Perjury threatens integrity of national institutions

Date Published – January 12, 1999

It has been almost one year since the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke out. What was thought at the time to be nothing more than another presidential affair has turned into a circus that threatens to undermine the once-hallowed Presidency of the United States. The Lewinsky scandal has brought up a number of issues in America ranging from sex to perjury to impeachment to the role of the independent prosecutor.

Understandably, this has provoked a lot of scorn among Americans. Unexpectedly, however, much of it has been directed, not towards the man whose presidency is at stake, but rather the man prosecuting him, Kenneth Starr. Ironically, the impeachment process has raised President Bill Clinton?s popularity to unprecedented levels while those for the Republicans have suffered immensely.

Yet, in the process of assigning blame, many Americans have forgotten the real issues in this debate, and conversely, who?s really to blame for all this mess. While Americans may resent Kenneth Starr for his ?witch hunt,? it is not he who created this mess.

No, the person who is fundamentally at fault is Bill Clinton. Without Bill Clinton, there would be no Monica Lewinsky, Linda Tripp, or Kenneth Starr. Had Bill Clinton not erred in having an affair with a twentysomething intern and then lying about it under oath, America could have been spared all of this.

The first thing he did was have the affair. Though many in America continue to insist that infidelity is not an impeachable offense and can probably make a good case of it, the affair is troubling nonetheless. Monica Lewinsky was not a peer of Bill Clinton. Rather, she was an impressionable subordinate to the President less than half his age. Certainly, the President?s behavior towards her, if not impeachable, can certainly be described as disturbing. After all, no one at Williams would defend a professor for having an affair with a student, which is basically comparable to what the President had with Lewinsky.

While the affair in and of itself is disconcerting, it is not impeachable by itself. After all, we?ve seen that even Republicans such as Henry Hyde and Bob Livingston are guilty of offenses similar to Clinton?s. Where they differ from Clinton, however, is in the fact that they did not lie under oath (and to the American people). That, not the affair, is the real reason why Clinton got impeached.

In response, many Americans have come up with reasons why it was okay for Clinton to lie under oath, which by the way happens to be a criminal offense called perjury. Some people mention that he had no choice because of a “puritanical” American electorate that might have called for Clinton?s head had it gotten word of an affair (which turned out to be very untrue). Some mention that no one, not even the Republicans, had to endure such scrutiny for their affairs or such deep inspection of their private lives as Clinton had.

All of these reasons might be somewhat true, but none of them can excuse Clinton for his actions. When anybody, let alone the Yale Law School-educated President, takes the oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, he is pledging to respect our judicial system and tell everything, no matter how unpleasant it may seem. When Clinton decided not to do that because it may not have the most politically expedient thing to do, he broke a serious law and thus left himself vulnerable to the forces of impeachment. Had he made the proper decision at that point and told the truth, he could have spared himself and the country the agony it has to endure now.

Bill Clinton had his chance to tell the truth and he decided not to. Now he has to live with the consequences of that decision, one of which could be his being thrown out of office. Some may say that, just like infidelity, perjury is not an impeachable offense because it seemingly doesn?t threaten our national security. What they fail to understand is that lying under oath, no matter whether you?re a President or a plumber, represents a serious assault against our country?s judicial system and cannot be tolerated under any circumstance. It is a serious enough offense such that anyone who commits it must worry not about losing his job, but more importantly about whether he might be thrown in jail. And when the President of the United States commits it, the perjury offense and the ramifications of it become dramatically more harmful to America. Surely, committing a criminal offense, especially one as serious as perjury, can be deemed not only impeachable, but perhaps imprisonment-worthy as well.

Now of course one cannot completely defend the others who have roles in this saga. Tape recording a friend?s conversation (Linda Tripp), saving a semen-stained dress (Monica Lewinsky) and publishing the embarrassing Starr Report and grand-jury testimony, both of which should have remained private (Kenneth Starr) are contemptible to say the least. Maybe we could even blame Newt Gingrich for this since his 1995 government shutdown was what brought the Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton affair to fruition. Yet, without Bill Clinton?s meanderings, there would have been no conversations to record, dresses to save, or Penthouse Forum-like stories to publish. Bill Clinton, and only Bill Clinton, got himself into this mess. He better hope for himself that his mistakes didn?t cost him his Presidency.

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