Topic: White Water

Clinton's own wheeling-dealing laid groundwork for his legal dilemma

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Jan. 25, 1999 Ralph Reiland

The ironic thing about Bill Clinton is that he put the cheese in his own trap. A year before he was elected president, Susan Molinari, then a Republican representative from New York, introduced changes to the federal rules of evidence which would give a green light to juries in sexual assault cases to consider evidence that the accused had committed similar crimes in the past. With much of the legal establishment pooh-poohing the idea, warning that inflammatory evidence about past behavior would likely have an unfairly prejudicial impact in court, Molinari's proposal gained little support until she received a phone call from the White House in 1994. The caller was Bill Clinton, seeking support for his stalled crime bill and asking what he could do to win her vote in the House. Molinari's price? Her two amendments to the crime bill, allowing evidence to be admitted of previous offenses by defendants in both civil and criminal sex trials.

Clinton acquiesced. "He told me that he was shocked that it wasn't part of the bill, and that he supported it," Molinari told New Yorker magazine this year. "Clinton basically assisted me in passing that legislation." The rest, as they say, is history. Some three years later, lawyers for Paula Jones had turned up seven "Jane Does" and were well on their way to deposing Bill Clinton about his X-rated shenanigans with an unpaid intern less than half his age. The fallout: Judge Susan Weber Wright's ruling in the Jones case that Bill Clinton had to name every state and federal employee with whom he had sexual relations or with whom he had proposed to have sexual relations; Monica Lewinsky's false affidavit; the Sunday coaching by Bill Clinton of Betty Currie about Lewinsky ("You were always there when she was there, right?" and "We were never really alone," and "Monica came on to me, and I never touched her, right?"); the concealment under Currie's bed of Clinton's gifts to Lewinsky; Deputy Chief of Staff John Podesta's request to then-U.N. Ambassador William Richardson to hire Lewinsky; Vernon Jordan's calls to the Chairman of Young & Rubiam, the executive vice president of MacAndrews & Forbes, the chairman of MFH-Revlon, and the executive vice president of American Express, seeking to land Ms. Lewinsky a plum out-of-town job. In the end, perjury, witness tampering and obstruction of justice.

Given the fact that Bill Clinton clearly knew all about his own past string of sordid encounters, one can only guess why someone so allegedly clever and bright would agree to push Molinari's amendments, reversing traditional rules of evidence and thereby constructing his own ambush. Instead, Bill Clinton could simply have allowed Rule No. 404-a in the federal rules of evidence to stand: "Evidence of a person's character or a trait of his character is not admissible for the purpose of proving that he acted in conformity therewith on a particular occasion." "Without that change in the law," allowing lawyers to open up an accused person's sex life to the public, "the president could not have been questioned under oath about Monica Lewinsky in the Paula Jones case," explains syndicated columnist John Leo. "No Miss Lewinsky, no need to lie about Miss Lewinsky, no impeachment." And maybe no cheerful feminists or attorneys. By blessing Molinari's amendments, Bill Clinton, while inadvertently laying the legal groundwork that would wreck his presidency, was throwing red meat to two of his key pro-rummaging constituencies, big government feminists and rapacious trial lawyers.

In 1987, the liberal rummaging during Robert Bork's Supreme Court confirmation hearings turned up his video-rental records. With Justice Clarence Thomas, the liberal rummaging produced a pouty Anita Hill and her recollection of a few office jokes. With Bob Packwood, the Senate Ethics Committee's prize trophy was the senator's private diaries. Rejecting Packwood's efforts to keep his personal papers private, Judge Thomas Jackson of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., dismissing the Fourth Amendment's ban on "unreasonable searches and seizures" of "persons, houses, papers, and effects," breezily ruled that rights to privacy and the Constitutional shields against unreasonable searches and compelled self-incrimination had been chipped away by Supreme Court decisions.

In 1890, in contrast, Louis Brandeis, the future Supreme Court justice, wrote in the Harvard Law Review that "the common law secures to each individual the right of determining ordinarily, to what extent his thoughts, sentiments, and emotions shall be communicated to others." Brandeis called that principle the right to an "inviolate personality," part of a more universal "right to be left alone." At that time, a century ago, says New Yorker writer Jeffrey Rosen, there was general agreement that "the Constitution prohibited prosecutors and other government officials from rummaging through private papers in search of sexual secrets or anything else."

Since then, by unapparent and habitual small steps, that right to privacy has been steadily eroded so imperceptibly that we've barely taken notice of the transformation. Like frogs who don't leap from the water of a sauce pan that's heated slowly, we've sat in obliviousness to this metamorphosis, becoming nonchalant about how little today's legal system cares about privacy, unruffled about how far we've debased this nation's original precepts. Bill Clinton, anywhere along the line, could have stood tall against this deterioration. When, for instance, his own party was going through the garbage cans of Justice Thomas like rabid raccoons, he could have reminded them that the government's fundamental duty is to protect individual rights of privacy, liberty and property. Instead, he turned out to be just another frog, oblivious to the fact that he was being cooked.

Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris College. His e-mail address is: rrreiland@aol.com

Reiland is a local college professor who does a regular op-ed column for the Trib. Go here for a direct link

Posted by: Ditto (cacker4896@aol.com) *
01/26/99 05:10:40 PST

To: Ditto
When Libs fall in their own traps, they whin the the loudest.
From: bmwcyle (bmwcyle@bigplanet.com) *
01/26/99 05:24:04 PST