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81 questions, 81 evasions

National | The president's answers to Congress heap contempt upon the impeachment process

Issue: "The tolerance police," Dec. 19, 1998

Only Bill Clinton would respond to the direct question, "Do you admit or deny that you are the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America?" with the evasive answer, "The president is frequently referred to as the chief law enforcement officer, although nothing in the Constitution specifically designates the president as such." And so it went in a game of cat and mouse through 81 questions asked of the president by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde. Question 17: "Do you admit or deny that on or about Dec. 17, 1997, you told Monica Lewinsky that her name was on the witness list in the case of Jones vs. Clinton?" The president responded that although he recalled telephoning Ms. Lewinsky to tell her that the brother of his secretary, Betty Currie, had died, "I do not recall other particulars of such a call." But a House Judiciary Committee "backgrounder" notes the record indicates the president told Ms. Lewinsky about the appearance of her name on that date. In her grand jury testimony of Aug. 6, Ms. Lewinsky was asked, "Did you come to have a telephone conversation with the president on Dec. 17?" She testified, "Yes, he told me he had some more bad news, that he had seen the witness list for the Paula Jones case and my name was on it.... He told me that it didn't necessarily mean that I would be subpoenaed, but that that was a possibility, and if I were subpoenaed, that I should contact Betty and let Betty know that I had received the subpoena." There are numerous such discrepancies between the president's latest responses and his previous responses, and the answers of others. Yet, through it all, the president and his attorney, David Kendall, repeatedly assert that none of his statements is "false and misleading." But in an "introductory statement" to his answers, the president admits "it was also wrong to mislead people about what happened." So, Mr. Clinton misled the people who do not have the power to legally punish him (his family and the public), but he did not mislead people who do have such power (the grand jury and the House Judiciary Committee). Question 14: "Do you admit or deny that you discussed with Monica Lewinsky prior to Dec. 17, 1997, that Betty Currie should be the one to clear Ms. Lewinsky in to see you so that Ms. Lewinsky could say that she was visiting with Ms. Currie instead of you?" This is a crucial question because it involves possible subornation of perjury by the president. In response, Mr. Clinton said, "I may have talked about what to do in a non-legal context at some point in the past, but I have no specific memory of that conversation." The record indicates something different. Monica Lewinsky testified on Aug. 6 that she and the president did, in fact, have such a discussion: "I think we-we discussed-you know, the backward route of it was that Betty always needed to be the one to clear me in so that, you know, I could always say I was coming to see Betty." Question 43: "Do you admit or deny that you gave false and misleading testimony under oath in your deposition in the case of Jones vs. Clinton when you responded 'once or twice' to the question 'has Monica Lewinsky ever given you any gifts?'" The president responded, "I give and receive many gifts." True, but how credible is it that the president would forget gifts from a woman with whom he was having an affair in the White House? To say that these and many similar statements are not false and misleading is itself false and misleading. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) correctly referred to the president's response as "tortured legal reasoning and convenient memory lapses. It offers no exculpatory evidence and does not call into question the accuracy of the Independent Counsel's referral to Congress." Twenty years ago, historian Paul Johnson observed that "one principal way in which our civilization is rendered vulnerable to the assaults of its enemies (and false friends) is by the undermining of linguistic truth. [Language] is the bloodstream of our culture, the real infrastructure of civilization.... Words can be prostituted and debauched, damaged by use, misuse or intent, rendered untruthful or treacherous, devalued or aggrandized, stood, as it were, on their heads, or turned inside out.... So long as we have language, we cannot be wholly enslaved, or wholly uncivilized...." That was written before the age of Clinton.
© 1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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Cal Thomas
Cal Thomas

Cal, whose syndicated column appears on WORLD's website and in more than 500 newspapers, is a frequent contributor to WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Cal on Twitter @CalThomas.

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