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Western Press Review: Congressional Hearings On Clinton Underway

  • Don Hill

Prague, 20 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr's appearance before a Congressional committee considering President Bill Clinton's possible impeachment draws comment today from all major U.S. and British newspapers. The hearings began too late to generate press reaction in Europe.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The hearings degenerated into a bitter partisan battle

In a Financial Times, London, news analysis, Washington correspondent Mark Suzman offers a succinct summary: He writes: "The impeachment hearings against President Bill Clinton degenerated into a bitter partisan battle yesterday."

WASHINGTON POST: The committee has made up its mind already

Ruth Marcus concurs in her analysis in The Washington Post. Marcus writes: "For much of the day yesterday, it looked like the House Judiciary Committee was weighing the impeachment of Kenneth Winston Starr, not William Jefferson Clinton. In a sense, the focus on Starr rather than Clinton was logical. For the most part, the committee -- much like the country -- has made up its mind already about what it thinks about the president's conduct and whether it believes it should lead to his impeachment."

Marcus goes on: "Indeed, the day was less evidentiary hearing than partisan venting, with essentially no debate about the facts of the case but extensive argument about how they were gathered and what they add up to."

NEW YORK TIMES: Clinton is probably much nearer the severe censure that he deserves

The New York Times calls in an editorial, as it has before, for the idea of impeachment to be buried and for the Congress instead to issue a ringing censure of the President. The Times says: "On the core question of whether President Clinton's misconduct in office merits impeachment, the testimony of Kenneth Starr brought more clarity than most Americans could have expected."

The editorial contends, however, that Starr presented no new evidence since his September 9 referral of charges to the committee. It says: "Now, as then, that information provides what Rep. Bill McCollum called 'a compelling picture' of a president failing in his sworn duty to see that the law is faithfully executed. But now, as then, the correct conclusion is that condemnation through formal congressional censure is the proper punishment for Clinton, not impeachment by the full House followed by the ultimate constitutional penalty of removal from office by the Senate."

The editorial says: "As for the final resolution of these matters, the mess does not look so large Friday as it did Thursday. Starr's reputation for legal acuity and balanced judgment has been seriously damaged. Clinton is probably much nearer the severe censure that he deserves for betraying the rule of law."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Clinton has a certain immunity to shame

Jonathan Turley's commentary in the Los Angeles Times is subtitled "For Censure To Work, Clinton Would Need To Have the Capacity To Feel Shame." The trouble with censuring Clinton, he says in effect, is that public censure wouldn't bother him at all. Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University, writes: "Congress is on the brink of what may be an insurmountable legislative goal -- the shaming of William Jefferson Clinton. Faced with compelling evidence of criminal acts in office, Congress has searched for some alternative to the constitutional process of impeachment. With the encouragement of the White House, some have suggested censure, the shaming of the president." Turley continues: "The use of a shaming device against President Clinton is generally recognized as a rather laughable concept at this stage in his career. It is doubtful that the president's pulse would even register an increase at the very moment that members cried, 'For Shame, Mr. President!' If Clinton has one redoubtable characteristic, it is a certain immunity to shame."

GUARDIAN: An elemental conflict deep in the national psyche unfolded

The Guardian, London, carries a commentary by Julian Borger in Washington. Borger describe the hearing as a joust between two U.S. national personae. He writes: "As in the days of (discredited anti-communist crusader Joseph) McCarthy and (former President Richard) Nixon, an elemental conflict deep in the national psyche unfolded amid the jostling press and whispering lawyers -- a cultural struggle between two Americas. Kenneth Starr, the minister's son raised in the Texas Church of Christ, sat before the (committee) to list President Clinton's wrongdoings in a mild but unforgiving drawl -- a representative of an upstanding, God-fearing middle America horrified by the libertine ways of the Clintons. The other America, multi-cultural and sexually tolerant, sat above and to the right on the Democratic benches of the committee."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: The law sets up a problematic disconnection between politics and the law

In the U.S. newspaper Christian Science Monitor, correspondent Ann Scott Tyson writes in a news analysis that much of the conflict in the Starr-Clinton confrontation stems from the basic flaw in the U.S. special prosecutor law that assigns an ultimately political question to a legal agent. She writes: "Central to the frustration expressed by all sides in the impeachment debate -- including (that of) Starr -- is the 20-year-old independent counsel law, reauthorized by Congress with Clinton's backing in 1994." She writes: "As it stands now, however, the law sets up a problematic disconnection between politics and the law. On one hand, it assigns to an independent counsel the nitty-gritty prosecutorial work of gathering evidence of impeachable offenses. Yet it is the House of Representatives that must decide, in a heated political atmosphere, what an impeachable offense is."

THE TIMES: Kenneth Starr has become the subject of an inquisition himself

Damian Whitworth in Washington writes in an analysis in The Times, London: "Kenneth Starr, President Clinton's tormentor for the past four years, became the subject of an inquisition himself yesterday."

In a separate article, Whitworth claims to have perceived a metaphor for the attitude of a sizable segment of the U.S. and world citizenry, overloaded by now with the Clinton scandal. He writes that Starr spoke in "clear, almost hypnotic tones." Whitworth says: "Seven television networks were transmitting every word that (Starr) had to say about his investigation. (But) behind his left shoulder, (several of) those who were lucky enough to have a ringside seat at the historic event weren't even listening. They were asleep."