Monday, October 24, 2005

Reaching into the memory hole

Michael Barone sure is a piece of, um, work. In his most recent column, he starts off by arguing that no crime was committed. Of course, what he's actually arguing is that two specific laws were not broken. Since Barone has no way of knowing what evidence Patrick Fitzgerald has on hand, he really can't make this argument. It should be pointed out, however, that (as Media Matters and others have made clear) no specific laws were mentioned in the letter from the Department of Justice delegating investigative authority to Fitzgerald.

He goes on, though, to say this:
To visit the rigors of criminal indictment, trial and punishment on someone who has done nothing that is specifically forbidden is unjust -- the very definition of injustice.

That leaves the question of whether Rove, Libby or someone else will be indicted for perjury, obstruction of justice or making false statements in the course of the investigation. But why should there be indictments if there was no crime?
I pored over dozens of columns and transcripts during which Michael Barone discussed the perjury of Bill Clinton. Aside from the perjury he committed on the stand, there was no violation of law. I hate that this has to be said again and again, but a blowjob is not illegal. Yet I have not found a single moment in the past where Barone has argued that Clinton should not be punished for lying on the stand because the act about which he lied was not, in itself, illegal.

I did, however, find several moments like this one--from a July 21, 1998, edition of Hardball--in which he argued that perjury shouldn't be limited to purely criminal matters.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: I think you're right. You know what I think? And maybe you and I agree on this; that I think the American people want President Clinton to be judged just like any other citizen--no worse, no better. If you don't usually prosecute perjury cases in civil matters, you shouldn't do it to him. Then again, if he's called to testify before a grand jury, he, like you or I, should show up. Is that the way you see it? That's the way I see it.

MICHAEL BARONE: Well, just one--one correction. One correction, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Yes, Michael.

Mr. BARONE: The fact is people are prosecuted for perjury in civil cases, since perjury--the law against perjury in civil cases is one of the bedrocks of our society.

MATTHEWS: Right.

Mr. BARONE: Because if you don't have enforcement of contracts and redress of torts through the courts of law and you can't back that up with a perjury thing, the...

PETER FENN: But...

Mr. BARONE: ...civilization tends to collapse.
Wow. Civilization will collapse if you can't enforce perjury in civil cases. Barone went further, actually applauding Democrats for not crying "Politics!" He said on The McLaughling Group January 9, 1999, that "The senate Democrats have declined the invitation of the White House to partisanize it" He told Catherine Crier later that year (August 17, The Crier Report) that, whether or not the investigation itself was partisan made no difference, since Clinton broke the law.
CRIER: ...Michael, throughout all of that, the obstruction of justice, the perjury were my issues, and whatever I thought about the sex, it was the law. Are we going to pay a price in the future for the attitude taken toward these issues?

BARONE: Well, I think a lot of people have gotten themselves in a position of taking what I would call a second year law students approach and what I think ordinary people would call a smart ass approach to some of these legal questions about what the meaning of the word "is" is and all this baloney.

I think Judge Susan Webber Wright really nailed that down when she fined Bill Clinton $90,000. You don't usually fine litigants $90,000, Catherine, as you know. Ninety-thousand dollars for purposefully misleading and lying before the judge. Mr. Clinton has prudently chosen not to contest that, though the White House maintains with its usual total lack of credibility on these issues that, hey, the president didn't really lie.

The fact is that I think the law of perjury will survive the presidency of Bill Clinton, despite the fact that he engaged in perjury and other criminal conduct.

CRIER: Well, Susan, you've got people like Henry Cisneros still facing charges about his mistress and lying. You've got ancillary cases that could directly be affected by the decisions made against Bill Clinton.

ESTRICH: Well, I think the Henry Cisneros prosecution is a travesty, if you want to know my honest opinion. I've studied that one pretty carefully. And the so-called lie there is understating the

CRIER: Oh, I know I have a hard time believing that that's still active.

ESTRICH: He must be the only person in America who's being counsel law. As for the perjury laws, I think they do survive. I think the underlying point also is that we rarely prosecute people in this country for civil perjury, and I hope we never see another president who has to go under oath about his sex life. I don't think that's a prospect that most of us would...

BARONE: Does that mean we should have fewer cases of sexual harassment or change the sexual harassment law?

ESTRICH: No. Well, no, I don't think so. And I think there are obviously situations where you do have to ask these questions. But I think this was a fishing expedition against Bill Clinton, and I think he should have settled the Paula Jones case at the outset.

But, Michael, the reason he didn't settle it was 'cause he believed, and so he told me and others, that there was no merit to it, which turned out to ultimately be right, according to Judge Wright.

BARONE: Well, the fact is the fishing expedition caught some fish, though.
One more quick one. Here's Barone on Hardball, September 29, 1998:
MATTHEWS: Michael, what's your view?

Mr. BARONE: Well, my view is that when you have perjury--and I think it's pretty clear here from the evidence that you have perjury under o--lying under oath in the United States District Court, that's just totally cons--in--inconsistent with the responsibility to take...

MATTHEWS: Well, bottom line here, Michael, should this guy bear this stain for the rest of his life that he's--that he was subjected to an impeachment probe?

Mr. BARONE: I think--I think that it's justified. I think that a conscientious member could certainly vote that way.
There are many, many more instances where Barone argues that perjury is a crime without ever once trying to make the claim that the crime hinges on lying about another crime.

ADDENDUM: For the record, here's a very short list of others who felt perjury should be considered criminal.
  • Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ): "Knowing misrepresentation under oath and to the American people, in conjunction with his direct attempt to have others lie in the grand jury proceedings left him with no choice but to support the articles of impeachment" (Goodman, Trenton Times, 12/11).

  • Rep. Virgil Goode's (D-VA) spokesperson Linwood Duncan: "He's prepared to vote for impeachment on a count of perjury" (Vaughan, Lynchburg News & Advance, 12/11).

  • Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) called "Clinton's actions reprehensible ... unforgivable, but not impeachable" (Hsu, Washington Post, 12/11).

  • Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) "is leaning toward supporting the perjury articles" (Lipman, Cox News , 12/11).

  • Rep. Ralph Hall (D-TX): "I'm pretty set on the perjury and the fact that it's a felony" (Moscoso, Cox News, 12/11).

  • Rep. Ron Lewis (R-KY) "said the evidence of perjury is clear and requires a vote for impeachment" (Carroll, Courier-Journal, 12/11).

  • Rep. Bill Jenkins (R-TN) "will vote for at least two articles of impeachment involving perjury" (Whaley, Kingsport Times-News, 12/11).

  • Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX): "The evidence shows that the president committed perjury by lying under oath, obstructed justice and abused the power of his office" (Martin, San Antonio Express-News, 12/11).

  • Rep. Sonny Callahan (D-AL): "I don't think if there is ample, sufficient evidence that the president perjured himself before the grand jury I don't see how anyone could vote differently. " (Hardy, Mobile Register, 12/11).

  • Rep. Todd Tiahart (R-KS): "It's perjury, and that alone is enough to justify an impeachment vote" (Quaid, AP, 12/11).

  • Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R): "To me, making a false statement under oath to a criminal grand jury is an impeachable offense" (Theimer, AP).
Yes, I've included one Democrat who thinks that Clinton's actions didn't rise to the level of impeachment, but you'll notice that there are three Dems who were publicly saying they would impeach. Today, you do not hear a single serving Republican argue even that the outing of a CIA agent is "reprehensible (and) unforgivable."

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