He Should Just Go

The Washington Post, Tuesday, January 5, 1999; Page A11

"I think it would be unseemly and distracting," said Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) on "Meet the Press" Sunday, "for the president to be giving a State of the Union address to Congress while he was under trial in the Senate."

Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) agreed: "It's inappropriate."

Good point. It was inappropriate, too, for the president to hold a rousing pep rally at the White House with his allies from the House on the afternoon of the impeachment vote. The appropriate response to impeachment is not brassy defiance but silence, contemplation, shame and departure.

Seemliness, however, is not Bill Clinton's strong suit; he is largely oblivious to the moral, as opposed to the sentimental, dimension. And so, he reads the polls, rallies the troops and stays.

Instead, he should heed the advice of "Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now?" -- the wonderful 1972 Dr. Seuss book for toddlers:

The time has come.

The time is now.

Just go. Go. GO!

I don't care how.

But William J. Clinton will not go. So, for the time being, anyway, we are left with trying to divine the lessons of the scandal, obscured as they have been by so much blather and posturing on both sides:

(1) The independent counsel law, which comes up for renewal this year, should be repealed. It gives far too much power to an unsupervised extragovernmental official, and it is unnecessary.

The motivation, after Watergate, was to find a way to investigate and prosecute top administration officials who could pressure the Justice Department to leave them alone. That remains a potential problem, but one that can be remedied through the political process. At any rate, unfettered counsel with an unlimited budget is no answer.

(2) In this investigation, Americans got a taste of what a federal prosecutor -- not just an independent counsel but a normal U.S. attorney -- does in pursuit of a suspect, and it isn't pretty.

Bill Clinton did not receive especially harsh treatment. To the contrary: When the feds decide to go after someone, they come down hard. The cost is millions of dollars in lawyers' fees and thousands of hours lost in proving innocence. It is time to review the fairness of laws that grant prosecutors that much power.

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