Conservative editorialists and Republican senators alike are
advancing a two-pronged procedure to conclude the Senate impeachment
trial, involving two separate votes. The first vote would determine
whether Clinton is guilty of certain offenses; the second, whether he
should be removed from office.
Other commentators have amply demonstrated the reasons this
ill-advised plan is unconstitutional and in derogation of the rule of
law. The thrashing of the Constitution and rule of law is no more
palatable when done by Republicans just because they are deemed to be
champions of both. Beyond its unconstitutionality, however, the plan is
highly unlikely to achieve the goals of its architects.
A preliminary vote on the “finding of fact” as to whether Clinton is
guilty of the charges, it is contended, would force the senators to
reveal the basis of their second vote, if necessary, on whether to
remove. Plus, a finding that he is guilty of the offenses, even if he is
not ultimately removed, would allow senators to condemn Clinton’s
conduct so that he will have less to party about in the event of his
As to these arguments, several points are in order. First, whether
and how robustly Bill Clinton decides to party following an acquittal is
certainly a legitimate matter for people to be repulsed about, but it
should not guide the Senate’s decision as to how to proceed in this
case. That is a matter to be dictated solely by the Constitution.
Secondly, Democrats will only endorse this two-vote plan if the first
vote — the finding of fact — is crafted in very general and virtually
As evidence of this, it was reported that Sen. Snowe, who first
suggested this idea to Lott, is considering a resolution that would find
Mr. Clinton guilty of “certain offenses,” though not necessarily of
specified crimes. Here we go again — words without meaning; actions
without substance; a Constitution that means less and less.
The proponents of this plan may protest that they were advocating
that the resolution not be cast in general terms, but in language that
finds Clinton guilty of the specific crimes of perjury and obstruction
of justice. That may be true, but there is a very simple reason that
such specific findings of guilt on the criminal charges will likely
never muster appreciable bipartisan support.
One of the greatest cons that has been perpetrated on the body
politic throughout this impeachment ordeal is the fraudulent scholarship
that perjury and obstruction of justice are not impeachable offenses.
It’s a safe bet that most Democrats, including those ivory tower
partisans who testified to the contrary, know that these gravely serious
felonies have always been considered impeachable conduct — by the
framers, the eminent jurist Blackstone and the previous Senate courts of
impeachment. It is precisely for this reason that the Democrats don’t
dare consent to a bifurcated vote plan that would compel them to pass on
whether Clinton is guilty of these specific charges. To vote yes on the
resolution and no on removal would leave an indelible black mark on
their historical records. Therefore, by agreeing to such a plan, they
would be voluntarily surrendering the cover of ambiguity that a single
vote to acquit would afford them and force them to take the scandalous
position that these crimes are not impeachable. Democratic senators can
more plausibly disguise their shameless partisanship in a single vote to
acquit because they can always hide behind the myth that there wasn’t
enough evidence to convict.
Belying Democratic duplicity in denying the impeachability of
Clinton’s conduct are their uniform arguments on the issue. Just observe
the words of Democratic pundits and all Democrat-proposed censure
resolutions. Both sets of Clinton defenders (those in and out of office)
are almost jubilant in their enthusiasm to assign every conceivably
negative adjective to Clinton’s behavior, save one: criminal. When
pressed on the talk shows to specify exactly what “reprehensible”
conduct they are condemning they invariably say, “he engaged in an
improper relationship, he hurt his family and he lied to the American
people.” “But, did he lie under oath?” “Um, he was less than truthful.”
They all shrink from admissions of criminality more quickly than a
vampire from a cross. Similarly, no censure resolution will accuse
Clinton of criminal conduct.
Senate Republicans should take a lesson from the House managers. They
should concentrate less on political maneuverings and the unattainable
goal of bipartisanship, and marshal the fortitude to follow the
Constitution regardless of the political consequences. History will
judge them accordingly.