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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

Analysis: No heroes in this sorry mess

By Craig Staats/AllPolitics

February 12, 1999
Web posted at: 8:32 p.m. EST (0132 GMT)

WASHINGTON (February 12) -- From President Bill Clinton's first finger-wagging denial to the Senate slamming its doors in the face of the American public and deliberating in secret, the Monica Lewinsky impeach-a-thon produced no heroes.

Unlike Watergate, which shone a spotlight on principled people like then-Sen. Howard Baker and Judge John J. Sirica, the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was mainly populated by smaller-than-life, self-absorbed people, with the president and the intern leading the parade.

It all started with Clinton of course, who apologized again Friday after the Senate voted to acquit him. It was the eighth time Clinton has expressed his regret about what he did, without ever saying exactly what that was.

At several points along the way, Clinton could have told the truth, but he didn't and so the sorry mess dragged on. His legacy is forever tarnished, even with the acquittal.

There were no heroes around Clinton, either; none of the cabinet members or White House staffers he lied to quit in protest.

Along the way, Americans learned more than they ever wanted to know about Lewinsky's Monica-centric view of the world, Linda Tripp's subterfuge, Independent Counsel Ken Starr's relentlessness, the partisan warriors of the House Judiciary Committee and finally, the Senate.

Americans will just have to take the senators' word about the eloquence and power of the senators' final impeachment deliberations. After all, they closed the doors to the public.

The irony was immense: During the past year, people who followed the case learned explicit sexual details about Clinton and Lewinsky's relationship, but when it came time to debate the weighty legal and constitutional issues in the case, senators decided secrecy was the best policy.

The senators who wanted to keep the sessions closed fell back on the excuse they were jurors and juries deliberate in private. But that's an empty line. This was a political end to a political process.

Only one person in the whole episode showed any backbone. That was Sam Dash, Starr's ethics adviser who resigned in protest, complaining that Starr had crossed the line into advocacy by testifying before the House Judiciary Committee.

With the whole mess nearly said and done, when the costs are added up of the past year's political drama, very few players end up in the plus column.

There's only one good thing about Clinton's impeachment and trial: It's over.

Investigating the President


Friday, February 12, 1999

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