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Western Press Review: Clinton Trial Nears Conclusion

By Joel Blocker/Dora Slaba

Prague, 25 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The resumption today (1900 Prague time) of the U.S. Senate's impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton evokes considerable commentary in the Western press. There is also some comment on the bribery scandal that has shaken the International Olympic Committee in the past several weeks.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The trial should move to closing arguments

The Financial Times of London writes in an editorial: "Mr. Clinton's trial in the Senate has so far been conducted in a sober and serious manner. [Republicans] have pressed their case [against Democrat Clinton] with force and sensible restraint....The [President's] defense was both rigorous and eloquent. There has been comparatively little of the partisan bitterness that marked the impeachment process in the House [of Representatives]."

The FT goes on: "However, this studied bipartianship has been strained to the breaking-point by the House managers' [that is, prosecutors] attempt to drag [former White House intern] Monica Lewinsky back to center-stage...[which seems like] a desperate political stunt. The Senators, as judges and jury, should not be distracted by it. They now have three important decisions to make...whether to dismiss the case, whether to summon witnesses...and whether to convict the President of high crimes and misdemeanors."

The paper believes that dismissal is unlikely and that if witnesses are called it will be only in a Republican attempt to "damage a president who has, so far, managed not only to shrug off the trial but to set the political agenda as well." Its editorial concludes: "The trial should move to closing arguments and a vote without delay."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The Republicans do not have sufficient votes to condemn the President

In its editorial, Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung hopes that "the impeachment procedure will come to an end today." It says: "The prosecutors and the defense have been presenting their arguments for two weeks, the senators have been bombarded...with comprehensive factual documents, statements from witnesses and hypotheses. Now," the paper says, "it is time to take a vote."

The editorial goes on: "But the trial may not come to a speedy end. The Republicans have resorted to their last weapon in the face of likely defeat. In a legally controversial move, they have questioned Monica Lewinsky, even though she has given evidence several times....The prosecutors are simply flexing their muscles [in the hope of calling other witnesses] who could add some substance to the charges [against Clinton].

The SZ adds: "This provocative move has achieved its aim and destroyed all above-politics sentiments among the senators. The Clinton-Lewinsky saga is reaching its finale. The Republicans have enough votes to determine the rules of the trial. They do not have sufficient votes to condemn the President."

LE MONDE: Clinton has put into effect a courageous economic and social policy

Two commentaries --one in a French paper, the other in a Canadian daily-- assess Bill Clinton's substantive achievements and failures during his six years as President. In the French daily Le Monde today, economic analyst Thomas Piketty says that since he became president "Clinton has not contented himself with seducing young White House interns. He has also," Piketty adds, "put into effect a courageous economic and social policy, which has brought him his popularity in the polls and carries lessons very different from those being debated in the Senate this week."

According to Piketty, "Clinton has demonstrated that the dynamism of the U.S. economy [could continue with more liberal social policies]. He has taken from the rich and given to the poor, which has not prevented the U.S. from experiencing the strongest economic expansion in its history."

He also says: "Skeptics will object that Clinton's achievement remains quite modest and that the U.S. remains a very unequal society --and they are right. In particular, Clinton had to abandon his project of universal health insurance and he accepted a reduction in welfare payments to the unemployed proposed by the Republicans. [That's because U.S. public opinion in the 1990s] is profoundly opposed to government intervention....At least," Piketty concludes, "Clinton has succeeded in changing this attitude somewhat."

GLOBE AND MAIL: The U.S. health system is in turmoil

In the Toronto Globe and Mail, Jeffrey Simpson focuses on Clinton's failure to push through his plan for nationwide health insurance. Simpson writes: "Apart from Bill Clinton's foolish dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, and his subsequent evasions and lies about it, the low point of his presidency was the collapse of his health-care initiatives. That collapse," he recalls, "occurred during the first half of his initial term, and what subsequently emerged under the heading of 'health-care' reform is already under siege, although nobody can quite figure out alternatives."

The commentator continues: "Mr. Clinton and his wife Hillary were privately convinced that some form of the Canadian single-payer system constituted the best reform, especially for cost containment. But they were also convinced that any Canadian-style system was too politically risky. Their own more modest reform plans died under the combined assault of American doctors, private insurers and Republicans. What then emerged was something called 'managed care' [by HMOs, health-maintenance organizations]."

Simpson adds: "Four years into the world of HMOs, the hatred of them is palpable everywhere in the medical profession and beyond.... Politicians, including Mr. Clinton, are trying to patch the system with a 'patient bill of rights,' new laws about pre-existing conditions and a new way of financing programs for the poor. Maybe these will help.....[But it's clear that the U.S. health system is] in turmoil."

USA TODAY: The entire cast is in need of adult supervision

Two U.S. national newspapers also discuss the progress of the Senate impeachment trial. The daily USA Today says that the "trial can end quickly but only with compromise." It's not very optimistic, however, writing: "Watching [the past] weekend of partisan bluster in Washington [makes one] wonder who is winning the contest to treat the impeachment proceedings least responsibly."

Is it, the paper asks, the "House Republican prosecutors, who at the 11th hour demanded and got a meeting with Monica Lewinsky that they could have obtained weeks ago? [Or is it the] Senate Democrats, who howled that questioning Lewinsky was unfair and that they should be allowed to participate...? [Or is it] the White House, which desperately inveighed against witnesses even while claiming nothing new can be learned from them?"

The editorial concludes: "The entire cast is in need of adult supervision. Someone who could sit all sides in their respective corners until they stop playing games and remember the issue at hand. Regrettably, no such figure is likely to emerge.... Leadership of the kind needed is supposed to come from, well, leaders. But Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Minority Leader Tom Daschle are in there tossing brickbats with the best of them.... Unfortunately, in today's Senate, neither thoroughness nor fairness is highly prized."

NEW YORK TIMES: The Senate's duty now is to restrain the zealous House prosecutors

The New York Times pleads for "order in the trial" in its editorial today. The paper writes: "After a weekend of turmoil, the Senate must act [today] to regain control of an impeachment trial that has been improperly and dangerously manipulated by the House prosecution managers. With [some] conservative Republicans...eager to see the case resolved, the Senate can renew the bipartisan spirit of responsibility that united it when the trial opened two weeks ago. Its duty now is to restrain the zealous House prosecutors and, in recognition that there are not 67 votes to remove President Clinton, design a fair plan to resolve the case."

The paper strongly criticizes yesterday's interrogation of Ms. Lewinsky by House managers: "The Constitution awards the Senate the sole power to try impeachment cases. Federal courts have no authority to intervene and the House has no license to act outside the trial rules set by the Senate. [The House managers'] gambit brazenly defied both constitutional principles."

The NYT also says: "All that stands in the way of a verdict is the question of calling witnesses. With [some] Republicans...questioning the need to call witnesses, the 51 votes needed to reject further testimony seem within reach. The nation looks to the Senate for the wise leadership and calm deliberation that an impeachment trial requires. The Senate has the opportunity this week to live up to the trust placed in it by the Framers [of the Constitution]."

WASHINGTON POST: Business is overwhelming sports

Turning to the charges of bribery that has overtaken the International Olympics Committee (IOC), the Washington Post's David Ignatius writes: "The Olympic bribery scandal may be the clearest example yet of how business is overwhelming sports. The process," he says, "is out of control."

The commentary continues: "At the root of [the Olympic] mess is the monopoly power of the organizers. The IOC's control of Olympic-level sports is [total]." He adds: "One can sympathize with the sports-hungry burghers of Salt Lake City [in Utah, who decided to play the game of] the 2002 Winter what they understood to be its rules, which included cash gifts and college scholarships [allegedly to IOC members]. By the time it was over, the [anti-alcohol] Mormons of Salt Lake City were even handing out free [bottles of alcoholic drinks]."

Ignatius adds: "The 'fun' is just beginning in Olympics scandal. The European press has begun investigating IOC head Juan Antonio Samaranch and some of his associates, including some roguish characters who [are not exactly models for children to emulate]." He concludes: "Stay tuned, sports fans."

TRIBUNE DE GENEVE: Samaranch must resign

As if illustrating Ignatius' point, Switzerland's Tribune de Geneve heads its editorial on the IOC scandal, "Resign, Mr. Samaranch!" The paper says: "Remember? On December 12, 1998, Marc Hodler threw the bomb. It was then that he denounced corruption in the selection of Salt Lake City for the [2002] winter games. There's a great irony here: [Hodler,] the former president of the International Ski Association, had been thrown out the IOC in 1972 for insisting on stringent rules for amateur participation in the games. Since he departed, everything has unraveled...and people have discovered, incredulously, that candidate cities could actually buy the Games."

The paper's editorial continues: "Salt Lake City, it is increasingly clear, was only one example of the general practice of cities' 'buying' the games. Each day that passes brings more revelations and suspicions. Yesterday, in Lausanne, the IOC directorate acknowledged serious failings in Olympic ethics and recommended the expulsion of six of its members. That's the least it could have done."

The paper concludes: "Contrary to the idea of Juan-Antonio Samaranch, the IOC's 'clean-hands' operation will not restore confidence in the body. The Salt Lake City affair has discredited the Olympic movement, and tarnished the image of its president [Samaranch]....He must resign and leave the Olympic scene entirely. Yet [yesterday] in front of television cameras, he refused categorically to do so....If Samaranch thinks that getting rid of [six or 10 or 20 IOC members] is enough to calm the turbulent Olympic waters, he is very mistaken."