Today's Papers

Listing Badly

The Senate impeachment trial continues to dominate, leading all around for the umpteenth day. Today’s plot point is the impending vote on whether or not the Senate should depose (in closed sessions, on videotape; public testimony in the Senate would require another vote) the three witnesses the House managers have requested–Monica Lewinsky, Vernon Jordan, and Sidney Blumenthal. The witness list was shortened, says the coverage, in order to attract more votes. The day should also see, the papers report, a vote on a motion to summarily dismiss the case against President Clinton. The papers’ consensus is that the votes are there for the witnesses but not for the dismissal. The papers flag another developing witness issue: the House managers have urged the Senate to ask Clinton to voluntarily testify, a request the White House has already rebuffed. The Pope’s visit is also a staple of the fronts. At USA Today, the headline reads, “Clinton Thanks John Paul for ‘Spiritual Guidance.’”

The Washington Post says the inclusion of witnesses in the trial would extend it to at least mid-February. Everybody notes that one of the arguments put forward by Clinton personal attorney David Kendall against calling witnesses is that it would necessitate a comprehensive “discovery” process that could lengthen things by months.

Everybody notes that the House managers have promised the Senate that they would question Lewinsky without getting into any sexual details. Regarding these matters, they would, explains the WP, merely ask her to reaffirm her grand jury testimony. They would instead focus on what Lewinsky knew about matters relating to the obstruction charge, such as her job search and her gift peregrinations. The Post and New York Times say that Jordan remained on the short list because he was not called back to the grand jury after Lewinsky testified to it and hence has never been asked about some of her recollections. Blumenthal is wanted because of the possibility that his testimony will illustrate how Clinton’s lies to aides were used to spin the grand jury and for his alleged role in planting negative stories about Lewinsky. The big surprise in the managers’ list is that it does not include Currie. The Post quotes managers saying that this was because her account of Clinton coaching her is undisputed. Regarding why Lewinsky is on the list, Rep. Ed Bryant, a Republican, may have given away the game with his reason, quoted in the Los Angeles Times: Wouldn’t you want, he asked the Senate yesterday, to observe her demeanor and “look into her eyes”?

The ethical murkiness involved in reporting this scandal is apparent in the way the papers contend with the rule that makes it illegal for senators to comment on what is said in their closed door sessions. The NYT quotes an unidentified senator characterizing both Monday and Tuesday’s off-limits meetings, and the LAT refers to several unnamed senators in its description of a witness-related compromise being worked out behind closed doors. The Wall Street Journal, obviously relying on the accounts of participants, says that the sessions sometimes involve shouting. Now, didn’t the senators who spoke to the reporters do something as illegal as perjury? And aren’t the papers, in encouraging them to do so, guilty of the equivalent of suborning perjury?

The NYT and WP say that a fresh report to the Security Council from the UN’s weapons inspectors says that Saddam Hussein’s regime is continuing to conceal past and present illegal weapons programs. The two papers note that the report has created new tensions between the U.S. and Russia, which wants to lift the sanctions currently binding on Iraq. In light of the report, the lead editorial at the Post calls the Russian/China/France anti-sanction stance, “make-believe.”

The LAT front and inside stories at the WP and NYT report that President Clinton has allowed U.S. aircrews to adopt more aggressive rules of engagement as they enforce the Iraqi “no-fly” zones. They are not limited any more to attacking whatever Iraqi assets attack them, but may also strike at any part of the Iraqi air defense network that’s endangering their missions. The LAT lead editorial points out that this new more aggressive stance does not necessarily have the endorsement of Congress. But therein lies one of the hidden crises behind the manifest one: While one hundred senators are locked in a room discussing Monica and Betty, the executive branch is unilaterally making foreign policy. And the press is contributing to this myopia. When was the last piece you read noticing the parallels between our no-fly enforcement and the Gulf of Tonkin naval presence in the early 60s or between our Bosnia mission and the ill-fated one in Beirut? Today’s WP story reporting that the U.S. may send troops to Kosovo runs on p. 15 and doesn’t mention the War Powers Act. Which, in fact, despite the quite widespread deployment of U.S. forces in hot scenarios, is virtually never mentioned in the papers.