8/98: Carribbean Cheesecake: First couple has cake, eats cake
1/6/98: PO'ed: a suspected druggie jumps through the employment hoops
1/1/98: Cures for that holiday hangover
12/30/97: Buy stuff now
12/25/97: Peace to all squirrelkind
12/23/97: Home for the Holidays: Where John Hinckley, never convicted, will not be
12/18/97: Bill's B-list Bacchanalia: Press and politicos get cozy, to a point
12/16/97: All dressed up... (White House flack Mike McCurry speculates on his next career)

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.