Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias Not for me to say

By Michael Kelly

In a column last week, I wrote that President Clinton must be impeached because he persists in a campaign of lying under oath, and I also noted that the president was a pig and a cad and a brute. Several readers noted that (a) who was I to say who must be impeached? and (b) pig, cad and brute was no way to talk about any president. Upon brooding, I would like, as they say in the White House, to amend and revise my comments.

For the same reason that Clinton should not resign — because he serves at the will of the citizens and it is properly up to them, not him, whether he goes or stays — it isn't the place of one citizen (me) to say whether he must be impeached, but only whether, in that citizen's opinion, he should be (he should). On the matter of swine and related beasts, in deference to the office, I should have written in terms of the sin rather than the sinner, that is to say, about piggish, caddish and brutish behavior rather than about a pig, cad and brute per se. Fine distinctions perhaps, but, as we are all learning from our president, fine distinctions are the very stuff of life.

When I first contemplated amending and revising, I worried that to do so might get in the way of slinging future arrows at Clinton's outrages. But then I read Monica Lewinsky's testimony and I watched (twice, God save me) the president's videotaped testimony, and I bucked up tremendously. Why, I remembered, in the time of Clinton, amending and revising (and for that matter, regretting) one's past deeds means that one may continue with more of exactly the same.

For there on my television set was the president, full of claimed regret and amending and revising wildly (or rather carefully) in all directions. And there he was also, at the very same time, full of fresh new behavior that can only be described — though it pains me to say it, just as it pains the president to say what he must say — as piggish, caddish, brutish and, above all, dishonest.

Indeed, mere calumny seemed inadequate. Does "piggish" really do justice to the behavior of a man who routinely, by the sweet and subtle signal of unzipping his fly and exposing himself, beckons the office help to kneel before him and perform while he chats on the phone? (See Monica Lewinsky's deposition, pages 1293, 1305, 1321, etc.)

Does "caddish" really convey the full meaning of the behavior of a president who starts an office fling with an intern fully intending to dump her one day and knowing "when I stopped it . . . she would talk about it. She would have to. She couldn't help it," knowing that "sooner or later it would get public"? (See Clinton deposition, pages 575 and 587.)

Does "brutish" really capture the behavior of a man who, in denying Kathleen Willey's allegations that he pawed and mauled her in the Oval Office, uses the occasion to re-smear his accuser, hinting that Ms. Willey was a woman of affairs and of poor reputation ("You know what people down in Richmond said about her") and that she had sexually pursued him, and that she, not he, was the known liar? (See Clinton, pages 611-615.)

On the subject of lying, here truly is where words fail. It would be far, far easier to count the times Clinton did not lie in his grand jury testimony than to count the times he did. He lied in his opening statement, when he said that his sex activity with Lewinsky had not consisted of sexual relations as he "had understood the term to be defined" in the Paula Jones deposition.

From that beginning, he lied on and on, covering half a dozen subjects, ranging from his efforts to retrieve his gifts to Monica Lewinsky and his efforts to coach his secretary Betty Currie to lie, to the precise nature of his sexual activity with Lewinsky, to his Monica-related dealings with co-conspirator Vernon Jordan.

He lied about his past behavior, and he lied about his past lies. He lied by omission, by evasion (more than 140 times he said he could not remember a past action), by obfuscation and, when all else failed, by direct statement.

The case that the president committed perjury numerous times in both the Paula Jones deposition and in his grand jury testimony has been clinched now beyond any reasonable doubt. The evidence of obstruction of justice is only slightly less convincing. Whether Clinton must be impeached over this is for the people to decide; whether he is fit to hold office is not even a subject for debate anymore.

Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal.

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