Hillary on Impeachment
January 28, 2002
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By BENJAMIN SMITH
She spoke at a memorial service at Columbia University for Charles Black, who was an impeachment expert and constitutional scholar. Black died last May at the age of 85.
Mrs. Clinton has largely avoided discussing her husband and his travails as she builds an independent political career. But Mr. Clinton's impeachment and subsequent acquittal on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice turned out to be a hard subject to avoid at Columbia's St. Paul's Chapel. Before an audience of more than 200, most of them legal scholars, Mrs. Clinton recalled a 1973 phone call she made to Black, who had been her professor at Yale Law School. She was calling to ask advice on drafting a memo for the House Judiciary Committee on the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.
The Nixon impeachment process was "the constitutional impeachment of the second half of the 20th century," Mrs. Clinton said yesterday, implying that her husband's impeachment had been unconstitutional.
Nixon resigned before the House of Representatives could vote on impeaching him.
Mrs. Clinton did not specify what she thought was unconstitutional about Mr. Clinton's impeachment. One question raised at the time was whether Mr. Clinton's offenses measured up to the Constitutional standard of "high crimes and misdemeanors."
That was an issue on which Black was a particular expert. His thoughts on the subject were used by those on both sides of the Clinton impeachment fight. His 1974 work, "Impeachment: A Handbook," reprinted in 1999, includes a pair of hypothetical cases that call Mr. Clinton's various travails to mind: that of a president who transports a woman across state lines for "immoral purposes," in violation of the 1915 Mann Act; and of a president who covers up for an aide who has been caught with marijuana.
In either case, Black wrote, it would be "absurd" to impeach, and a White House response to the Starr report quoted his work approvingly.
But Black's work also found favor with the House Republicans prosecuting the impeachment trial. Representative Charles Canady of Florida quoted Mr. Black's statement that "a large-scale tax cheat is not a viable chief magistrate" to argue that Mr. Clinton's actions made it impossible for him to enforce the law.
Still, Mrs. Clinton appeared to feel that her old law professor was on her side. "Unfortunately, in more recent times," she said, referring to the 1998-1999 impeachment process, "Professor Black's treatise wasn't given much attention."
Better for the City: An editorial in today's New York Times praises Mayor Bloomberg for doing "very well" in standing "comfortably beside the Rev. Al Sharpton." The Times editorial says, "what Mr. Bloomberg seems to understand is that giving Mr. Sharpton a chance to bask in the limelight is far better for the city than freezing him out."
As is typical in a Times editorial, this view isn't argued so much as it is simply asserted or pronounced from on high. So Times readers are left wondering why it is better -- and not just better, but "far" better -- for the city if Rev. Sharpton has a chance to bask in the limelight. Perhaps the Times thinks that Rev. Sharpton has such a self-destructive and careless streak that if exposed to the limelight he will inevitable be recognized as an empty suit and then be frozen out for good. This argument doesn't hold much weight, because Rev. Sharpton has already had plenty of chances to bask in the limelight -- Crown Heights, Freddy's Fashion Mart, Tawana Brawley -- and as a consequence of his errors in those cases had been justifiably frozen out by Mayor Giuliani. Why start the cycle all over again? Perhaps the Times actually thinks that Rev. Sharpton's message of exaggerated racial victimhood and grievance-nursing at the expense of the police and businesses deserves to be spread more widely, and that increased exposure of this message is "better for the city." Or perhaps the Times thinks that Rev. Sharpton will change his message if he is treated more warmly by the mayor, just like the Times incorrectly thought Yasser Arafat would change his message if he were treated more warmly by Israel. Speculating in this vein makes it easy to understand why these editorial positions aren't argued, just asserted; it's hard to come up with good arguments to back them up. It's also an instance of how the Times is wildly out of step with the views of most New Yorkers. It would be interesting to see what the results would be if you polled New Yorkers on whether they agreed or disagreed with the proposition that "giving Mr. Sharpton a chance to bask in the limelight is far better for the city than freezing him out." Rev. Sharpton's dismal showings in his attempts to get elected to public office are an indicator that New York voters, at least, are happy to freeze him out.
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