F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines
Week of:
October 22, 2000
Clinton's Senate Trial Was a Big Farce

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

The impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton by the House of Representatives was fitting and proper, but the trial in the Senate was a travesty.

"Plenty of 'outsiders' have told the impeachment story," observes David Schippers, former chief investigative counsel for the House Judiciary Committee. "Almost by definition, their accounts are secondhand reports of public events that for the most part are already well documented. There haven't been extensive 'insider' accounts for obvious reasons," Schippers remarks. "The Democratic players in the impeachment drama certainly aren't going to thump their chests," he explains. "And the Republicans couldn't do much better."

Excluding Republican members of the Judiciary Committee, whom he extols for their courage and integrity, Schippers charges that "nearly every insider politician would have something to lose by going public with the details of what really happened behind closed doors on Capitol Hill in the last half of 1998 and early 1999." In his new book, Sellout: The Inside Story of President Clinton's Impeachment, he reveals how "the truth has been dominated by political spin, leaving much of the public purposely misinformed." Schippers recalls that it was "blatantly clear . . . that the Republican senatorial leadership did not want a real impeachment trial. On the Democratic side, because they were well aware that their forty-five votes were sufficient to block conviction, they elected to present a solid front with the White House to save Mr. Clinton at all costs," he charges. "To accomplish this, they had to employ party discipline to keep every member in line so that no one would be tempted to break ranks and vote to convict."

Schippers emphasizes that several Democratic Senators were "quite vocal in condemning" the President's misdeeds, which led the House Managers to believe that they might actually obtain "the twelve Democratic votes necessary for conviction. The White House also knew, at least in general, the evidence that we had available," he continues. "Thwarting our intent to produce that evidence publicly on the floor of the Senate became the highest priority. The White House reasoned that, if all the evidence was available to the public, the President's approval ratings might drop and some Democratic Senators might, in conscience, change their votes." Such was the fear behind "the adamant refusal to allow live witnesses, or any evidence for that matter, that had not already been made public. The Democrats," he contends, "wanted the impeachment vote to be based solely on what was already known. If it hadn't hurt the President in the polls so far, if wouldn't do so now, they figured."

Schippers points out that the Senate Republicans "had fifty-five votes -- not enough to convict, but more than enough to control the procedure of the trial. Had the Republican leadership exerted the same control as the Democratic leadership," he asserts, "we would have been permitted to try our case as we hoped, with live testimony and other evidence." Schippers laments that the Republican leadership was "totally at the mercy of the polls. As long as the President's approval rating remained high, the Republican leaders were not about to rock the boat."

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