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Western Press Review: Pre-Verdict Comments On Clinton

Prague, 10 February (RFE/RL) -- With the U.S. Senate's verdict in President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial now expected late this week (Feb. 12 or 13), U.S. and other Western press commentators have begun to assess the importance of the decision and its likely political effects. Most analysts agree that Democrat Clinton will be acquitted because opposition Republicans lack the two-thirds majority needed for Senate conviction. But there is a wide variety of views on how the verdict will affect not only U.S. but also international political life.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The ultimate political victims could be the pursuers, not the pursued

Britain's Financial Times says "a weary U.S. public is breathing a sigh of relief now that [the] impeachment trial is drawing to a close....But," adds the paper in an editorial, "it would be a pity to let the tawdry case pass...without seeking lessons for the institutions [involved]." The FT then asks: "Has the impeachment process worked in the way intended?" It answers: "Not entirely."

According to the paper, "The standard set by the founding fathers of the U.S. constitution was that the process must inspire public confidence, for the good of the nation and to be consistent with the rule of law. While the [Senate] process was technically legal, it failed the crucial confidence test."

"There is [also] a political lesson," the editorial continues. "Partisanship," it notes, "has come from both sides...the Right wing of the Republican Party [as well as from aggressively pro-Clinton] Democrats....That is the nature of politics," the paper acknowledges. "Yet," the editorial also says, "the U.S. constitution implies that there should be a limit to partisanship when it comes to [such] weighty matters."

The FT concludes: "Mr. Clinton has certainly been shamed by the process. But the ultimate political victims could be the pursuers [of Clinton], not the pursued. That surely was not the [U.S.] founding fathers' aim."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Clinton will never again be truly free

In Germany, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung writes of "scapegoats in Clinton-land" in its editorial. The paper cites a recent column by Richard Cohen of the Washington Post who, it says, "in a dream sought to explain Monicagate to his deceased father he said that in the end it was not Clinton who was being prosecuted, but [rather his] Republican opponents."

"Such is [political] life," the SZ observes. "Clinton will get away with [only] a censure. The American people give him ever better marks -- and worse ones to Congress, or rather to [congressional] Republicans. And yet," the paper continues, "there are rumblings in the subconscious: There must be scapegoats....Two," it adds, "have already been found: chief prosecutor Kenneth Starr, whom the U.S. Justice Department is now investigating [because of allegations] of illegal machinations, and the President's most faithful aide, Sidney Blumenthal, a former journalist turned propaganda chief for Clinton, who [may] be charged with perjury."

"Such is life," the SZ intones again. "When people�s anger fails to touch the most powerful, then lesser sinners must be sacrificed on the altar for the same sins. Some say the prosecutor is to blame; others point their fingers at those who stand behind the President. And how about Clinton?," the paper asks finally. It responds: "[Legally,] the President will get off entirely free -- but because there will be no catharsis, [Clinton] will never again be truly free."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Senators should think about the destructive nature of Clinton�s behavior

The Wall Street Journal Europe is critical today of what it calls "the new logic of lying" it believes has been demonstrated in the Senate trial. "For years to come," the paper's editorial says, "parents, teachers and indeed courtrooms in America may have to square what they thought lying under oath meant with what many members of the...Senate have apparently convinced themselves it means, or doesn't mean, or whatever."

The paper goes on: "There is now a universal consensus inside Washington that the House of Representatives' perjury charge against Mr. Clinton is in trouble. That is, that the Senate is going to find, and the White House will then assert, that Bill Clinton in no way violated the famous [legal] oath to 'tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.' Indeed, Mr. Clinton is banking on it."

"In truth," the WSJ goes on, "Republican senators [have been] trying to split the difference between the [charges of] perjury and obstruction [of justice] to protect themselves from the Clinton [high] popularity goblins....But, "the paper concludes, "beyond hyper-technical interpretations of current perjury law lies the fact that high crimes and misdemeanors [the U.S. constitution's grounds for finding an impeached president guilty] don't have to be a crime in a criminal sense; they have to do with offenses against the system....Senators should forget about the technicalities and think hard about the destructive nature of [Clinton's] behavior. [High crimes and misdemeanors amount to] a test of bad faith, one that Mr. Clinton has failed on every ground."

WASHINGTON POST: There is value in the Senate's going on record as saying that presidents are not permitted to behave as Mr. Clinton has

The Washington Post today urges the Senate to make what it calls "a clean censure vote" on Clinton. The paper writes in an editorial: "The possibility that a on an appropriately tough censure resolution will not take place haunts the impeachment proceedings. Some Republican senators who oppose censure are threatening to filibuster any censure resolution, and it is not clear whether enough Republicans will support such a resolution to ensure that a clean vote happens."

The WP goes on: "This seems unfortunate. A failure to vote on censure would mean that the Senate's only official comment on Bill Clinton's behavior would be that it does not warrant his removal --which, while true enough, would hardly be a complete expression of the majority sentiment. After a year of consensus that Mr. Clinton's conduct is deplorable, he would walk [away entirely free]."

The paper says further: "It is certainly true that censure would [serve] Democrats who want to acquit the President without admitting that they are giving him a pass [to go free]. But that is not all it would be. To the contrary, there is value in the Senate's going on record as saying that presidents are not permitted to behave as Mr. Clinton has. If only in the expressions of outrage that will make up the historical record [which] follows revelation of such behavior, there will be accountability for it. This is admittedly a diffuse kind of penalty, [but] in the long is certainly an apt reaction, one that is at least worth a clean vote."

WASHINGTON POST: The Senate will deliver up a verdict that is based on acquiescing in Clinton�s lies

Opposite its editorial page today, the Washington Post caries a commentary by Michael Kelly, the editor of the non-partisan weekly National Journal published in the capitol. Kelly is sure that, "in a few days, President Clinton will be acquitted and the verdict among the Washington chattering class has been determined in advance: The House managers, a bunch of blunderers from really not the better schools, overreached with a weak case, which the President's brilliant super-lawyers destroyed, and the Senate justly disposed of the wreckage."

"Well," the commentary continues, "what began in lies should...end in lies. But first, let us have one brief, shining moment of honesty, courtesy of West Virginia's [Democratic] Senator Robert Byrd, [who actually said on television Sunday] that Clinton "lied under oath!" Indeed he did. He also encouraged others to lie under oath and he also obstructed justice in various other ways. He would never have told the truth, if he had not been trapped by the little blue dress [of Monica Lewinsky]."

Kelly also says: "The evidence of Clinton's guilt presented to the Senate was redundantly convincing....The President's lawyers never really tried to refute the case against him as a whole but rather attempted to explain away each act of perjury and obstruction with its own isolated and tailored excuse. The whole thing was banged together from misstatements of fact, lapses of memory and tricks of semantics.

So, the commentary concludes, "the Senate will this week deliver up a verdict that is based not on believing in Clinton's innocence but on acquiescing in his lies. And this will be hailed as right and good. Washington insiders have come a long way in a year. They used to believe the president had an obligation to tell the truth; now they believe they have an obligation to help him get away with lies."