The Chinese Curse...
By William Westmiller
"May you live in interesting times," is not a holiday greeting, but rather an ancient curse. Safety, security and stability are essential values in pursuing our own dreams with confidence and hope. We go to extremes to avoid disruptive events that can put our pursuit of happiness in jeopardy. When events become unpredictable, our fear and discomfort can lead us to heroism or depression. Interesting times will always test our temper and wisdom.
The second impeachment trial of a President of the United States is historic, whatever the outcome. Whatever his prior protestations, the resignation of William Jefferson Clinton is not out of the question, but the consequences of that act are definitely indefinite. The very human inclination of the Senate will be a rush to judgement, reflecting the national sentiment to banish quickly all the discomforts of uncertainty. The outcome of the trial is less relevant to interesting times than the desire to just get it all behind us and move on.
An expeditious verdict against the President does not necessarily preclude a judicious and temperate penalty. The Senate has wide constitutional latitude in the penalties it imposes. Removal from office is often presumed to be the only outcome of a guilty verdict, but a close reading of the relevant section makes other options viable.
Short of removal from office, the President can simply be denied any future employment with the United States of America. He would be disqualified from candidacy for the US Senate, the House of Representatives or any other federal office. This penalty would also preclude any ambassadorial, judicial or cabinet appointment. Disqualification from any future "position of trust" may be an appropriate penalty for an official who has clearly demonstrated that he is unworthy of trust. Such an outcome may not satisfy the President's most bitter enemies or his dearest friends, but it would dispel the uncertainty of interesting times.
A step closer to removal from office would be to preclude Mr. Clinton from any future source of "profit" with the federal government. Beyond excluding him from holding any elected or appointed office, this option would banish him from any activity funded by the US Treasury. Moneys for his employment with any entity receiving federalsubsidies, grants or support would be forever illegal. It could also eliminate his Presidential pension, possibly even the salary he would otherwise be paid for the remainder of this term.
Proportionality is the key to any temperate determination. A finding of "not guilty" by the Senate allows no alternative but a complete exoneration for the alleged misconduct. Removal from office, with or without the additional disqualifications, seems an excessive penalty for conduct which is only arguably a crime. The intermediate options noted above allow for a judicious and temperate resolution of the issue that impacts a great deal more than the fate of a singular man.
The Constitution grants the Senate an option that it does not grant the House of Representatives: censure with teeth. Unlike the stark option of impeaching the President or not, the Senate is offered discretion as to the magnitude of the penalty that can accompany a guilty verdict. The will of the Senate as long as it falls within the parameters of the constitutional text will be a political determination. Unlike a criminal proceeding which may deprive a person of their own property, liberty or life, there is no judicial appeal from a Senate verdict which simply disqualifies an individual from future political opportunities and rewards.
The Senate also enjoys a procedural opportunity to bring the trial of the President to a prompt and expeditious resolution. With only a majority vote, Senators can bring an end to the trial and move immediately to a determination of the verdict and penalty. There is no need to conduct a prolonged and agonizing repetition of the prosecution of the President, either on issues of fact or law. The possibility of any additional allegations is out of the question. The possibility of any new enlightenment on the issues is practically nil. After a proforma recitation of the allegations and defense, senatorial deliberation in closed session should focus on a prompt and fair resolution of the entire episode. If Democratic Senators sincerely believe that a censure is appropriate, and that it should be more than hollow words, it's simply a question of the severity of the consequences. If twothirds of the Senators can agree on a temperate penalty, conviction on just one of the two articles of impeachment will be adequate and sufficient.
History has handed the one hundred members of the US Senate some interesting times. History will judge their wisdom based on how long they were willing to prolong the agony and whether the outcome was just and proper. With a little heroism and good will, these interesting times can become a blessing rather than a curse.
"Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgement and Punishment, according to Law."
US Constitution: Article 1, Section 3, Clause 7
©1998, William Westmiller
California Coordinator of the Republican Liberty Caucus
Past Candidate for the Republican Nomination for (24CA) Congress
Former National Secretary, California Chairman, Libertarian Party
curse.c20 ~820 Words
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