The Past: Cleansing Clinton

The wheels of justice that turned under Bill Clinton's presidency - scandal investigations costing $60 million plus - ended on his final day in consummate Clintonesque fashion: a deal that benefits both the man and the nation.

Mr. Clinton admitted he "knowingly gave evasive and misleading answers" to a court that "were prejudicial to the due administration of justice." This was only in connection with his deposition about Monica Lewinsky in the Paula Jones case, not his testimony to a grand jury.

In exchange, independent prosecutor Robert Ray agreed not to indict the former president as a criminal. And, as appropriate punishment, Mr. Ray arranged for Clinton to be suspended for five years from the Arkansas Bar Association and to be fined $25,000.

Thus, in the end, a sitting president and the nation's chief law enforcer finally admitted he knowingly gave false testimony to a court. And the nation is spared the spectacle of a former president being put on trial.

More than justice was served by this better-late-than-never bargain.

Clinton serves himself by at last correcting a mistake he could have avoided two years ago, even if his admission fell just short of saying he lied under oath. Letting go of any falsehood allows a person not only to be forgiven but to claim a renewed ability to live and speak honestly.

While his most ardent critics would have liked to see him convicted, the deal lets Clinton, President George W. Bush, and the country avoid the distraction of a dramatic court trial.

The new president wants to focus the nation forward - not backward. A trial would've wasted more federal resources and forced Mr. Bush to deal with the awkward question of whether to pardon his predecessor.

Clinton's light punishment comes on top of his humiliating impeachment by the House of Representatives, a close acquittal by the Senate, a $90,000 fine for contempt, and a $850,000 settlement with Paula Jones.

Historians can now be left to judge this sad chapter in the American presidency, while Clinton and the rest of us can make a fresh start.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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