If as seems increasingly likely, the House votes to impeach the President on one or more counts, sentiment supporting a Senate conviction would immediately increase. Public opinion, which to this point has viewed the President’s behavior as being bad enough to warrant censure, but not sufficient to expel him from office, would begin to rethink that position based on the solidity of the House Republicans. President Clinton’s defenders have argued that an impeachment is useless, because there are not the votes in the Senate to convict, yet know that the glue that has held the GOP together in the House is not partisanship, but conscience. Throughout the year, I’ve given the benefit of every doubt to the President, accepting all his technical defenses that he misled, but did not lie. I found myself identifying most with the approach of the young South Carolina Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham, who was as impressed with the President’s August 17 Grand Jury deposition as I was. He argued that if the conflict was simply over definitions of “sexual relations,” and such, he could not bring himself to vote impeachment.
In the end, Lindsay Graham became the most effective advocate on the committee for impeachment. Prior to this week, I had read enough of the arguments to persuade myself that I would vote for impeachment in the House, even though I was not sure how I would vote following a Senate trial -- although I would probably vote to acquit. This may seem odd, but it was based on a sense that there would be a sufficient doubt remaining about the legal technicalities that my perspective would differ from accusator to adjudicator. In his remarks this morning, Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde made it clear that this is exactly the way the constitutional mechanism is expected to work.
Watching the hearings this week, gavel to gavel, I came away for the first time realizing the gravity of what the President has done could lead me to convict. That click in my mind came when Lindsey Graham read from the federal Grand Jury testimony of Sidney Blumenthal, a journalist I’ve known and admired for almost 20 years, who went to work in the White House as a senior counselor to the President last year. Blumenthal testified that when he asked the President point blank in January of this year if he had anything to confess, Clinton told him that Monica Lewinsky was the aggressor, she had come on to him, that she was a “Stalker” who threatened to cause him trouble unless he had an affair with her. I’d always assumed these newspaper stories about Monica the Stalker emanated from Jim Carville, the designated trasher of the President’s victims. But to learn that they came from the President himself tells me he would have stopped at nothing in the use of his power to destroy her. It was only the blue dress that saved Monica.
If the House votes impeachment, there could be an assessment by the Senate Democrats that “conscience will trump everything else,” as Henry Hyde put it. It’s hard to imagine Robert Byrd of West Virginia, for example, ignoring the evidence and the damage to the nation if the President’s malefactions are not addressed by the conscience of the Senate. If the President knew in advance of a Senate trial that he would lose a dozen Democrats to their consciences, he might follow Richard Nixon into the history books.