Reactions so far to Clinton's latest round of perjury are mixed, but modestly encouraging. The naysayers complain that his responses to Chairman Hyde's 81 Requests for Admission are predictable and useless. Others, including some liberals, have been astounded by the arrogance and brazenness with which Clinton continues to treat this matter.
In an earlier column I contended that Hyde's requests were a masterstroke because they would force Clinton either to admit the factual allegations, thereby narrowing the issues and expediting the hearings, or face responsibility for requiring the committee to call further witnesses to support charges he refuses to admit. Of course, this strategy will only work if the committee has the mettle to follow up and hold Clinton's feet to the fire.
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Clinton's answers have produced more of a stir than expected, rekindling the ire of Republicans and igniting that of some Democrats, even if they do not ultimately effect a change in the outcome of these proceedings. Again, he has admitted none of the incriminating allegations, proving that his repeated professions of contrition have been a ruse. Apologies without confessions are meaningless. Because the answers constitute further felonies they demonstrate that Clinton's criminal activities are ongoing and completely discredit those who say his transgressions ended at some finite point in the past. Mr. Clinton has finally completed the lying circuit by managing to lie to all three branches of government: the executive, when he denied the affair to his staff so they would vicariously commit perjury for him, the judiciary with the Jones deposition and the grand jury, and now Congress.
Clinton's defenders cannot be heard to protest anymore that he was lying to cover up sexual activities. No, his sexual misconduct is now common knowledge to the literate world. He is lying to Congress to save his skin, not his family. Don't let one more liberal tell you that these lies are about sex; they are about obstructing criminal and constitutional justice and salvaging his irretrievably lost legacy.
In addition to reiterating his previous lies he added at least one major whopper. Clinton testified in the Jones deposition that he did not know if Lewinsky had been subpoenaed, but before the grand jury he swore that he did know at the time of the deposition that she had been subpoenaed. As a result of this wholesale contradiction Hyde asked him in questions 20 and 21 to specify in which instance he was telling the truth. Before you read the answers, don't ever underestimate Clinton's capacity to dissemble with nonpareil creativity. He's quite a gifted perjurer.
How can justice be served by compromising with a person who hasn't even stopped committing crimes? When a defendant in a criminal case receives probation pursuant to a plea bargain, he better not commit any crimes during his probationary period or he'll go to the slammer. Yet Clinton seeks lenient treatment while in the very process of committing additional felonies. What effrontery! It's tantamount to a criminal defendant committing further perjuries during his sentencing hearing on a perjury charge while feigning contrition as a means to leniency. It's also like a child being warned that if he doesn't apologize for smacking his brother he will be punished and, in the process of apologizing, he hits his brother again (right in front of his parents). That's what we are dealing with: ongoing criminal infractions by Clinton in broad daylight with the cameras rolling, just daring us to do something about it.
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Clinton's responses are grossly insulting to our intelligence and exhibit an even more cavalier attitude than anticipated. Just as with his grand jury testimony, he arrogated to himself the prerogative to determine which questions he would answer and which he would duck. He also consolidated answers to various clusters of questions -- a neat ploy to avoid answering certain questions directly. Any ordinary litigant who tried this would be inviting the court's wrath. But should we really expect more from a man to whom the American people have shamelessly sold their souls; a man whose Democratic colleagues have lied and cheated to protect; and a man whose Republican opponents have failed to demonstrate a unified commitment to bring to justice?
Call me a foolish optimist for holding out hope, but maybe this time Bill Clinton has gone too far. Maybe he has tempted fate a bit too much by casually adding this one last repugnant and conspicuous layer of paper to his rap sheet.
Perhaps this latest display of unbridled insolence will become the final straw that will make Congress realize that by its continued indulgence of this incorrigible, perennial adolescent they are literally commissioning his further felonies, his further disgrace of his office and the irreversible debasement of the Constitution. How much more damage to this country and its sacred institutions will President Clinton's bipartisan enablers permit before they make this glorified knave accountable?