Innocent until proven guilty. Practically every citizen of the United States has heard these words repeated time and time again through the overexposed trials of O.J. Simpson, Timothy McVeigh, and countless others. But what do these words really mean? As far as the treatment of the President of the United States is concerned, apparently very little.
While many may debate the likelihood of a President having an affair with a young intern, the serious charges that threaten Clinton’s presidency are those of perjury, i.e. telling her to lie about such an affair.
These charges stem from tapes obtained from the intern talking to an associate. Never mind that such tapes are illegal under Maryland state law, and therefore inadmissible in any court of law, including a Federal one, or that the intern was delayed over eight hours without being given the right to contact her lawyer. Such a gross miscarriage of proper procedure will surely result in the inevitable stalemate of words against words, with the only result being damaged reputations all around.
This is what should concern the American Public. Instead of begging for sex scandals and rumors about politicians, we should question the methods and motivations behind an all-powerful Independent Counsel and Special Prosecutor. Ken Starr has taken what was a murky investigation of land holdings long forgotten and followed it into the bedroom of the President. Along the way he has flaunted rationality and law as he dug as deep as possible into Clinton’s past. This heady disregard for the powers given him has proved that if Mr. Starr is not conducting a “partisan witch hunt,” then he is doing an awfully good impression of one. Little wonder that the Republicans in Congress are staying as far away from the proceedings as possible, for Starr has bet his last chips that this latest story will destroy the Clinton presidency.
It is not enough to be afraid of Starr’s powerful resources and ability to skirt the edges of the law, one must also fear for the very office of the President. Do we as Americans really want a court scene reminiscent of the Simpson trials? The Supreme Court seemed to feel that the Paula Jones suit could proceed without disrupting the President’s abilities to govern the country, but such a hope seems rather naive at this point. If this was about treason, national security, or other high crimes then allowing the case to proceed would be necessary.
However, a sexual harassment suit concerning a seven year old incident doesn’t measure up to these standards. Perjury arguably could tip the scales, but the hazy manner of obtaining such information, which directly conflicts sworn testimony by the very witness, seems to insure that the charge will never be proven.
The clock is ticking, and with the State of the Union Address swiftly approaching, it is easy to see that both sides are squaring off for an epic battle. At stake is the office of the Presidency, and there is no room for error. As citizens we must keep our minds both sharp and open, skeptical and informed at the same time. We cannot jump to conclusions or believe rumors that have never been proven. Most importantly, we must remember what we have learned from our fascination with courtroom drama: any defendant must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Many have compared the combatants to gunfighters, and it is not hard to imagine Clinton in a real life version of High Noon. His enemies are coming back to destroy him, and it is in this moment of crisis that he will discover who has the guts to stand with him. When it comes down to this question of trust, I know that the man I want to lead our country is President Clinton.