February 12, 2021
Bob Buckley, partner at White, Graham, Buckley & Carr, is a regular columnist for The Examiner of East Jackson County. In his latest column, Buckley discusses how former president Clinton’s 1998 impeachment may have opened the door for a political “era of truth stretching” as the country prepares for former President Trump’s second impeachment trial.
The article, The Truth is Never That Simple, was published in the Feb. 6 edition of The Examiner. An excerpt from the article is below.
It all began on Jan. 26, 1998, when then-President Bill Clinton announced to the world that he did not have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.
Of course, we now know that he later admitted he did indeed have an improper relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. It was certainly the low point of his presidency and tarnished his legacy. For his deceit, President Clinton was charged with perjury and impeached by the House of Representatives but not convicted in the Senate.
President Clinton was also charged with civil contempt by Judge Susan Webber Wright for giving misleading testimony about his relationship with Lewinsky in a lawsuit that Paula Jones had brought against him in 1994 for sexual harassment when he was governor of Arkansas.
Meanwhile, Ken Starr, as special counsel, had been conducting a wide-ranging investigation of the Whitewater controversy, the firing of White House travel agents, and the alleged misuse of FBI files. Linda Tripp, a co-worker of Lewinsky, had been secretly recording conversations with her and had been working with Paula Jones’ lawyers. Starr obtained approval from Clinton’s attorney general, Janet Reno, to expand his investigation into whether Lewinsky and others were breaking the law.
Clinton testified before a grand jury and relied on his statement that “there’s nothing going on between us” and claimed his testimony was truthful because there was no ongoing relationship with Lewinsky. Clinton said, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” claiming that his statement was true. Starr claimed that Clinton had committed perjury and submitted his findings to Congress in the lengthy “Starr Report,” which was released to the public a few days later.
Many believed that the whole saga was political, but it may have opened the door to an era of “truth stretching.”
The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump begins Monday as he continues to claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Legal questions abound as many challenge whether a former president may be impeached. I suspect that may be decided in an appellate court someday if he is convicted of the charges against him.
His lawyers have been using his First Amendment rights to defend his words that form the basis for the allegations against him. I suspect that there will be heated debate for years over his words, “we fight.” He also said that “these people (those who gathered to protest) are not going to take it any longer.”
As he concluded his speech, which lasted over an hour, he told those assembled in his closing remarks that he would walk with them down Pennsylvania Avenue and said, “And we fight. We fight like hell and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” He said, “we’re going to try and give our Republicans – the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help – we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”
At that time, the proceedings in Congress had just begun, so none of the certification of the Electoral College votes had actually begun. I assume that President Trump and his lawyers will ask the members of the Senate to look at the totality of his words and suggest that “fight like hell” does not mean that he was encouraging the protestors to break through the security barriers and invade the Capitol because his speech was hopeful that Congress would not certify the electoral college vote.
Thus, at one time we were quarreling over the word “is” and what sexual relations are, and now we quibble over “fight like hell.” It is ironic that the words of the president are being debated to determine if he should be convicted.