February 5, 1999
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss the Senate impeachment trial, and the beginning of the "end game."
JIM LEHRER: Now a week's end look at the Senate impeachment trial with Shields and Gigot: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, the end game really does begin tomorrow, is that correct?
MARK SHIELDS: That's right, Jim. We're running out the clock now. The game is over. The verdict is in. Bill Clinton will not be impeached and removed from office, and now we're playing with more or less for history and for individual achievements. It's sort of like a team that's been mathematically eliminated during the baseball essential season, and now we're into individual averages and who has a good year and who's up for contract next year.
|Has anything changed?|
JIM LEHRER: As a practical matter, has anything changed since this trial began -- in terms of the influence and the outcome?
PAUL GIGOT: No, I don't think so, Jim. I think that the outcome was probably foreordained looking back once the contours of the trial were set in such a limited fashion. I think that had the House managers been able to make their case, say they given ten or 12 days right from the get-go, do whatever you want, call the witnesses you want, structure your case the way you want, they might have been able to engage the public again. Maybe not, but they might have been able to. As it was, they just were never able to do that.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think they could have, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: No. I think -- but I think what Paul speaks to is what is a sentiment and a broadly held view within many -- among many in the Republican party. And it's what I call the "Who lost China syndrome." In 1949 after Mao Tse Tung routed Chiang Kai-Shek and communists took over China, the China lobby in the United States -- led by Henry Luce -- developed a question which held American foreign policy hostage for the last 25 years -- who lost China -- as though China was ours to lose. And it kind of became -- that became the cornerstone. You had to stand up and say you are ready to unleash Chang to reinvade the Mainland. I think there are certain Republicans who are going to say -- who let Clinton off the hook? There was a case to be made, and somehow it wasn't made.
PAUL GIGOT: I think that overstates the -- I don't think there are many Republicans who thought that they were necessarily going to remove Bill Clinton. I think there is a sense and I happen to agree with that sense of frustration that the House managers -- this was all about protecting the senators. This wasn't about really fairly looking at the evidence.
|They want it over.|
JIM LEHRER: All right, so let's take specifically yesterday's vote. 70-30 against calling live witnesses.
PAUL GIGOT: Right.
JIM LEHRER: One witness in particular, Monica Lewinsky was the only one the House managers finally asked for -- 25 Republicans voted with the Democrats to do that. Why did they do that?
PAUL GIGOT: They did that because they want it over as much as Democrats want it over right now. There are no Henry Hydes, Jim, in the Republican Senate. There are no people who are willing to go against the polls and there aren't any Howard Bakers in the -- among the Democrats in the Senate; that is, the Republican senator who stood against Richard Nixon in Watergate. And we haven't seen that kind of cross-party statesmanship.
JIM LEHRER: But what about the argument, Paul, that's been made from the very beginning, very publicly, is that the worst thing that could happen to the Republican Party and the worst thing that could happen to the Senate of the United States was to put Monica Lewinsky in the well of the United States Senate. You don't feel that was correct?
PAUL GIGOT: Oh, no, not at all. I think that was an argument made by a lot of Republicans who -- in the Senate -- who feared precisely that. I don't think that that was necessarily -- if you look at the videotape, for example, -- I haven't seen the videotape, but if you look at the transcript, there's nothing in there that's going to embarrass the Senate. So I don't think that they had anything to be afraid of, but they have used that to try to -- as one reason, one excuse to try to protect themselves.
JIM LEHRER: That was an important vote, wasn't it, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: It was an important vote, and I think Paul is right many I mean I real do. I think that if you are really going to make the case against Bill Clinton and for his conviction and removal from office, you had to have Monica Lewinsky, you had to have Vernon Jordan, you had to have Betty Currie, you had to have Sidney Blumenthal. There are seven or eight other witnesses you probably should have had, too. So what they basically did, Jim was they made a good-fake effort. I mean, they went half way, well, bring in, we'll have a transcript, we'll have a little videotape, but let's not get too enthusiast about this, and that's really -- so they kind of covered their own area, as we used to say.
JIM LEHRER: So you agree with Paul, this was a Senate operation?
MARK SHIELDS: And I think there are a lot of people -- the Republicans were concerned about the polls. I mean the polls have gone south on them, and they're saying, "gee, this is really hurting. We've got to get back to our issues." And Republican House members are meeting this week in Williamsburg and they got bad news. So the stampede to get this behind them -- the only people that are not involved in it are the Republican House managers, who have -- and some, like Jim Rogan of California probably at risk to his political future, I mean serious risk to his political future.
PAUL GIGOT: I mean there are some Republicans I think who stood out. Susan Collins of Maine has made a real good effort to try to look at the evidence and broker something on finding of fact. Mike DeWine of Ohio stood up early, got in there. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin resisted his party -
JIM LEHRER: The Democrat.
PAUL GIGOT: The Democrat resisted the party temptation or party command to dismiss the thing. But there are a lot of others who I think emerged from this thing diminished.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Let's go through some of these things. You mentioned finding of fact. Finding of fact you agree with the consensus that's gone, that's dead?
PAUL GIGOT: Over.
JIM LEHRER: Over, done.
PAUL GIGOT: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Now, one thing that still is alive, apparently, we reported it in the news summary, is that there is a growing coalition of senators who want to open the deliberations. We need to explain that, that under the old rules, the rules that were used and the only other time, the Andrew Johnson trial, they had everything in the open except the deliberations of the senators on the grounds that they were jurors. Now, in order to change that, they need 67 votes. Is that going to happen?
MARK SHIELDS: Don't think it will, but political self-interest, Jim, is not limited to just the Republican side of the aisle. The Democrats, who are going to vote to acquit President Clinton, want to go on record that what he did was reprehensible, morally indefensible and whatever -- reckless, shameless, whatever other adjectives you want to use - they'd love to be able to do this on television all right -- in the 15 minutes -- and that's the way to do it.
JIM LEHRER: And each one gets 15 minutes.
MARK SHIELDS: Each one gets 15 minutes to stand up there and do it.
JIM LEHRER: Whether they do it on camera or whether they do it behind closed doors.
MARK SHIELDS: It's a great videotape for your next campaign. Of course, I said, it was reprehensible behavior. And I think that's part of it, and I think that's where you get the Republicans negotiating on the whole censure vote. Do they want to let the Democrats off? I mean, the Democrats are going to vote to acquit, some of whom have never even entertained the possibility that there was a conviction even remotely plausible. Should they have the censure vote, that kind of covers their political flank.
JIM LEHRER: And the Republicans would just soon stop the cameras right there, right, with that acquittal vote, if it's a Democrat, correct?
PAUL GIGOT: Sure. I mean, any Republican who votes for removal really doesn't need to vote for censure. And the problem for -- I think the problem -
JIM LEHRER: Because they've already got their -- they're looking good for their constituents?
PAUL GIGOT: From their point of view, you really took the big one. The problem is I think among -- a lot of the Democrats want this censure as cover, as Mark says, there's no question about it. But a lot of the draft that I've seen is all adjectives and no verbs. I mean -
JIM LEHRER: Like what? What do you mean?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, like Diane Feinstein - it's all -- he's nasty, he's reprehensible, he did this, but it -
JIM LEHRER: He didn't do anything.
PAUL GIGOT: -- doesn't say he didn't do anything. It says he cheated on his wife and he didn't tell the truth about it. It doesn't have anything to do with the rule of law, which really is the essences of the case that the House managers have brought, and that's going to be what the fight is over.
|A likable kid.|
JIM LEHRER: Speaking, finally, we went into this Senate trial and we talked about it here endlessly, about all of the rap that was on the House for what they did and the way they conducted this thing. How would you compare the way the House -- however you feel about the end result, the way the House conducted it, versus the way the Senate is now conducting it?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I don't think there's any question that the Senate tried not to emulate the House. I mean the House was -- the House was really a leaderless institution when this process came through, you'll recall, where you had gone through Speaker Gingrich's resignation, Speaker Livingston designate had not taken over and there was sort of a -- it just seemed to be life of itself without any real planning. Trent Lott, the Republican Senate majority leader, learned from that, and he was absolutely committed that it would not be the case. I think Tom Daschle, a Democratic leader, gives him high marks, gives Lott high marks for consulting, for being collegial and the all the rest of it. But I think what they're talking about now is history's judgment. I think that's what the House managers are talking about - I think that's what the Senate is concerned about as well.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about the way the Senate has done this, and particularly the way Trent Lott has handled this whole thing?
PAUL GIGOT: I think Trent Lott has handled it well, considering the herd of cats he had in his conference. I mean he had people right, left, and center basically saying from the get-go, "can we please get this over with? And do it in a way that doesn't embarrass me. Make it look like I really want this to go on, but I really don't want it to go on." That's been what he's heard time and again. And in that sense Trent Lott has probably brought this along further than a lot of his members wanted. So I think Lott emerges all right. But to think ahead to the Republican convention in the year 2000 -- when Henry Hyde gets on that stage, if he gets on that stage, they're going to tear the roof off, they're going to be so -- he's going to be a hero to an awful lot of Republicans, to most Republicans. I don't know that there's a single senator who is going to be anywhere close to that kind of a position.
JIM LEHRER: How do the Democrats look in the Senate compare to the Democrats in the House?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean the Democrats overall just have to worry, Jim, whether in fact this is ever going to come back and bite them. I mean that's one of the reasons that the Monica Lewinsky live testimony was of concern to many Democrats, because in the testimony, she came across as a young and vulnerable and very much of a kid and a likable kid, and they didn't -- you know, they didn't want that on the floor, and I think the Democrats right now, they have profited from it politically because it's hurt the Republicans. The optimists on the republican side say, "this is only short-term damage." The pessimists say this is this will go into the 21 century sometime. And Democrats are essentially hoping that no other high heel drops from here on in.
JIM LEHRER: Well, we know it's going to drop tomorrow, which are going to be some videotape in this presentation of the evidence. We'll see what happens. Thank you both very much.
MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.