Coup Attempt in Washington: A European Mirror on Our Recent Constitutional Crisis

Overview

By viewing the entire Clinton scandal through the eyes of European journalists, Merkl uncovers the damage done to our Constitution, our political system, and our role of world leadership.

This is an exploration, with hundreds of appropriate quotes from French, British, German, Italian and other newspapers, on how differently European journalists interpreted our attempt to impeach and remove our twice-elected president.This is not an effort to defend President Clinton. Contrary ...

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Overview

By viewing the entire Clinton scandal through the eyes of European journalists, Merkl uncovers the damage done to our Constitution, our political system, and our role of world leadership.

This is an exploration, with hundreds of appropriate quotes from French, British, German, Italian and other newspapers, on how differently European journalists interpreted our attempt to impeach and remove our twice-elected president.This is not an effort to defend President Clinton. Contrary to what our media told us, Europeans did not just snicker about our attitudes to sex scandals—they did little of that—but they critically and knowledgeably examined our obvious abuses of American legal procedures and concepts (e.g. perjury) and relevant constitutional clauses. They saw this as a five-year vendetta culminating in a quasi-constitutional coup attempt, not just the pursuit of a scandal, and believed an important part of our media was involved in the "vast rightwing conspiracy" to overthrow Clinton. Finally, and again unlike our media, they thought that this action damaged our constitutional system and would have destroyed it, had the coup succeeded.

About the Author:
PETER MERKL is Professor Emeritus at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He has published numerous books and articles on politics. He lives in Santa Barbara, California.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Hypocrisy, partisan attacks by right-wing conservatives, and a questionable sexual harassment case is how members of the European media viewed President Clinton's impeachment trial, according to Merkl, editor of The Federal Republic of Germany at Fifty and professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Merkl draws on Jeffrey Toobin's A Vast Conspiracy (Random, 1999) to portray Clinton as no hero but more honorable than his attackers, especially Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. The Europeans quoted here make good points about their American media counterparts and the impeachment process, which they view as much different from a Prime Minister's being legally removed by Parliament. In America, they note, the move by the House of Representatives to remove a twice popularly elected president from office for charges less than treason and high crimes and misdemeanors was tantamount to an attempted illegal coup. Unfortunately, Merkl is frequently as strident as those he faults, and his good arguments are made emotionally and repetitively. Recommended for larger public libraries; other libraries may purchase as interest warrants.--Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Asks whether the 1998-99 Republican effort to impeach and remove President Clinton, with its glaring violations of the constitution and of due process of law, was an attempted coup d'<'e>tat against the democratic system. Merkl (professor emeritus, political science, University of California-Santa Barbara) presents a European perspective on the impeachment effort's abuses of American legal procedures and relevant constitutional clauses, drawing on material from European newspapers. He shows that European journalists saw the Republican effort as a five-year vendetta culminating in a quasi- constitutional coup attempt, and believed an important part of the US media was involved in the right wing conspiracy to overthrow Clinton. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312238315
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Publication date: 1/28/2001
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.68 (h) x 1.26 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Merkl is professor emeritus at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He has published numerous books and articles on politics. His most recent book isThe Federal Republic of Germany at Fifty.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 2:

This does . . . begin to take on the appearance of a coup[d'état]. -Representative John Conyers, House Judiciary Committee (December 12, 1998)

I believe [by not resigning] I defended the Constitution against a serious threat. I am sorry I did something wrong [the Lewinsky affair] that gave them the excuse to really go overboard. -President Bill Clinton, interview on the Lehrer Newshour (January 26, 2000)

It was not so long ago that Europeans and the rest of the world deeply admired American democracy and its venerable Constitution. Eastern Europeans and Russians after the fall of communism in 1990-1991, in particular, paid American institutions and the rule of law the sincerest form of compliment, namely extensive efforts to import and imitate parts of them. After our triumph in World War II, Western Europeans had also embarked on a long era when our democratic institutions and processes were widely considered the standard against which to measure their own efforts to institute democratic government, even though their governmental structures were, of course, beholden to their respective French, German, and Italian traditions. This pattern of European respect clearly suffered a major lapse with the distribution of the Starr Report and the videotape of the president's grand jury testimony of August 17, 1998 on orders of the House of Representatives. In the conservative French daily Le Figaro, Pierre Rousselin wrote: "It is now up to Congress to return to American democracy the dignity that was so seriously lost by the default of three other pillars [of the American system]: The chief executive in unbelievable conduct, a judicial apparatus at the mercy of an implacable prosecutor, and a fourth estate [the media] without self-restraint" (September 11, 1998). The columnist did not explain why he expected salvation to come, of all things, from Congress. Two days later, Charles Lambrosini added in the same paper: "The president may survive [this crisis] but his presidency is shattered (foudroyé)" (September 13, 1998).

Illusions of Parliamentary Government

One likely source for their distaste may be misunderstandings based on the different governmental structures that we and they tend to take for granted, particularly in the relations between the national executive and the legislature. Europeans know that we have a separation of powers between Congress and the president-which none of them have-and we know that most of them have some form of parliamentary government in which prime ministers are elected and dismissed by a majority of the lower house of parliament. Optimally, prime ministers are in command of both parliament and the executive branch, quite different from the role of the self-sufficient Congress, which was described by Lexington in the Economist as "a bunch of men and women of extraordinary pomposity, as windbagged as the worst Welshman, unable to raise their sights above the most mundane concerns of their local constituents, and generally mildly corrupt . . . a 'permanent government,' made up of incumbents with a rate of reelection that made them look like the noblemen of the ancient regime . . . now, if only they would reintroduce spittoons" (June 26, 1993).

minister, cabinet, and parliamentary majority almost invariably belong to the same party or coalition.

Misreading American Presidential Government

How, then, might European observers have been misled to erroneous conclusions based on these structural differences? Parliamentary government differs from presidentialism with regard to (1) how executive authority is derived from the people, namely, by having only one national parliamentary election and through the mediating role of the newly elected parliament and partisan majorities in it; (2) the fusion of executive and legislative authority in parliamentary government (which was anathema to the founders of the Constitution); and (3) how to get rid of a duly (if indirectly) elected chief executive.

their tenure on congressional support? . He has persuaded Washington that what the voters wanted in 1994 was what he was proposing to do" (November 4, 1995). Other European observers were just as impressed if not as eloquent.

Europeans on Nixon's Impeachment

The third difference, how to bring down a duly-elected chief executive, naturally touches closely upon the question of impeachment and, as we shall see below, whether the Republican impeachment drive of 1998 amounted to an attempted coup d' état against Clinton's electoral mandate. In parliamentary systems, prime ministers generally lose their posts in more or less the same fashion they gain them: in two-party systems, it is usually by being defeated in an election in which the incumbents have to defend what they did with their original mandate from the voters, or how they dealt with new crises and major challenges. Typically, recent French, German, and British governments were toppled by elections that cost them their majorities. Successful parliamentary no-confidence votes have become rare since political parties have become so disciplined, but they may still occur in a coalition government. In the 1970s, for example, Labour prime minister James Callahan of Britain was toppled by the unexpected departure of Scottish Nationalist MPs. His reaction reportedly was: "This is the first time turkeys have voted for an early Christmas." Recent Italian governments fell when one or more of the coalition parties walked out over an important issue, and the same happened to Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of Germany in 1982 when the Free Democrats left his coalition and embraced Helmut Kohl instead. Behind closed doors, moreover, a prime minister or chancellor may sometimes be persuaded by his own party leaders to resign because his actions have disgraced his party. An example might be Anthony Eden's resignation in 1956 following the failed Suez invasion, or Willy Brandt's resignation in 1974 because of a spy scandal. In some ways this resembles, in our own rather different system, the resignation of Richard Nixon in the Watergate affair, when senior Republican congressional leaders prevailed upon him not to wait for his removal by the Senate.

a menace to the survival or integrity of the state itself.

The American Way of Dumping a President

The American method of expelling a chief executive considered a danger to the state is indeed archaic and was abandoned in England after the 1787-1795 impeachment of Warren Hastings, the first governor general of British India. It was still used frequently in seventeenth- and eighteenth- century England, also in the American colonies and in the Jeffersonian era, but never against a chief executive or a president until after the Civil War. Today, European observers balk particularly at its curious mixture of judicial and political elements which, in their opinions, was used as a continual dodge by the Republican impeachment drive of 1998. On the website of the French left-wing paper Libération, for example, questions about the confusing mixture of the two dominated an interview conducted by its correspondent, Jacques Sabatier, with an American constitutional expert, Jeffrey Rosen of George Washington University and of the New Yorker. Leading off the questions were: "Is the [impeachment] process essentially political or juridical?" (answer: both) and "How does it relate to the juridical norms of American courts?" (only in part); followed by "What is the significance of having the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court . . . preside over the [Senate] proceedings" (none) and "Can the Senate acquit the president of a [dubious] perjury charge even when it is not contested?" (yes). Whenever such rarefied legal charges as "perjury," "subornation of perjury," or "obstruction of justice" were challenged by the president's lawyers as unproven or nearly unprovable in a court of law, as European observers trained in their own respective legal systems would note, special prosecutor Kenneth Starr and the Republican ultras on the House Judiciary Committee and elsewhere withdrew into the political realm and claimed that impeachment was a political matter after all. The Starr Report, jeered the liberal Guardian of London, had "made no attempt to present the whole [legal] truth, but gone straight for his man . . . this is not a criminal process and . . . not subject to conventional rules and safeguards [of the much-invoked rule of law]" (September 15, 1998).

skeptical. "It was a little white lie," according to Bacharan.2 The second error was to conflate a criminal suspicion, regarding Whitewater-Madison Guaranty, with obviously noncriminal conduct, the Lewinsky affair, which even the alleged white lie could not turn into a crime.3

press conferences, on television, and under oath before Congress.

the individual by precisely balancing the [governmental] powers."9 Her vacillations in the end served the worst purposes of the witch hunt for the president and the public exposure of decades of his private life.

Defending the Constitution

There is a very obvious reason why impeachment as a means of banishing an elected president has been used so rarely in the 200-some years of the republic: As with all elective offices, the logical remedy for a poor choice of elected officer lies in not reelecting the person, a correction not available, for example, with regard to federal judges or executive officers below the president. Especially in contrast to the shadow cast by the unimpeachable King George III upon the constitutional deliberations in Philadelphia in 1787, the remedy of impeachment was added only because, in the interval of a four-year term and surrounded as the young republic was by powerful empires with likely designs on it, a president might have been tempted to betray the nation's integrity or independence, to be bribed to commit treasonable actions, or to jeopardize the safety and integrity of the new federal state with "high crimes and misdemeanors" against this state. This was the emergency for which the impeachment process was inserted into the Constitution. The framers must have turned in their graves to learn the twisted interpretation given to their language by the impeachment advocates of 1998-1999. To quote Republican John Dean Nixon's counsel who, back in Watergate days, had turned against his president: "[Previous impeachment proceedings] stand in stark contrast to the we-don't-give-a-damn treatment of President Clinton by the Republicans now running the show" (U.S. News and World Report, December 21, 1998).

parliamentary arrangement, in other words.

presidential immunity to civil suits, such as that of Paula Jones, while a president is in office, thereby setting the tracks for the impeachment caper of 1998-1999.

Even less that the people's representatives made this calumny available to the whole world via Internet" (February 11, 1999). Notes

1. Nicole Bacharan, Le Piège: Quand le democratie perd la tête . . . (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1999), 69.
2. Ibid., 91.
3. Ibid., 94-95.
4. Jeffrey Toobin, A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President (New York: Random House, 2000), 190.
5. Ibid., 195.
6. Ibid., 204.
7. Bacharan., 70-71.
8. Toobin, 116-117.

—From A Coup Attempt in Washington? By Peter H. Merkl. (c) 2001, Palgrave USA used by permission

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Table of Contents

Introduction
• The Prelude, 1994-1997
• A Coup Attempt in Washington?
• Europeans on Sex, Lies, and Audiotapes
• Democracy and the Media Conspiracy
• Conclusions

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First Chapter

Chapter 2:

This does . . . begin to take on the appearance of a coup[d'état]. -Representative John Conyers, House Judiciary Committee (December 12, 1998)

I believe [by not resigning] I defended the Constitution against a serious threat. I am sorry I did something wrong [the Lewinsky affair] that gave them the excuse to really go overboard. -President Bill Clinton, interview on the Lehrer Newshour (January 26, 2000)

It was not so long ago that Europeans and the rest of the world deeply admired American democracy and its venerable Constitution. Eastern Europeans and Russians after the fall of communism in 1990-1991, in particular, paid American institutions and the rule of law the sincerest form of compliment, namely extensive efforts to import and imitate parts of them. After our triumph in World War II, Western Europeans had also embarked on a long era when our democratic institutions and processes were widely considered the standard against which to measure their own efforts to institute democratic government, even though their governmental structures were, of course, beholden to their respective French, German, and Italian traditions. This pattern of European respect clearly suffered a major lapse with the distribution of the Starr Report and the videotape of the president's grand jury testimony of August 17, 1998 on orders of the House of Representatives. In the conservative French daily Le Figaro, Pierre Rousselin wrote: "It is now up to Congress to return to American democracy the dignity that was so seriously lost by the default of three other pillars [of the American system]: The chief executive in unbelievable conduct, a judicial apparatus at the mercy of an implacable prosecutor, and a fourth estate [the media] without self-restraint" (September 11, 1998). The columnist did not explain why he expected salvation to come, of all things, from Congress. Two days later, Charles Lambrosini added in the same paper: "The president may survive [this crisis] but his presidency is shattered (foudroyé)" (September 13, 1998).

In one of the great newspapers of the world, the centrist Le Monde of Paris, Denis Lacorne, the research director of an institute of international studies, spoke of the "irresistible decline of American democracy, under the deceptive appearance of 'democracy on the march.'" He attributed the Congressional action to three illusions, the "illusion of truth," "of law," and of "parliamentary deliberation": "But judicial truth is rarely the whole truth . . . the questions directed at Clinton were meant to entrap him in perjury . . . and the logic of the law is not the logic of the people . . . Fortunately for Bill Clinton, American [public] opinion has not fallen into the trap that the prosecutor and the Republican majority in Congress set for him" (September 25, 1998). Lacorne then conjured up the concern of the founders of the American republic to protect individuals such as Clinton from the intrusion of a tyrannous state into their private lives and denounced the congressional "deliberations" toward impeachment as mere "illusion." Lacorne's salvo ended with the aside: "Well, at least the cigar was not Cuban . . . The president did not violate the embargo." What accounts for the present estrangement, the expressions of European exasperation, even shock, at events in American national government and public opinion in 1998-1999? Why did so many of my European friends-to the extent that knowledgeable Europeans paid attention and understood the events in a far distant land-call the goings-on inside the Beltway "so exaggerated," "mean-spirited," or simply incomprehensible?

Illusions of Parliamentary Government

One likely source for their distaste may be misunderstandings based on the different governmental structures that we and they tend to take for granted, particularly in the relations between the national executive and the legislature. Europeans know that we have a separation of powers between Congress and the president-which none of them have-and we know that most of them have some form of parliamentary government in which prime ministers are elected and dismissed by a majority of the lower house of parliament. Optimally, prime ministers are in command of both parliament and the executive branch, quite different from the role of the self-sufficient Congress, which was described by Lexington in the Economist as "a bunch of men and women of extraordinary pomposity, as windbagged as the worst Welshman, unable to raise their sights above the most mundane concerns of their local constituents, and generally mildly corrupt . . . a 'permanent government,' made up of incumbents with a rate of reelection that made them look like the noblemen of the ancient regime . . . now, if only they would reintroduce spittoons" (June 26, 1993).

In their hearts Americans and Europeans know very little about the workings of the other system in everyday practice. And both take their own systems so much for granted that even their gut reactions to a governmental crisis abroad are patterned by these basic differences in structure. The first impulse of Europeans on seeing the intense hatred of congressional Republicans against Clinton was to say "Why don't they just vote him out of office?" without immediately realizing that this is not possible under our system. A prime minister's loss of position, moreover, requires no charges or public trials, and involves no punishment other than being ousted. When prime ministers lose their parliamentary majority by a no-confidence vote or after an electoral defeat, he or she is simply retired. Impeachment of an American president, the most powerful leader in the world, on the other hand, seems very strange, punitive, and cumbersome, almost archaic to modern Europeans, an extreme solution to an everyday political crisis. The importance of these difficulties in understanding American politics cannot be easily documented with quotations from the European press. They are rather like Sherlock Holmes's story of the dog that did not bark, deep if simple reactions based on complex reasons. We can, however, find out by talking to knowledgeable European friends that they play a big role in mutual misunderstandings.

It is an irony of history that British governmental traditions, after inspiring the American colonists to rebel against the tyranny of Westminster and of George III and to create a republican Congress and president in deliberate, adversarial juxtaposition, gave birth to several other governmental inventions. Among them were the older devices of fighting the fierce battles between king and parliament, such as star chamber proceedings (no pun intended), criminal trials of political opponents by special courts and without any of the usual protections (such as attorneys or habeas corpus) for the accused, impeachment of a public official by parliament, and bills of attainder issued by legislatures to fine or punish an executive officer. By far the most striking of these inventions was parliamentary government, a system of executive-legislative relations that evolved (from the 1740s) over a period of two-and-a-half centuries to its present popularity with most European states. In Britain, its rise was reinforced by the growth of strong political parties and, eventually, by democracy. All three combined to make this a stable and resilient system: if there is a two-party or two-bloc system present, each national parliamentary election is likely to produce a mandate for a parliamentary majority with a prime minister and cabinet whose rule will end when their majority support is lost. It may be replaced by an oppositional majority. But there is only one such national election, that of the House of Commons (the parliamentary executive is not popularly elected) and, under normal circumstances, it gives the voters a real choice between parties A and B, or between the A and B coalitions of parties. Prime minister, cabinet, and parliamentary majority almost invariably belong to the same party or coalition.

Under our separation of powers, or presidential system, the president and the Congress (both House and Senate) are elected separately. Frequently, the White House is occupied by one party and the other party controls one or both houses of Congress. In fact, this kind of divided government has prevailed in the United States for most of the years since Watergate (1974). When the separation of powers was first devised by the framers at Philadelphia, they thought of it not only as a rigorous scheme to make the executive, legislative, and judicial functions as far as possible independent of each other. Putting two or all three into the same hands, according to the Baron de Montesquieu, was considered the very definition of tyranny. They also believed that each branch,. pursuing its natural ambition, would check and balance the other's-"Ambition must be made to counteract ambition" (Federalist Paper No. 51, James Madison)-in order to keep each from self-aggrandizement and tyranny over the people.

As the new republic got underway, however, this countervailing separation was met by new forces that the founders had viewed dimly. The most significant of these were political parties and the dynamics of popular democracy. The rise of political parties has meant that presidents and legislative majorities in both houses are often of the same party, and thus capable of overcoming most of the intended checks and balances. The rise of egalitarian democracy since the age of Andrew Jackson considerably modified the system further, as did the extraordinary expansion of what had started out as a rather small country with a limited suffrage; now political legitimacy came from popular elections, and both executive and legislative authority derived from the consent of the people.

Misreading American Presidential Government

How, then, might European observers have been misled to erroneous conclusions based on these structural differences? Parliamentary government differs from presidentialism with regard to (1) how executive authority is derived from the people, namely, by having only one national parliamentary election and through the mediating role of the newly elected parliament and partisan majorities in it; (2) the fusion of executive and legislative authority in parliamentary government (which was anathema to the founders of the Constitution); and (3) how to get rid of a duly (if indirectly) elected chief executive.

The first difference very likely led European observers of the well-orchestrated Republican landslide in the 1994 congressional elections to expect the new majorities of both houses to push the Democratic president against the wall. The new House Speaker, Newt Gingrich, probably had the same expectations. A Congress veteran (first elected 1978), Gingrich had prepared the ground with a skillfully compiled party program and recruited and indoctrinated a large number of Republican candidates for House seats. Upon their election, they helped him to pass nine of the ten items (the exception was term limits) of the contract in a few weeks of intense sessions in the House. It was an extraordinary moment in the history of the chamber. Gingrich presided over a signal partisan victory after decades of Democratic numerical superiority: The Republican popular vote for the House now stood at 51 percent to 46 percent for the Democrats, the exact opposite of the 1992 elections, and the Democratic edge among Senators similarly shrank in a few years from 58 (and 42 Republicans) to only 45 (and 55 Republicans), and among state governors from 28 (and 22 Republicans) to 17 (and 33 Republicans). In 1995-1996, after two years of various crises and disasters such as the health reform debate, the Clinton presidency had thus lost its Democratic majorities and, in the opinion of many European observers, seemed destined for political annihilation. A surprising number of Republican voices, especially in the press, explicitly welcomed the resulting dominance of Congress over the presidency. But do the American people really want to change our presidential system in a parliamentary fashion, making presidents dependent for their tenure on congressional support? To Europeans and Commonwealth observers, this was a familiar situation and they expected the overwhelming new Republican majority to capitalize on its superior numbers. Taking a leaf from Australia's own parliamentary practice, in January 1995 the Sydney Morning Herald commented that the American lurch to the right signified a "belief [that] Clinton is a failure" and that the voters wanted to clip his legislative wings. "America is now adrift. To put it bluntly, for the next two years, it is ungovernable." The Herald naturally assumed that the 1996 Congressional and presidential elections would bring a decision as to which party would be in control from then on. By March 1995, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich wrote: "If we did not know better, we'd think that since January 4 it wasn't just the majorities in Congress that had changed but the entire governmental system. It almost seems as if Clinton was only a [figurehead] president now, while Gingrich had the power of a prime minister" (March 15, 1995). The German newspaper also provided in-depth coverage of the background and the ideas, and enumerated the targeted enemies of the new Speaker: Democratic "social engineers," the counter-culture of 1968, and advocates of racial equalization. At the end of the first year of the Republican majority, the British Economist commented in a tone of admiration: "Astonishingly, Mr. Gingrich is doing all this from Capitol Hill rather than the White House which is rather like steering a canoe from the front. With few exceptions, the Republicans' discipline in Congress has been iron . . . as though Mr. Gingrich were the head of a parliamentary government. His has been an electrifying performance . . . He has persuaded Washington that what the voters wanted in 1994 was what he was proposing to do" (November 4, 1995). Other European observers were just as impressed if not as eloquent. Gingrich indeed led his troops into an all-out attack on what he viewed as Democratic Big Government and attempted to hobble such excessive (to him) government activities as business regulation and environmental protection by denying or drastically cutting budget appropriations to most nonemergency government services-in effect shutting them down. The Europeans did not quite understand what he was doing and, even less, the Clinton counteraction of executive vetoes for which there is no equivalent in European parliamentary systems. In fact, thanks to the European executive-legislative fusion, European politics almost never witnesses comparable battles between parliament and executive-not even in France where a hybrid presidential-parliamentary version in recent decades (since 1986) has also featured divided government ("cohabitation" of Gaullists and Socialists) but little overt executive-legislative conflict. In any event, Europeans expected the Republican surge to continue into the 1996 elections and Clinton to be vanquished at that time.

What happened instead illustrates my earlier point about the democratic source of legitimate authority: the Republican popular vote for the House in 1996 indeed remained ahead, 49 percent as compared to 48.5 percent for the Democrats who, despite gaining two seats, were still behind, 208 to 227 seats. But Clinton also won 49 percent (to 41 percent for Dole) and an even larger electoral college vote than in 1992. To European eyes, there were now two competing popular mandates, a Republican congressional mandate and a Democratic presidential one, a very confusing situation compared with the clear outcomes of parliamentary elections in Britain, or Germany, or most older Commonwealth countries.

Would this make for confusing conflict between the branches that so rarely occurs in Europe's parliamentary systems? Europeans are, of course, accustomed to battles over policy between government parties and their opposition, and no strangers to extremes of radical left and radical right partisanship that ravaged their politics time and again throughout the twentieth century. But political struggles between major national institutions such as parliaments and their prime ministers and cabinets-there are also figurehead presidents and monarchs that play no important political role-seem rather archaic and disturbing to them. Such struggles appear to threaten institutional gridlock, or breakdown, or, at least, a diminished capacity to act. Europeans were less aware of the fact that during his first two years, Clinton, despite his ample Democratic majority in Congress, had not been able to count on much support from his own party and, in fact, there hardly was a "Clinton Democratic Party" in the House or Senate prior to the impeachment battles of 1998. As a New Democrat, he was rather isolated and could find support for his policies and budget only by what later became known as triangulation between Republicans and liberal Democrats.

If Europeans were aware of the Republican landslide of 1994 and its likely consequences, they also could not help noticing the significant Republican setback in the 1998 congressional elections and Gingrich's subsequent downfall. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich commented that the 1998 election "heralds an astonishing, even sensational change of trend in American domestic politics. The majority Republicans, bursting with self-confidence up to the election day, appear to have passed the peak of their power. The election will unleash a shock wave through the Republican party that will possibly catch and carry away the party leadership and top representatives in Washington" (November 5, 1998). Gingrich's resignation from both the speakership and the House after the electoral disaster struck Europeans as hardly unexpected. "The failure of [Gingrich's] conservative revolution forces the GOP to develop new concepts and programs," another German newspaper, the conservative Düsseldorf Handelsblatt, said (cited by World Press Review, January 1999). Europeans never expected the chastened Republican majority in the House to proceed with their impeachment drive.

Europeans on Nixon's Impeachment

The third difference, how to bring down a duly-elected chief executive, naturally touches closely upon the question of impeachment and, as we shall see below, whether the Republican impeachment drive of 1998 amounted to an attempted coup d' état against Clinton's electoral mandate. In parliamentary systems, prime ministers generally lose their posts in more or less the same fashion they gain them: in two-party systems, it is usually by being defeated in an election in which the incumbents have to defend what they did with their original mandate from the voters, or how they dealt with new crises and major challenges. Typically, recent French, German, and British governments were toppled by elections that cost them their majorities. Successful parliamentary no-confidence votes have become rare since political parties have become so disciplined, but they may still occur in a coalition government. In the 1970s, for example, Labour prime minister James Callahan of Britain was toppled by the unexpected departure of Scottish Nationalist MPs. His reaction reportedly was: "This is the first time turkeys have voted for an early Christmas." Recent Italian governments fell when one or more of the coalition parties walked out over an important issue, and the same happened to Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of Germany in 1982 when the Free Democrats left his coalition and embraced Helmut Kohl instead. Behind closed doors, moreover, a prime minister or chancellor may sometimes be persuaded by his own party leaders to resign because his actions have disgraced his party. An example might be Anthony Eden's resignation in 1956 following the failed Suez invasion, or Willy Brandt's resignation in 1974 because of a spy scandal. In some ways this resembles, in our own rather different system, the resignation of Richard Nixon in the Watergate affair, when senior Republican congressional leaders prevailed upon him not to wait for his removal by the Senate.

The European reaction to Nixon's impeachment crisis was quite characteristic. When European observers became aware that Nixon had become bogged down defending himself against extended impeachment investigations, and would have to submit to an even-lengthier Senate trial in the midst of the Cold War and the first energy crisis, they were horrified. They had no particular quarrel with the emerging charges-although they seemed to regard them as no worse than some actions of their own political leaders. But America was the leader of the free world and they thought that the government paralysis of a world power surrounded by potential aggressors, large and small, who might take advantage of the situation was intolerable. Some Europeans, such as the West German government, also had a strong preference for Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger over the opposition and were disturbed to see Nixon fall. European friends told me at the time: "Why can't your modern America have a swift and painless solution, like parliamentary overthrow, instead of this crazy outmoded method of impeachment that Britain abandoned 200 years ago?" Parliamentary overthrow is indeed quick with no trial and no opprobrium haunting the fallen leader. Nor is there a partisan struggle to leave bitter feelings or thoughts of revenge such as those that existed as a motive for the Republican impeachment drive against Clinton-revenge for Watergate and the threatened impeachment of Nixon. There is, of course, a profound difference between routine replacements of the executive impelled by changing partisan fortunes and full-dress impeachment, as specified in the Constitution, to oust a traitorous or tyrannous chief who has become a menace to the survival or integrity of the state itself.

The American Way of Dumping a President

The American method of expelling a chief executive considered a danger to the state is indeed archaic and was abandoned in England after the 1787-1795 impeachment of Warren Hastings, the first governor general of British India. It was still used frequently in seventeenth- and eighteenth- century England, also in the American colonies and in the Jeffersonian era, but never against a chief executive or a president until after the Civil War. Today, European observers balk particularly at its curious mixture of judicial and political elements which, in their opinions, was used as a continual dodge by the Republican impeachment drive of 1998. On the website of the French left-wing paper Libération, for example, questions about the confusing mixture of the two dominated an interview conducted by its correspondent, Jacques Sabatier, with an American constitutional expert, Jeffrey Rosen of George Washington University and of the New Yorker. Leading off the questions were: "Is the [impeachment] process essentially political or juridical?" (answer: both) and "How does it relate to the juridical norms of American courts?" (only in part); followed by "What is the significance of having the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court . . . preside over the [Senate] proceedings" (none) and "Can the Senate acquit the president of a [dubious] perjury charge even when it is not contested?" (yes). Whenever such rarefied legal charges as "perjury," "subornation of perjury," or "obstruction of justice" were challenged by the president's lawyers as unproven or nearly unprovable in a court of law, as European observers trained in their own respective legal systems would note, special prosecutor Kenneth Starr and the Republican ultras on the House Judiciary Committee and elsewhere withdrew into the political realm and claimed that impeachment was a political matter after all. The Starr Report, jeered the liberal Guardian of London, had "made no attempt to present the whole [legal] truth, but gone straight for his man . . . this is not a criminal process and . . . not subject to conventional rules and safeguards [of the much-invoked rule of law]" (September 15, 1998).

Nicole Bacharan, French television commentator, in her book Le Piège, focussed on the dubious manner in which ultra-right lawyers, especially Starr and his friends, turned the complaint of Jones-"the woman with the Minnie Mouse voice and the forced smiles"-into a "guided missile of the ultraright" against the president.1 The object of the lawyers, according to Bacharan, was to link somehow the financial charges of the Whitewater affair with the sex scandal of a consensual liaison with Monica Lewinsky, and to sell the "resulting legal mayonnaise" to Attorney General Reno and to the panel of three federal judges who had authorized the special prosecutor to investigate possible criminal conduct of the Clintons in the Whitewater-Madison Guaranty business. Reno, who had been under intense political pressure, and the three judges, in Bacharan's opinion, committed "two grave errors" in agreeing to Starr's dubious request to extend his authority beyond Whitewater: Linda Tripp's tapes of Lewinsky's confidential telephone conversations, Starr's smoking gun, were illegal under the laws of the state of Maryland where they had been made, and it was highly irregular of him to promise Tripp immunity for making them. His second piece of evidence, a tape obtained by Tripp and the FBI during the sting luncheon with Lewinsky at the Pentagon Food Court on January 13, 1998, was also illegal because Starr had not yet been authorized to investigate Lewinsky, much less to use the FBI for this purpose. On that tape, a flustered Monica had loosely suggested that Clinton and Vernon Jordan had wanted her to deny the affair. She said that in an effort to convince her friend Linda Tripp, who pretended to be skeptical. "It was a little white lie," according to Bacharan.2 The second error was to conflate a criminal suspicion, regarding Whitewater-Madison Guaranty, with obviously noncriminal conduct, the Lewinsky affair, which even the alleged white lie could not turn into a crime.3

When Clinton, who holds a law degree from Yale University, was found to use excessively legalistic formulas or to engage in legal maneuvers and evasions in his dealings with the Jones grand jury, propagandists of the impeachment promptly asserted that such legalisms were contrary to commonsense political understandings. So, for example, with the grand jury and Clinton's definition of sexual relations. Clinton had insisted that his "inappropriate relations" with Monica Lewinsky did not amount to full sexual relations, and Lewinsky, in her statements on the Linda Tripp tapes, had called it "just fooling around." When an editor of the prestigious American Medical Association's journal, in the midst of the Senate trial (January 20, 1999), released a survey report on college students' understanding of the term "sexual relations" that stated 60 percent of the students also considered oral sex not to constitute sexual relations-a response in keeping with popular language use in much of American society-he was fired. On the other hand, the impeachment campaign and its supporters were always quick to insist that their effort was not about sex at all but involved charges of perjury and of obstruction of justice for which other Americans had gone to jail. Skeptical Europeans were not impressed by such arguments.

The most authoritative American legal assessment of the operations of Starr's Office of Independent Counsel (OIC) is that of Jeffrey Toobin, a former U.S. assistant attorney in Brooklyn and associate counsel with Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence E. Walsh. In A Vast Conspiracy, Toobin shines an appropriate light on the personnel of the OIC, distinguishing in particular the more professional first set of counsels of the Whitewater investigation-who moved on in 1997, having found no smoking gun of Clinton wrongdoing there nor on Travelgate, Filegate, or Fostergate-from the more partisan and gung-ho counsels who joined up at a later date. One of the latter was W. Hickman Ewing, Jr., who ran the OIC operation in Little Rock and raised eyebrows with his obsession with ferreting out Arkansas girlfriends of Clinton's past. He, rather than Starr, deserved the image of the relentless, born-again Christian prosecutor pursuing presidential sex as if it was an impeachable crime, according to Toobin.4 Another was Jackie Bennett who, among other things, arranged the sting luncheon of Tripp and Lewinsky on January 13, 1998 at the Ritz-Carlton, complete with listening devices and FBI agents, but without prior authority from Reno or the Sentelle panel to expand the OIC investigation to the Lewinsky affair.5 Starr mostly stayed away from the operation of the office and never met any of the witnesses. "Starr's lack of experience as a prosecutor was such that he exercised almost no critical judgment on the key decisions made by his office," Toobin claims.6 Inexperience and ineffectual leadership of OIC, of course, do not spare Starr the full responsibility for its acts and for his egregious lies about them in press conferences, on television, and under oath before Congress.

"The American judiciary," wrote the conservative Le Figaro "has gone crazy (devenue folle) and demonstrated the absurdity of its omnipotence" (August 18, 1998). The emphasis on judicial definitions was particularly the tenor of the final impeachment debates in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. To legally trained European ears, however, this meant that critical, judicially formulated charges would be tried in a political kangaroo court by a mob of journalists and politicians, yet with the serious consequences of a regular court trial and no possibility of judicial appeal.

The American judiciary received low marks from Bacharan's Le Piège for its naiveté about the ultraright twistings of legal reasoning: The acceptance by the Supreme Court, in a May 27, 1997 decision, of the right to accuse and try a sitting president with a civil suit-leaving it to the courts to decide whether or when such pursuit might interfere with the president's duties-showed "an astonishing naiveté . . . of the nine sages," considering the likely ado and media circus involved. "The decision of the Supreme Court opened a huge breach [in the wall of the separation of powers]: Henceforth there would be the possibility of politically motivated groups to tarnish the reputation of the president, to demand that he prove his innocence, to absorb his time and financial resources . . . and thus to paralyze the execution of the political program for which he was elected."7 Toobin describes the hectic scene at the Supreme Court, the excited "justices . . . primed, for the historical moment, [who] scarcely let a lawyer on either side complete a sentence without jumping in with questions . . . Despite the political differences among them, the nine justices shared a hard-won disengagement from the ways of the real world and their [unanimous] opinion in the Jones case sang out their collective ignorance."8 Arkansas federal judge Susan Webber Wright-who earned some praise from Bacharan for her determination not to let this dubious Jones case become an "affair of state"-also is criticized for being "as blind as the nine sages of Washington." In making decisions on small matters, "she did not see how she put at risk the great [American] democratic ambition to protect the rights of the individual by precisely balancing the [governmental] powers."9 Her vacillations in the end served the worst purposes of the witch hunt for the president and the public exposure of decades of his private life.

If these perspectives soured Europeans on the process of impeachment in general, the Republican hot pursuit of it in the fall of 1998 raised further alarms. At this point, the instances of high-handed conduct of the Office of Independent Counsel in the Lewinsky investigation were still largely unknown here and abroad, thanks in part to the media conspiracy not to investigate and not to mention them. The unfolding prosecution and impeachment was regarded skeptically by most Europeans, but some conservative European papers such as Rupert Murdoch's British tabloid Sun ("The Lying Fornicator Must Go") and some left-wing papers critical of Clinton's centrist policies (for example, on welfare policy), were rather unsympathetic to the president.

The British prestige press often likes to feature one opinion leader arguing against another in a weak gesture of even-handedness: sometimes one called for Clinton's resignation and the other was critical of the conduct and arguments of the impeachers, or of the idea that the alleged offenses rose to the level of impeachability demanded by the American Constitution. Those critical of the impeachment drive took particular umbrage at what they saw as violations of Clinton's rights as an accused person in a court-for instance, the refusal of the House Judiciary Committee and of Starr to give him a copy of the Starr report before its submission to the committee and even before its publication in the media, an outrageous violation of the rights of the accused in any court, American or European. The fifth amendment that normally shields the accused citizen from having to incriminate himself is completely useless for a president in the hot seat of a major investigation. The American Constitution is not very helpful with details on such rights under impeachment and neither are the Federalist Papers nor the precedent of Andrew Johnson's impeachment after the Civil War.

In 1868 President Andrew Johnson, Abraham Lincoln's vice president and successor, a Southerner not elected to the presidency, drew the ire of the radical Republican majority in Congress with a series of actions designed to undo the severity of Reconstruction measures in the defeated South. He did this mostly when Congress was not in session and in defiance of its express will. His lack of a popular mandate and the fact that the Union had just concluded an immensely bloody and fratricidal war with the South (which made him seem a traitor of sorts to the Union) exposed him to impeachment by the House and near-removal by the Senate. He survived by one vote and served out his term. The only other serious effort at impeaching a president in 200 year came to an end when Richard Nixon resigned to avoid certain removal by a large Senate majority. "Watergate," according to Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame, "was about a vast and pervasive abuse of power by a criminal president who ordered break-ins and fire-bombings, impeded the free electoral process, instituted illegal wiretaps and used the Internal Revenue Service as a force for personal retribution . . . [He also involved] the CIA and FBI in the cover-up of these activities" (Los Angeles Times, September 27, 1998).

In spite of the seriousness of the charges, the Watergate scandal so upset the nation that it weakened Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan and militated against yet another impeachment effort, this one against Reagan on the occasion of the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s. Again the charges were very serious, illegally selling arms to hostile Iran and supporting a secret war in Central America-with shocking assassinations and thousands of civilian casualties-but there was pronounced public resistance to an impeachment drive against President Reagan-or, for that matter, against George Bush, who claimed to have been "out of the loop" of the Iran-Contra plans while he was Reagan's vice president. The extraordinary death toll of civilians at the hands of American-supported right-wing military dictatorships and armies, or counterinsurgents such as the Nicaraguan Contras, in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras was largely hushed up in the American media at the time. Only recently, on the occasion of President Clinton's official 1998 visit to Central America, could the American public read in the press about the massacres and genocidal actions against Mayan villagers by American-supported forces during the 1980s.

Defending the Constitution

There is a very obvious reason why impeachment as a means of banishing an elected president has been used so rarely in the 200-some years of the republic: As with all elective offices, the logical remedy for a poor choice of elected officer lies in not reelecting the person, a correction not available, for example, with regard to federal judges or executive officers below the president. Especially in contrast to the shadow cast by the unimpeachable King George III upon the constitutional deliberations in Philadelphia in 1787, the remedy of impeachment was added only because, in the interval of a four-year term and surrounded as the young republic was by powerful empires with likely designs on it, a president might have been tempted to betray the nation's integrity or independence, to be bribed to commit treasonable actions, or to jeopardize the safety and integrity of the new federal state with "high crimes and misdemeanors" against this state. This was the emergency for which the impeachment process was inserted into the Constitution. The framers must have turned in their graves to learn the twisted interpretation given to their language by the impeachment advocates of 1998-1999. To quote Republican John Dean Nixon's counsel who, back in Watergate days, had turned against his president: "[Previous impeachment proceedings] stand in stark contrast to the we-don't-give-a-damn treatment of President Clinton by the Republicans now running the show" (U.S. News and World Report, December 21, 1998).

When the Starr report of September 1998 urged the House to consider impeachment charges against Clinton, European observers had not yet heard of the unscrupulous and underhanded actions of the OIC under Starr. But they were rather skeptical of the claims of Starr and Judiciary Committee chair Henry J. Hyde that they were defending "the rule of law." Europeans simply considered this a sex scandal and took a dim view of the pornographic disclosures of the report. In an editorial entitled "Hell is American," the liberal Le Monde called the Starr report "an American curiosity, simply exotic to our Latin culture . . . In four years of investigation, the prosecutors only found this: the pitiful lie of a seducer [Le Monde gallantly assumed the affair was his initiative]. And of this [Starr] is making a crime of the state (crime de l' état), even several, subject at least to incarceration . . . An inquisitor . . . of practically unlimited means threatening reluctant witnesses with perjury (charges)." The French daily described the selective documentation of Starr's legal arguments and the salacious passages of the report: "What does it matter [to the law] if . . . the president lied under oath about whether he ejaculated or not, that Miss Lewinsky twice achieved orgasms, or that a cigar was used in an erotic game," clearly implying that these passages cochons (swinish or sex passages), not the legal charges, were the important features of the report (September 13-14, 1998). They became even more suspicious when they noticed how the impeachment forces in the House seemed to disregard all the caution signs established by the Constitution and by American law.

Balanced assessments of the facts of the case for impeachment stood out even in the readers' letters to the Murdoch-controlled London Times: As Laurence J. Olivier wrote after Clinton's acquittal in the Senate, for example, "Elements of the Republican party have gone to extraordinary length to try to unseat the president, conducting an unprecedented judicial inquiry into numerous allegations against Clinton. All that they finally managed to unearth was a sexual misdemeanor which, in most countries would not be considered worthy of mention" (February 13, 1999). Or, tongue-in-cheek by another reader after Clinton's impeachment in December by the House: "Sir, if it is true that Clinton cheated at golf . . . then never mind other evidence; he surely has to go" (December 21, 1998).

After the contentious and unsuccessful impeachment of Supreme Court Justice Samuel P. Chase in the early nineteenth century, followed by other judicial impeachments since, a consensus had established itself in America to protect the process from partisan abuse: A person about to be impeached should have advance notice of the charges, have a right to counsel, and enjoy protection against self-incrimination, all points that were flagrantly disregarded at crucial turns of the case against Clinton. It was "a parody of justice," to quote Geneva's Le Temps (September 13, 1998). European legal eagles also were shocked by the unlawyerly manipulations of the House leaders, such as the use of undisclosed rumors and secret files on serial Jane Does in the "evidence room"-that were never exposed to the rules of evidence or cross-examination in a court of law. They were also scandalized by the transparent attempts at sensationalizing the Senate proceedings with live witnesses, whom the Judiciary Committee of the House had never bothered to invite to its proceedings. The perorations of the impressive-looking Chairman Hyde-Americans of my generation may be reminded more of the cartoon image of Al Capp's stem-winding Southern Senator Phileas Phogbound-impressed Europeans less with their content than with his looks. "I can believe the stories of his 'youthful indiscretions,'" said one Frenchwoman. "He must have been a handsome devil back then. Still is."

The Constitution sets forth a series of stop signs for reflection on the road to impeachment, the first of them being the formula of causes for which a president may be impeached: "treason, bribery, and high crimes and misdemeanors." Obviously these reflected the new republic's fear of a return to tyranny-as experienced under George III and his parliament-or major foreign and domestic threats to the new American state and society. In November of 1998, the Judiciary Committee understandably felt that it ought to seek expert counsel from a long list of constitutional and political experts, attorneys, and historians in order to determine whether Starr's charges against Clinton rose to the level required by the Constitution for impeachment. The constitutional experts summoned before the Subcommittee on Constitutional Issues all emphasized the high threshold for presidential impeachment-as compared to the much lower threshold for the impeachment of federal judges, who serve for life and "good behavior" and never face the test of election or reelection. In his testimony before the committee, Bruce Ackerman of Yale University raised the question: "Does the conduct alleged in this case constitute such a threat to the very foundations of the Republic that it is legitimate to deprive the people of their freely elected choice as president?" He quoted James Madison, one of the fathers of the Constitution and an author of the Federalist Papers, as saying at the Philadelphia convention that a lower standard than "high crimes and misdemeanors" would transform the four-year presidency into an office "whose term will be equivalent to a tenure during the pleasure of the Senate," making it a kind of parliamentary arrangement, in other words.

The original, unedited version of the Constitution included the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors against the state." The last three words were removed by the Committee on Style, who considered them redundant. Ackerman warned that impeachment in this case "will be setting a precedent that will haunt this country for generations to come." Whenever Congressional majorities and the president were of different parties, impeachment would become an easily available partisan weapon that would shift the United States "toward a British-style system of parliamentary government for decades to come." Gary L. McDowell of the University of London, who emphasized the impeachability of a perjury charge (but not just any false statement under oath), if it could be proven, also warned of "the effect [that] the exercise of this extraordinary constitutional sanction would have on the health of the republic . . . " Regarding the impeachability of civil perjury, Jeffrey Rosen has pointed out belatedly that Americans courts, until Reconstruction, did not require defendants to testify under oath, believing their testimony to be self-serving and unreliable. It seems unlikely, then, that the authors of the impeachment clause could have meant to include civil perjury among the "high crimes and misdemeanors."

Matthew Holden, Jr., of the University of Virginia, in his testimony also cautioned against "the continual avoidance of [the subject of] the costs and benefits of impeachment when considered in relation to the whole political system" and expressed the fear that "impeachment investigations, trumped up or otherwise, will virtually be mandated by going forward on this one." He expected impeachment of all federal judges and executive officers to become a routine frequently employed in the ideologically combative days to come. Cass R. Sunstein of the University of Chicago insisted that "the charges made thus far by Judge Kenneth Starr . . . do not, if proved, make out any legitimately impeachable offenses under the Constitution" . . . and that the question "whether perjury . . . is an impeachable offense depends on what it is a false statement about." It could be so only if the perjury is about conduct involving "serious . . . abuse of office," not a cover-up of a consensual sex affair. So much for the impeachment charge of perjury.

Later, Le Monde (January 15, 1999) noted the irony of having Chief Justice William Rehnquist presiding over the impeachment trial of the Senate, " a profoundly conservative man" who wrote a book about the impeachments of Supreme Court Justice Chase and President Andrew Johnson, Grand Inquests (1993), but "would also defend the constitutional tradition [of America] and a restrictive conception of impeachment, limited [indeed] to 'high crimes and misdemeanors'." In an accompanying brief biography in the same issue, Patrice de Beer explained that Rehnquist, a Republican, shared the conservative views on abortion, affirmative action, and other issues but did not hesitate to declare that Republican President Nixon deserved removal by the Congress. "[Rehnquist] has manifested a certain skepticism toward the process of impeachment and [also] a concept of 'high crimes and misdemeanors' that is sufficiently restrictive and limited to actions that threaten the state." If Andrew Johnson had been removed, the French paper said, it would have cast a great shadow upon the independence of the presidency (Le Monde, January 15, 1999). In Grand Inquests, Rehnquist indeed warns against a partisan Congress removing a president from office for any but the most serious of causes. But the Chief Justice also has the reputation of a strong partisan. He appointed the panel of Judge David Sentelle, a fierce Republican partisan, and this panel, ignoring the word "independent" in independent counsel, appointed equally fierce Republican Judge Starr, thus subverting the intent of the OIC statute. Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia, another rather partisan figure, also seem to have browbeaten the Supreme Court into denying presidential immunity to civil suits, such as that of Paula Jones, while a president is in office, thereby setting the tracks for the impeachment caper of 1998-1999.

When most of these experts from the nation's most highly renowned universities testified that they did not agree with the committee majority, Hyde's committee simply chose to ignore their advice as well as that of several hundreds of unsolicited opinions of historians and constitutional experts. One appeal from over 400 prominent American historians, including Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Sean Wilentz, emphasized particularly the danger of "leaving the Presidency permanently disfigured and diminished, at the mercy as never before of the caprices of any Congress . . . a precedent for the future harassment of presidents." It warned against turning our system into one of parliamentary government, quoting James Madison who did not want to see the president serve only "during the pleasure of the Senate," and thus abandoning our system of checks and balances. There, of course, lies the rub of protest against this assault on the Constitution: Do we really want a parliamentary form of government? But the committee did not argue constitutional law with the experts, even though many of its impeachment-minded members were lawyers, ex-prosecutors, or ex-judges, but gave the transparent excuse that all contrary advice must be inspired by a pro-Clinton bias. To make their case appear more convincing, furthermore, the committee invited testimony from average persons who had gone to jail for perjury and another who had lost her job because of an extramarital affair at her place of work. European correspondents ignored this silly gesture.

The Constitution also limits the punitive effects of successful impeachment to removal from office and to barring the convicted person from holding any other federal office of "honor, trust or profit." The framers preferred to leave punishments of life, limb, and monetary fines to the courts. One of the authorities testifying on the process of impeachment before the committee, political scientist Samuel H. Beer of Harvard University, likened removal from presidential office without further punishment to a parliamentary vote of no-confidence, "a way of supplementing the principal mechanism of democratic responsibility by quadrennial elections . . . The Congress . . . must act in lieu of the people between quadrennial elections." But Professor Beer warned the House against such use of its power in the face of a twice-elected president and opinion polls that showed that the true sovereign, the American people, did not support such extreme action. In the same vein, Ackerman of Yale University argued that "only a truly democratic [newly elected] House [not a lame-duck Congress] had the authority to impeach a duly elected president"-in other words, the 105th House with its pre-election majority had no right to pass impeachment charges for the 106th House with had a different composition and a new mandate. This was another warning that Chairman Hyde and his team chose to ignore. My European friends often commented also on the Republican myopia of not seeing, in the heat of partisan and personal hatred for Clinton, that the Republican House majority was ruining the presidency for future Republican presidents.

Finally, the framers had instituted the two-thirds requirement in the Senate for the removal of an impeached president, an evident barrier against excessive partisanship or "popular passion," reflected in the likely impeachment fervor of the House of Representatives. In the cases of both Presidents Andrew Johnson and Clinton, the two-thirds clause performed exactly as intended: it saved them from removal. And thereby it also protected the delicate balance between Congress and the presidency, but only up to a point. In Clinton's case, the Constitution would have been severely and permanently damaged by a successful impeachment on such flimsy charges (see chapter five): "It is eminently important," was the editorial comment from the conservative Swiss Neue Zuercher Zeitung after Clinton's acquittal, "that a president cannot be chased from office on bagatelle charges. With this decision [to acquit], the Senators made clear that they want to keep the presidential office strong and to limit means of the Congress to correct a popular mandate after the elections." The editorial was critical of Clinton's conduct and gave even-handed play to the arguments on both sides, while withholding judgment on "whether it was right to impeach a president for trying to hide a private affair but certainly not threatening the state, the governmental system, or society" (February 13-14, 1999). Impeachment on flimsy charges without removal-the innovation of 1998-of course has now become a process that can be repeated at will and in the same irresponsible fashion by any volatile majority of the House.

After the president was impeached by the House, Alain Frachon, in an article entitled "The End of American Compromise" in Le Monde, (December 26, 1998), juxtaposed the long-customary spirit of compromise in American politics with what the New York Times had called the work of "a party of extremists, of absolute right-wingers . . . , alien to the political and cultural notions of the majority of Americans." Frachon wrote: "The rupture is not just ideological. It touches also upon the workings of the institutions which . . . is, from away back, without precedent. In using the weapon of impeachment for a lie that was indeed under oath but of no bearing upon an affair of state, the Republicans have applied an intègriste (extreme purist) filter to the reading of the Constitution, banalizing the use of the impeachment procedure." Using such standards, said Frachon, neither Reagan nor Bush with their great and public lies about affairs of state (Iran-Contra and Iraq) would have escaped impeachment. "By lowering the threshold for the use of this procedure, the Republicans modified the constitutional architecture, redefining the balance of powers between legislature and executive at the expense of the latter [and] introducing an element of parliamentarism, one way, into a presidential regime" (December 26, 1998).

"A village gathering for a public execution" was how Jonathan Freedland, a foreign correspondent for the Guardian (September 12, 1998) described the scene of confusion inside the Washington beltway, upon the presentation of the Starr report. "The gallows are ready, but the court is still uncertain." The Guardian was quite acerbic about Clinton, but Freedland could not pass up the opportunity to sneer at Starr, who "invoked the ten commandments, Magna Carta, and the beheading of Sir Thomas More," and who described his task as "to vindicate the rule of law" and exhorted the House to fear "the judgment of the people . . . of history, and the moral law." With evident approval, Freedland cited Democratic minority leader Dick Gephardt, who had referred to the president as the one person chosen by the entire American people: "To overturn him is to overturn the will of the electorate" that had elected him for the second time in 1996. There, of course, lies the essence of the charge that this impeachment drive against Clinton was an attempted coup d' état against the legitimate constitutional authority deriving from popular election. The choice of unusual, extreme, and improper means to this end further separates this campaign from legitimate, constitutional uses of the impeachment power, such as the impeachment of Johnson, the attempt to impeach Nixon over Watergate, and the proposed attempts to impeach Reagan and Bush over the Iran-Contra affair.

European observers were particularly shocked about the odd reasoning that related the extreme action of impeachment to the intense hatred of the impeachers. As the Los Angeles Times (December 20, 1998) wrote after the impeachment of Clinton: "It is impossible to ignore or downplay the element of personal loathing for Clinton that underlies so much of what has been said and done in the impeachment process. To many of Clinton's fiercest critics the "character flaws" that came to national attention in his first campaign for president should by themselves have disqualified him from office. The refusal of the nation's voters to agree with that view in both 1992 and 1996 [and in the public opinion polls] only fueled their resentment and hostility." Europeans compared this to a naughty child stomping his foot and refusing to apologize to his sibling for attacking him: "But I hate him so." A child so furious he does not care if he burns down the house-that is, the Constitution-in his rage. What kind of an excuse is that for an adult? Such pathological hatred calls for stern, perhaps even psychiatric, intervention was the European reaction. The reference to "character" and "values," especially after the revelations about philanderers, liers, and perjurers among the House Republicans, was viewed with skepticism. What matters in a democracy is that the majority and the Constitution have the last word.

The validity of the Republican challenge to Clinton, in the view of some observers on the continent, was diminished further by the fact that the Europeans attributed Clinton's continued high approval rating to the American public's awareness that this impeachment was "no isolated event but a part of extensive, systematic, and objectively unjustified Republican efforts to overthrow Clinton." To the Neue Zuercher Zeitung, "This point makes all the difference. No one in the United States and abroad could miss the fact that, from the very beginning [in 1993] , Clinton headed the Republican hit list . . . a victim of years of investigations by the special prosecutor, whom the Republicans supported without hesitation . . . and who in his efforts to tie the chief executive to any violations of law he could find, frequently went beyond the limits of acceptable conduct. The Lewinsky Affair was merely the last and, as it turned out, most consequential act in a concerted conservative drive to get rid, by judicial means, of this disliked but politically unassailable president" (February 13-14, 1999).

This respected Swiss daily was one of the few foreign media that not only mentioned the American public opinion polls on Clinton's performance but really appreciated them: "Why did the majority of the American people cling so stubbornly to Clinton, for weeks and months on end? Why wouldn't . . . the citizenry believe that he is an amoral criminal whose removal is every good citizen's duty-as the Republicans had told them time and again?" But "the Americans simply saw through this whole scheme and their opinions were not without effect. There can be no doubt but that without the firm and ever newly manifested support of the people, Clinton would not have survived this ordeal." The Neue Zuercher Zeitung also ascribed "an extremely dubious role in this entire story to the [American] mass media" (see chapter 4). Ennio Caretto, writing in the centrist Corriere della Sera, was withering in his comment on the reception of the Starr report by the House: "The Republicans have not only inflicted a gratuitous humiliation on President Clinton. They have also strengthened the impression that American politics is a jungle and that the Constitution, which was written 200 years ago, needs to be rewritten at this point. Never before have American institutions and, in the last analysis, democracy been so disgraced, not even at the apex of the Watergate scandal" (Quoted by World Press Review, November 1998). Klaus Lutterbeck, writing in the German weekly Stern, blamed "the hair-raising Independent Counsel Law of 1978 . . . that gives the special prosecutor powers that are really intolerable in a democracy . . . Hardly any other civilized country would have put up with what Starr put together [in his report]. Even less that the people's representatives made this calumny available to the whole world via Internet" (February 11, 1999). Notes

1. Nicole Bacharan, Le Piège: Quand le democratie perd la tête . . . (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1999), 69.
2. Ibid., 91.
3. Ibid., 94-95.
4. Jeffrey Toobin, A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President (New York: Random House, 2000), 190.
5. Ibid., 195.
6. Ibid., 204.
7. Bacharan., 70-71.
8. Toobin, 116-117.

—From A Coup Attempt in Washington? By Peter H. Merkl. (c) 2001, Palgrave USA used by permission

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