Kay Bailey Hutchison didn’t always feel this way. Once upon a time she rejected the notion that perjury had to be accompanied by other underlying charges to make it a serious crime.
As noted on the HuffPo’s front page, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison fretted on Meet the Press Sunday that potential perjury and obstruction of justice charges against I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Karl Rove might be just a “technicality.”
Of course back in the day (read: President Clinton’s impeachment trial), perjury and obstruction of justice were a pretty big deal. I believe the exact phrase used at the time was “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
(A digression: Careful readers might recall that I predicted last week these results of what I call the Hypocritic Oath – that GOPers would start to downplay the importance of perjury and obstruction.)
Hutchison said Sunday:
I certainly hope that if there is going to be an indictment that says something happened, that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality where they couldn't indict on the crime and so they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation was not a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. So they go to something that trips someone up because they said something in the first grand jury and then maybe they found new information or they forgot something and they tried to correct that in a second grand jury.
The estimable Tim Russert noted that perjury was once more important, saying: “Perjury or obstruction of justice is a very serious crime and Republicans certainly thought so when charges were placed against Bill Clinton before the United States Senate.”
Well, there were charges against Bill Clinton besides perjury and obstruction of justice. And I'm not saying that those are not crimes. They are. But I also think that we are seeing in the judicial process--and look at Martha Stewart, for instance, where they couldn't find a crime and they indict on something that she said about something that wasn't a crime. I think that it is important, of course, that we have a perjury and an obstruction of justice crime, but I also think we are seeing grand juries and U.S. attorneys and district attorneys that go for technicalities, sort of a gotcha mentality in this country.
Well actually, there weren’t other charges against Clinton. Or more precisely there weren’t other charges that were approved by the House. It was as if they couldn’t indict on a “real” crime and so they went to something just to show what their years of investigation was not a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. One might even call it a gotcha mentality.
Of course Hutchison sang a different tune back in February of 1999, when the senators went behind closed doors to discuss how they would vote in the impeachment trial.
At the time, according to the closed-door impeachment statement she entered into the Congressional Record:
This Senate on numerous occasions has convicted impeached Federal Judges on allegations of perjury. Moreover, the historical fact is that 'high crimes and misdemeanors,' as used and applied in English law on which portions of our Constitution were founded, included the crimes of 'obstructing the execution of the lawful process' and of 'willful and corrupt perjury.'
She went on to specifically reject the notion that perjury and obstruction required underlying charges in order to be legitimate:
The President's Counsel and a number of Senators advance a 'felony-plus' interpretation of the Constitutional terms 'high crimes and misdemeanors.' … To this Senator, this astounding application of the plain language of our Constitution strikes at the very heart of the rule of law in America. It replaces the stability guaranteed by the Constitution with the chaos of uncertainty. Not only does it obliterate the noble ideal that our highest public officer should set high moral standards for our Nation, it says that the officer is free to commit felonies while doing it if the economy is good, if the crime is just about sex, or if, except for the crime, 'things are going pretty well right now,' or simply that 'they can indict and try the President for the crime after leaving office in a couple of years.' I will not demean our Constitution or the office of the Presidency of the United States by endorsing the felony-plus standard.
Of course now that the crime in question is about national security, not sex, the standard is apparently completely different.