September 11, 1998
Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot and syndicated columnist Mark Shields discuss the political implications of the Starr report.
JIM LEHRER: Some final observations tonight from Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. So, Mark, where are we now?
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
The Starr report and White House rebuttal.
September 10, 1998:
What is the constitutional basis for impeaching a president?
September 9, 1998:
Kenneth Starr drops off his case to the House.
September 3, 1998:
Four former senators discuss whether the president should step down.
August 26, 1998:
Editorial writers from across the country differ on their take on the resignation question.
August 19, 1998:
Senator John Ashcroft and Rep. Barney Frank debate whether President Clinton should resign.
August 18, 1998:
Voters in Denver react to Bill Clinton's speech.
August 18, 1998:
Shields & Gigot discusses the president's speech.
August 17, 1998:
Full coverage of the president's speech to the American public.
August 17, 1998:
An analysis of the media's coverage of the Starr investigation.
August 13, 1998:
What impact will the Starr investigation have on the institution of the presidency ?
July 30, 1998:
Should Clinton address the public about the Lewinsky matter?
July 28, 1998:
Ken Starr makes an immunity deal with Monica Lewinsky.
July 27, 1998:
Ken Starr subpoenas the president to testify in front of his grand jury
July 21, 1998:
A roundtable discussion on Chief Justice Rehnquist's decision not to interfere with the subpoenas of secret service agents.
July 15, 1998:
Can the Justice Dept. force secret service agents to testify?
July 1, 1998:
A report on the question of executive privilege and the Starr investigation.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Starr Investigation.
Browse the Shields and Gigot index and NewsHour's coverage of the Starr Investigation.
The White House web site.
How will the American people sort through the report?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Jim, I think right now we're at a time where the American people are going to have to sort through this. I think it's a shocking document; there's no question about it. But I think probably the greatest risk right now is a rush to judgment on the part of the press, which we were guilty of last January and early February. But I think there's no question. It is lurid. It is salacious material. Listening to the President I thought he was persuasive. If he had made the same speech on the 17th of August, with a full admission and without an attack on Mr. Starr, I think we might have had a different set of circumstances we'd be talking about tonight even with this report.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. But on the report, let's start there and work back.
MARK SHIELDS: Okay.
JIM LEHRER: Paul. How compelling a case do you think Kenneth Starr makes against the President?
PAUL GIGOT: In some ways the most damaging thing about the report is not the legal part of it. It's the moral image it conveys. It's morally devastating. It has a narrative that starts at the beginning of the Lewinsky relationship and goes right to the current day really or right to his grand jury testimony. And it seems to me that there are multiple perjuries. The argument -the facts on that are strong and they seem to me very hard to rebut. I would not want to be a Democrat trying to defend him on that. The obstruction case, the witness tampering parts of the case are more circumstantial - still damaging. But the overall impression you get from reading it, frankly, it's depressing that this is where our political dialogue has gone. This is where this presidency has gone, but we're - he's in the middle of a hurricane right now and he's trying to hold on to the door jambs. And if you can somehow -as Mark says - have that blow out instead of blow him out, maybe - maybe he can hold on to his presidency.
MARK SHIELDS: Just one thing about this. Americans have never been from day one comfortable with this story. It's been an embarrassing story. It's been a story that's made people unable to watch television with their children and all the rest. We've heard enough about that. The question is now - this is going to make them more uncomfortable. Earlier, the discomfort came in the form of tell Starr to end it, get it over with, and -
JIM LEHRER: It's the press telling stories.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right. And now the question is: Is it going to be we want this over with, is it going to be - their remedy going to be the President? I think it's impossible to look at this report and not say that the overwhelming regret the President must feel for his tremendous miscalculation in denying the relationship, because here we are four years later, Jim - you remember Whitewater - and you remember the Madison Savings & Loan - and you remember Filegate and you remember the Travel Office - and you remember the missing billing records - and none of them - or Web Hubbell - and none of them, according to Starr's findings and those of the staff, rise to the level of impeachable offenses. The one -one set of circumstances was the Monica Lewinsky relationship and his dissembling about it, and there's no question whether Paul says perjury - but there was no question that there was an abject lack of candor about it.
Interpreting President Clinton's apology.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. I was very struck the conversation that Phil just had with the two ministers about the - about what the President said today in forgiveness and all of that. How do you - because it's all part of the process now, isn't it, what he said this morning is all part of what's going to happen in the House of Representatives and for these two things that have happened on the same day is a coincidence because this prayer breakfast has been set up weeks ago so there is no way - but how do you think that's going to be read by people? Are they going to have the same kind of conversation those two ministers just had?
PAUL GIGOT: I think some people will. I think it's hard to listen to the President today and not feel his pain, and to think -
JIM LEHRER: To coin a phrase.
PAUL GIGOT: --and to feel that he is being sincere, though a lot of people will react and say, well, he's - you know, that's just Clinton again. That's the way he is, and -
JIM LEHRER: But you have said on this program several times that he really isn't sorry, he hasn't expressed -do you think he did this morning?
PAUL GIGOT: I think there is a process of internalizing these sorts of things that those of us who have sinned go through when we are admitting it to ourselves, that this happened. And maybe he's building up to that point. But in a way, it's irrelevant now, because he did it only after he had been caught, only after they had, in essence, all the other evidence. Had he done it in January, as Mark said, had he done it in April, had he done it when Monica Lewinsky cut a deal, maybe he would have been in a much stronger circumstance. But now it does - a lot of people will say it looks synthetic. And then you have all the other acts that have to be accounted for leading up to it.
What will the House do now?
JIM LEHRER: Let's talk about the House now. This thing - the train has left the station - don't know where the next stop is, but it's left the station. And how do you think it's left the station from the non-partisan, bipartisan cooperation point at this point?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the strongest argument against term limits in the United States is probably the fact that in our two major constitutional crises of the past quarter century the impeachment of Richard Nixon and the potential impeachment hearings on Richard Nixon, we have had - of Bill Clinton, I'm sorry - we've had as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Peter Rodino of New Jersey, who at the age of 70 had no ambitions and Henry Hyde of Illinois who at the age of 74 has no future ambitions and brings to it a sense of history. I think, Jim, Democrats run an enormous risk here. This is - make no mistake about it - it is not a proven case. These are the allegations against the President. I think Democrats are nervous. There's no doubt about it. There's an anxiety in the ranks, and I think if Democrats appear to be stampeding, saying, gosh, we're going to lose seats in the November, and we'd better scuttle this fellow, then I say history will visit upon the Democratic Party. If they rush to judgment in that sense, before the American people are ready -
JIM LEHRER: In other words - just covering their hides.
MARK SHIELDS: Covering their own fannies.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
MARK SHIELDS: Cover your own area, I guess, is the euphemistic way of putting it. If that's the case, then whether it saves a couple of seats in November, I will say history's judgment will be very, very harsh upon them. That's why I think the process really - the time needed - and people do need that time to sort through it because they are - they will be conflicted tomorrow, and they'll be conflicted next week.
JIM LEHRER: The people meaning -
MARK SHIELDS: People in this country and the people - and I think the people on the Hill will if they give it that chance and don't just do it through a political prism.
PAUL GIGOT: I'm going to stun Mark and agree with him. I think it would be a mistake to have a premature resignation here. The public - if we're going to end the presidency early, the public has to see that it is the right thing to do, that it is the just outcome. The impeachment process - regular order - the way our founders imagined this - the constitutional order - needs to move forward, and it needs to move forward - Mark warns the Democrats - he should warn the Republicans too. There's no way that they should sit and because there's an election and cynically think we want to prop this guy up needlessly.
JIM LEHRER: Keep him wounded -
PAUL GIGOT: Keep him there. Exactly. In order to gain - if they think - search their consciences, look at the others, and they think that he is unfit to be president, they should impeach and they should impeach on October 15th, not November 15th.
How badly will the debate harm the nation?
JIM LEHRER: What if it becomes - there's a little smell of it already - what if it becomes a debatable issue, a legitimate debatable issue as to whether or not all these 11 offenses that are in Starr's report, whether or not they constitute an impeachable offense? Now, remember, the reason the Nixon thing worked was because everybody agreed in the final analysis this man had to go. If this remains a debatable point, can there be impeachment?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think there can. I think that the issue is still a closely dividing and divided one in the country. I do want to say one thing to Paul. I will surprise him by saying I think the person who has shown more statesmanship this past week than anybody else in Washington has been the Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Newt Gingrich - Lord knows, I've been critical enough of him in the past - and his excesses of '95 and '96 quite aside - he has stepped up - the fact that he's Speaker of the House - that this is an historic responsibility, and he has warned his membership that this is not time for cheap shots, this is not time for quick lines and all the rest of it.
JIM LEHRER: Haynes Johnson said on this program last night, Paul, that that's all well and good to say that, it's all well and good to say we're going to cooperate, and it's going to be non-partisanship and bipartisanship, and it worked in the Nixon case in 1974, because there was a desire to do it, but he said that the atmosphere is so poisoned in this Congress right now, particularly in the House of Representatives, that there's - he predicted that it will not work.
PAUL GIGOT: I'm surprised to see Haynes so pessimistic. He seems to me that you have already seen some of the grown-ups in Congress step to the fore. Democrat Pat Moynihan said let's get on with it, let's move ahead, this is not a crisis of the country, it's a crisis of the regime, by which he means the government, let's make our judgments, do our duty, and move on. John Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, senior member of the House, says, let's make it all public, we don't want this dribbling out in leaks. Henry Hyde, he's a grown-up. He knows how to do things. You're going to see people step to the fore, I think, that you haven't seen before, younger members, people are going to stand up and say, this is not about winning a seat or two extra in November. Lord knows, some of those people will think that. But this is really about our standards of politics and morality. Let's consider it that way.
JIM LEHRER: Peer pressure to keep this thing on track?
MARK SHIELDS: I think Haynes is being uncharacteristically pessimistic. I have hopes. I thought Dick Gephardt today - the House Democratic leader - made a strong statement. It was not only across the aisle; it was to his own members as well; that what this was - and what it is. Interesting, in the House Democratic Caucus for a two and a half hour meeting, only one member stood up and - and really went after the President and urged resignation. So I mean there is on the Democratic side a sense - there was prior to this report being public and on the Internet, Jim. I mean, the Internet - one of the great arguments has been what kind of material we put on the Internet - there's going to be a lot of web sites tonight that are going to take a real roasting from the parents and civic and PTA groups. I hope ours isn't one of them.
"I think they will begin impeachment hearings."
JIM LEHRER: Well, we put it on the web site. We put it on our web site. It is - there's some salacious stuff in there. Specific question: Do you think that the Judiciary Committee will, in fact, decide to begin impeachment proceedings, or do you think they might stop it?
MARK SHIELDS: No. I think they will begin impeachment hearings, and I think it's - it's going to be a real test of Henry Hyde's leadership, because the Democratic side of that committee is to the left of the Democratic Caucus and the Republican side is to the right of its caucus.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?
PAUL GIGOT: I think after reading the report, I think impeachment hearings are inevitable - if not impeachment itself.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Thank you both very much.