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Western Press Review: Clinton Reprieved, Papon Sentenced

By Esther Pan and Alexandre d'Aragon

Prague, 3 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The international press today addresses two major stories of past days: the decision of an Arkansas judge to dismiss Paula Jones' sexual harassment suit against U.S. President Bill Clinton, and a French jury's sentencing of Maurice Papon, an official in the wartime Vichy regime, to 10 years in prison his part in deporting Jews to Nazi death camps.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: A bittersweet victory for Clinton

The Los Angeles Times calls the Jones decision "a bittersweet victory for the president. In the years that the Jones case has crawled through the courts, we've heard excruciating details about presidential anatomy and accusations about Clinton's private behavior. And the investigation of independent counsel Kenneth Starr, which began with Whitewater, became hitched to that of Jones, focusing on sex and he-said, she-said scenarios instead of the suspicious Arkansas real estate deal. Without the Jones case, there would have been no allegations of perjury or subornation of perjury or obstruction of justice in Starr's Washington investigation of Lewinsky, Willey et al. Through it all, Clinton stayed high in popularity polls, buoyed by a helium-filled economy. But with his artfully crafted and legalistic evasions regarding mounting accusations, he seemed coated in slime."

Ross K. Baker, in the same paper, calls the decision "neither a vindication nor a moral testament" for Bill Clinton. He writes: "If recent history is any guide, the bull market will continue its rampage and the president's approval scores will soar into record territory, not necessarily because Americans think very highly of the man in the Oval Office, but because he is seen as a kind of amulet of prosperity. Nobody wants to impeach Santa Claus...Bill Clinton's very successes and current popularity with Americans sends a very clear message that you don't have to be a person of exceptional character to be president. Indeed, you can score in the bottom quintile on the moral aptitude test and still enjoy the approval of the multitudes."

Some papers commented on U.S. District Court Judge Susan Webber Wright, who made the unexpected ruling.

BOSTON GLOBE: Wright showed courage in taking responsibility for decision

The Boston Globe says: "Judge Wright's decision deserves comment of its own. In politically charged situations, it is always easier for a judge to let a case go to trial so the judicial system, rather than one person in black robes, can make the judgment. For this reason, even Jones's supporters must concede that Wright showed exceptional courage in taking the responsibility on herself, and thereby underscoring the value of an independent judiciary appointed for life. Even presidents cannot be above the law, but judges must be above politics."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Judge adopted Steinem Standard

The Wall Street Journal is more critical, writing: "It seems the judge has adopted the Steinem Standard as offered recently in The New York Times by feminist Gloria Steinem. To wit, 'no means no, yes means yes.' It's OK for a man - at least one who votes the right way - to expose himself and ask for oral sex, so long as he takes no for an answer and doesn't try twice. We presume, as we previously predicted, that appeals will extend the life of the (Paula Jones) case. Still, President Clinton has won a famous victory. We suppose he doesn't even have to go to China now."

Many papers noted that although the immediate legal threat to Clinton is diminished, his legacy and that of the presidency are permanently damaged.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Five years of sleaze will be hard to covercome

From London, The Financial Times writes: "The campaign to cast Clinton into a better light will, his advisors hope, help shape the lasting memory of Mr. Clinton's presidency. It will be a long haul. The public has had five years of almost continuous suggestions of sleaze surrounding the president. He has only half that time in which to change those perceptions."

Clinton's remarkable survival skills also attract comment from other European papers.

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: Clinton escapes slime

Italy's Corriere della Sera writes from Milan: "The US President has risen again to the heights from the slime of the sex-scandal. The decision from Little Rock means that the lawsuit of Paula Jones is halted. There will be no trial. For the moment, the door to "Sexgate" is closed...During the siege the president found a new...polemic - one in his favor - the enormous cost of the investigation of the scandals: $35 million up to last September, a record. Clinton will stay under siege - despite the defeat of the serious accuser Jones."

BERLINER TAGESZEITUNG: Despite all, Clinton still as popular as Reagan

From Germany, the Berliner "Tageszeitung" writes: "The case of Jones against Clinton had two dimensions from the beginning: a political and a legal. Legally, the case is decided. The deal is settled, and the court found no grounds for a trial against Bill Clinton. He has maintained since the beginning that the case was politically motivated, that the accusations were legally shaky. And even though the decision from Little Rock doesn't solve all his problems...he is still as popular as Reagan was in his best days."

In Europe, another landmark legal case is grabbing headlines and occupying editorial pages - the decision by a French court to sentence Maurice Papon to 10 years in prison for 'crimes against humanity' committed while in service of the collaborationist Vichy government in France.

LIBERATION: Papon trial marks end of untouchables

In today's Liberation, Serge July says the decision represents "the end of the untouchables." He writes: "A generation that did not know war, collaboration, national revolution or the anti-semitism of Vichy judged, 56 years after the first convoy left Bordeaux for the death camps, 50 years after the trials for treason of the Vichy regime, that an administrator of that government was an accomplice to the final solution. Members of the jury, who were not born at the time of the crimes, nonetheless judged the facts and condemned an accused old man despite the nobility of his administrative titles. July continues: "All the barriers to justice have been thoroughly removed. The jury navigated the sinuous path of history, avoided its mazes and traps, and declared this man guily of deporting Jews. The verdict from Bordeaux marks the end of the untouchables, who are possibly responsible but never guilty. It shows that administrative ideology can engender office criminals. They are not less criminal. No one should forget that, beginning with the today's high officials. They have suddenly ceased, as a result, to be themselves untouchable."

GUARDIAN: Case exposes French false truth

Jon Henley in today's London Guardian writes that the Papon case exposes the French "false truth" that most Frenchmen during the war were heroic resistance fighters. He writes: "To many in France and outside, the case was a litmus test of the country's capacity to acknowledge its collaboration with the Nazis, and its complicity in sending 78,000 French Jews to the death camps."

LHUMANITE: Years caught up with Papon

An article in yesterday's L'Humanite by Bernard Frederick and Elisabeth Fleury says: "At the opening of the trial, we asked ourselves, what will Papon be thinking when he enters the box and faces the victims? Will he have regrets? The answer was given during some 90 hearings and this Wednesday by Papon himself: No. He has no regrets...except for being there and maybe later, for being condemned for crimes against humanity. He, the former Budget minister under President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, former Paris police prefect, former senior civil servant in North Africa...A few years spent at the Gironde prefecture caught up with him in the end. The old man fought until the last moment. But he didn't humbly claim to be innocent. Instead, he harshly denounced a hypothetical conspiracy against him, for which he never cited any protagonist or motive."

LA REPUBBLICA: Papon a criminal without leaving his office

In Italy, La Repubblica in Rome wrote yesterday: "Papon was a criminal bureaucrat. He showed that during the 'Shoah'...He took part in the hunting of Jews even though he stayed sitting on his stool and never left his office...He did it by supervising the deportation of French Jews in his position as vice-prefect."

EL PAIS: French past and present are still related

From Spain, Madrid's El Pais comments today: "Many of the French concluded yesterday that a page of history had been turned. But the past and the present are very much related. Papon's anti-semitism is reflected in Le Pen's racism; the National Front leader also brandishes his past as part of the Resistance when attacked. Fate has decided that on the same day Papon was condemned, another sentence was rendered prohibiting Le Pen from running for public office in the next two years, for assaulting a socialist deputy during last June's campaign. These condemnations don't get to the root of the French "malheur", but they can help France come to terms with its past."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Collaboration was function of state

From Germany, today's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says: "The Papon trial has painted a picture of what life was like back then. There is a difference between this one and the trials against Klaus Barbie and Paul Touvier, which were about the occupier and his French helpers. With Maurice Papon we enter the territory of more or less passive, more or less active collaboration that was the function of the state and the responsibility of officialdom."

LES ECHOS: Trial creates idea of administrative crimes

And in today's French economics journal Les Echos, Dominique Seux writes: "The pedagogical role vested in this trial to reopen the debate on France's Vichy regime - when the majority of the French today didn't live this period - was only partly reached. Why? Partly because the victims' families, by waiting and waiting, no doubt charged this trial with too-great expectations; partly, because the defense worked hard to present Maurice Papon as playing a subordinate role; partly also because Jacques Chirac and then Lionel Jospin had already recognized, in contrast to Francois Mitterrand, the responsibilities of the Vichy regime...Nonetheless, this trial will serve to show that high-ranking politicians can be sued and condemned, even belatedly. It will also create the notion of "administrative" crimes against humanity: the fact that Maurice Papon helped the SS to arrest Jews and intern them in death camps."