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Remember the Hollywood stars, like Alec Baldwin, lecturing Americans
during the impeachment trial that “the whole world was laughing at the
United States” for trying to hold President Clinton accountable for
perjury just like any other person.
Europe, they told us, was much more enlightened about these things.
Americans were making too much of Clinton’s personal life. It was a
constant refrain on the TV talk shows. Lying under oath was just not a
serious matter. Just grow up, we were instructed.
Well, guess what? An ex-Cabinet minister in Great Britain has been
sentenced to jail for lying under oath. Jonathan Aitken is currently
serving an 18-month prison term for perjury — and no one in Europe is
laughing about it.
In fact, Aitken is taking his punishment like a man. His confession,
in which he reveals how he plunged “deep into the waters of
Christianity” to calm his guilty conscience is published on the
website of the Catholic weekly newspaper, The Tablet.
He admitted his guilt earlier this year, following the collapse of
his libel case against the Guardian and World in Action. Aitken spoke of
his “eternal shame” at asking his wife and daughter to lie about his
stay at the Paris Ritz.
“It was a lie about who paid a 1,500 pound hotel bill of mine in the
Ritz Hotel in Paris while I had been a government minister,” he
While Aitken isn’t wagging any fingers at anyone but himself, his
18-year-old daughter Victoria has pointed out the obvious analogy. She
said her father’s plight was strikingly similar to Clinton’s.
“He told a lie under oath, too, but he’s still the president …
while my father is now in jail,” she said.
But isn’t it curious that those open-minded Europeans would put away
a former Cabinet minister for 18 months over a little lie? Doesn’t that
stand in marked contrast to what we were told about how narrow-minded we
Americans were being for demanding that a president be held to the same
legal standard as an ordinary working man?
Of course, the British don’t share a justice system with the United
States. So the Clinton precedent did not apply in the Aitken case. But
it raises the question, once again, of what will become of the American
jurisprudence system after Clinton. Will standards ever again mean
Now Clinton is wrapped up in another scandal, which, ironically also
touches directly upon the issues of honesty and character. Clinton again
denies knowing anything about Chinese spying when every American knows
full well he did — and that he had done everything in his power to
encourage the transfer of sensitive technology to Beijing by hook or by
He also denies sexually assaulting Paula Jones — the very incident
that eventually prompted the perjury accusation. He denies raping
Juanita Broaddrick, but doesn’t offer an alibi or elaborate with any
details about the relationship. He denies any responsibility for
Travelgate, for Filegate, for Bloodgate, for IRS-gate. Deny, deny, deny,
deny, deny. Indeed, he denies any role in more than 50 different
scandals that have plagued his administration, any one of which would
have brought down a more honest, less politically cagey leader.
But Bill Clinton survives. He makes pronouncements and is taken
seriously by the White House press corps. When he makes patently absurd,
self-serving, self-indulgent statements — which he does virtually every
time he opens his mouth — no one around him laughs.
In retrospect, you have to admire the way Jonathan Aitken handled his
scandal. After all, he had witnessed, from afar, the way the Clinton
administration has succeeded politically through a systematic process of
lying, covering up, burying the truth, taking retribution on enemies and
never looking back.
Aitken saw that “success,” yet chose a different path. He came clean.
He took responsibility. He paid the price for his offense and didn’t ask
for any special consideration.
Some would probably say that Aitken is the fool and that Clinton is
somehow to be admired for what he has accomplished.
I tend to think, however, that it’s not Aitken who will live with
“eternal shame.” It’s Clinton. And shame on America for eight years of
co-dependency and enabling of this sociopath.