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Jewish World Review Jan. 13, 1999 /24 Teves, 5759

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell A trial is a trial is a trial

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) DESPITE ALL THE POLITICAL CLEVERNESS and spin, a trial is still supposed to be an attempt to get at the truth and to determine what the proper legal disposition should be. If that is its central and essential purpose, then how long the Senate impeachment trial lasts and how many witnesses are or are not called are things that cannot be allowed to be the tail that wags the dog.

A thorough trial need not be an endless trial. There are a number of ways to keep the process from being needlessly delayed. Perhaps most important of all is to restrict the witnesses and the discussions to the issue of whether the president is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. Neither Kenneth Starr nor Linda Tripp nor anybody else is on trial in the Senate.

The special prosecutor is responsible to the Justice Department and to the three-judge panel that appointed him, but the Senate has no power to punish him. If either he or Ms. Tripp has violated either civil or criminal laws, that is what courts are for.

If the Senate is serious, it will not allow this red herring to be dragged in yet again. Some of the complaints against Kenneth Starr that were raised before the House Judiciary Committee had already been tried in court and found to be without foundation.

The Clinton defenders were able to waste time bringing these charges up again because the court records were still sealed at that point and Judge Starr was therefore forbidden to defend himself by discussing things in sealed records. Now those records are unsealed, so that game should not be tolerated again.

Another big time-waster has been the demand for spelling out just what "high crimes and misdemeanors" means. The Constitution is not an insurance contract with lots of fine print and technical details. On matters of historic national importance, such as removing a president from office, this must clearly be a judgment call and no Constitution could possibly spell out all the things that might put such a weighty question on the agenda.

Most important of all, this is not something for more legalistic hair-splitting, which is all that a detailed spelling out of high crimes and misdemeanors would lead to. Nor should the Senate be overly impressed by liberal academics pretending to be experts on presidential impeachment.

There has been only one other president impeached in more than two centuries of American history, so there is not enough history for anybody to be an expert.

Attempts to put time limits on the proceedings are especially dangerous when dealing with a president who has made stalling a central part of his defense strategy throughout the investigations of his conduct. After the special prosecutor agreed to a four-hour time limit on the president's White House testimony in August, Clinton rambled on and on in answering even the simplest questions and ran out the clock.

Courts have been stalled on subpoenaed documents, as the House Judiciary Committee was stalled on getting answers to their questions. Stalling while complaining about how long the investigation is taking has been a White House strategy throughout.

Why would the Senate even consider setting itself up for more of the same with a time limit on an impeachment trial? In the end, sanity prevailed and no such limit was imposed, but still the constant emphasis on how "expeditiously" they can get it all over with puts the Senators under informal political pressure.

People also need to stop and think about the mindless mantra of "bipartisanship." It would certainly be better if both political parties judged the evidence honestly and reached conclusions on the merits as they see them. But "bipartisanship" cannot mean a veto for a willful minority that is trying to stave off a guilty vote by hook or crook.

If Democrats have decided to vote for acquittal, regardless of the evidence, that can create a party-line vote. But that does not make both sides partisan. A dishonest political mythology has already been created that both sides of the House Judiciary Committee turned the proceedings into a partisan circus. This is easily disproved by anybody with enough concern for the truth to look at the videotapes of those hearings.

The repeated interruptions of witnesses and other committee members, the shrill cries of "point of order," as well as other off-the-wall comments, were overwhelmingly the work of Democrats. Republicans alone cannot make any proceeding bipartisan.

01/11/99:Trials and tribulations
01/08/99: Rays of hope
01/04/99: Random thoughts
12/31/98: The President versus the presidency
12/29/98: The time is now!
12/23/98: World-class hypocrisy
12/21/98: The spreading corruption
12/17/98: Politically "contrite"
12/16/98: Polls and partisanship
12/14/98: The "non-profit" halo
12/11/98: Corruption and confusion
12/03/98: The health care "crisis"
11/30/98: Knowing what you are talking about
11/23/98: The impeachment legacy
11/23/98: Random thoughts
11/19/98: Tales out of bureaucracies
11/16/98: Scholarships based on scholarship
11/12/98: Forward march
11/09/98: Moral outrage
11/05/98: Will the Republicans ever learn?
11/02/98: A voter's duty
10/30/98: The poverty pimp's poem
10/29/98: Random thoughts on the election
10/27/98: "Partisan" and "unfair"
10/23/98: Ed-u-kai-tchun
10/21/98: McGwire, Maris and the Babe
10/16/98: Lightweight Boxer
10/14/98: A strange word
10/09/98: Impeachment standards
10/08/98: Alternatives to seriousness
10/07/98: Heredity, environment and talk
10/02/98: A much-needed guide
10/01/98: Starr's real crime
9/24/98: Costs and power
9/18/98: Are we sheep?
9/16/98: Judicial review
9/15/98: Hillary Rodham Crook?
9/14/98: Taking stock
9/11/98: Moment of truth
9/04/98: Random thoughts
8/31/98: The twilight of special prosecutors?
8/26/98: "Doing a good job"
8/24/98: America on trial?
8/19/98: Played for fools
8/17/98: A childish letter
8/11/98: Hiding behind a woman
8/07/98: A flying walrus in Washington?
8/03/98: "Affordability" strikes again
7/31/98: Random thoughts
7/27/98: Faith and mountains
7/24/98: Clinton in Wonderland
7/20/98: Where is black 'leadership' leading?
7/16/98: Do 'minorities' really have it that bad?
7/14/98: Race dialogue: same old stuff
7/10/98: Honest history
7/09/98: Dumb is dangerous
7/02/98: Gun-safety starts with
parental responsibility
6/30/98: When more is less
6/29/98: Are educators above the law?
6/26/98: Random Thoughts
6/24/98: An angry letter
6/22/98: Sixties sentimentalism
6/19/98:Dumbing down anti-trust
6/15/98: A changing of the guard?
6/11/98: Presidential privileges
6/8/98: Fast computers and slow antitrust
6/3/98: Can stalling backfire?
5/29/98: The insulation of the Left
5/25/98: Missing the point in the media
5/22/98: The lessons of Indonesia
5/20/98: Smart but silent
5/18/98: Israel, Clinton and character
5/14/98: Monica Lewinsky's choices
5/11/98: Random thoughts
5/7/98: Media obstruction of justice
5/4/98: Dangerous "safety"
5/1/98: Abolish Adolescence!
4/30/98: The naked truth
4/22/98: Playing fair and square
4/19/98: Bad teachers"
4/15/98: "Clinton in Africa "
4/13/98: "Bundling and unbundling "
4/9/98: "Rising or falling Starr "
4/6/98: "Was Clinton ‘vindicated'? "
3/26/98: "Diasters -- natural and political"
3/24/98: "A pattern of behavior"
3/22/98: Innocent explanations
3/19/98: Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill
3/17/98: Search and destroy
3/12/98: Media Circus versus Justice
3/6/98: Vindication
3/3/98: Cheap Shot Time
2/26/98: The Wrong Filter
2/24/98: Trial by Media
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
2/19/98: A "Do Something" War?
2/12/98: Julian Simon, combatant in a 200-year war
2/6/98: A rush to rhetoric

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.