Clinton on Trial

Impeachment by Numbers

How to speed up the debate.

The impeachment hearings are no longer drama: They are ritual, a solemn exercise in repetition. Today, the Republican and Democratic counsels to the Judiciary Committee present their closing arguments, and it is déjà vu all over again. Democrat Abbe Lowell spends the morning rehashing the case against perjury and obstruction. Republican David Schippers spends the afternoon again recounting the Monica and Bill Saga–a story everyone in the room knows by heart. (Schippers’ much anticipated “smoking gun”–video snippets of President Clinton’s deposition in the Paul Jones case–reveals a squirming and deceptive president, but that’s news?) As I squirm in the press gallery, I realize that not only have I heard these facts and these arguments before, but I’ve also heard these very same words. There is literally nothing left unsaid about Flytrap.


The committee’s debate will drag on through Saturday, and then the House will meet for much of next week to rechew the same impeachment questions. After that, the Senate may be forced to hold a months long trial to dissect Flytrap yet again, making it déjà vu all over again and again.

Remember the old gag about the prisoners who tell jokes by number? Let’s apply the principle to Flytrap: Congress should tag every argument and fact with a number so that members of Congress, staffers, and even journalists can save time by simply reciting a column of numbers. Odd numbers would designate Republican claims, even numbers Democratic ones. (Emphasis could be added with multiplication and division: “14 times 2” would mean you felt especially strongly about point number 14.)


Here is a preliminary list:

  1. It’s not about sex. It’s about the rule of law, the undermining of our justice system, the abuse of the office of the presidency
  2. It’s just about who touched whom where.
  3. The president can’t be above the law
  4. The president would never be prosecuted for perjury and obstruction of justice if he were an ordinary citizen.
  5. Look at all these ordinary citizens prosecuted for perjury in sex cases!
  6. The president didn’t perjure himself because–even though he was evasive–he believed he was technically telling the truth. Even if he did perjure himself, it’s not a high crime because it involves private sexual conduct. And even if his perjury did involve public conduct, it’s not worth impeaching the president because it will drag the country into a chaotic trial.
  7. The president is using legal technicalities, obfuscations, hairsplitting, and verbal gymnastics to evade the truth.
  8. Of course, he’s using legal technicalities: Perjury is a technical crime.
  9. The definition of “sexual relations” is fine. It means what everyone knows it means. The president is simply a liar.
  10. The definition of “sexual relations” was so convoluted that no one could be expected to understand it.
  11. The president has presented no “fact witnesses” to rebut the charges against him. His witnesses have only made legal arguments.
  12. The Republicans have presented no “fact witnesses” to support the charges against Clinton. Their witnesses have relied only on the opinions presented in Kenneth Starr’s misleading referral. Because of the presumption of innocence, the president does not have to present fact witnesses.
  13. Censure is not a punishment specified by the Constitution. And a fine is an illegal bill of attainder.
  14. Just because censure is not specified by the Constitution doesn’t mean it’s unconstitutional. And a fine isn’t a bill of attainder if the president volunteers to pay it.
  15. “Volunteers”? Are you kidding?
  16. The nation can’t endure the disruption in congressional and Supreme Court activity and in commerce that a Senate trial will entail.
  17. The nation can’t endure the sabotage of its laws by the president.
  18. The president should give another speech expressing contrition. It could sway moderate Republicans.
  19. Oh, God, not another fraudulent speech.
  20. I was a Watergate prosecutor/committee member/witness, and this proceeding is nothing like our bipartisan, cooperative hearings. When our special prosecutor, St. Leon of Jaworski, made his referral, it was just the facts. It had none of the blatant advocacy of the Starr report.
  21. Shut up, you old fart.
  22. I would give anything not to have to be here today.
  23. I would give anything not to have to be here today.