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Bob Buckley: The truth is never that simple

The Examiner
Bob Buckley

It all began on Jan. 26, 1998, when then President Bill Clinton announced to the world that he did not have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.

Of course, we now know that he later admitted he did indeed have an improper relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. It was certainly the low point of his presidency and tarnished his legacy. For his deceit, President Clinton was charged with perjury and impeached by the House of Representatives but not convicted in the Senate.

President Clinton was also charged with civil contempt by Judge Susan Wright Webber for giving misleading testimony about his relationship with Lewinsky in a lawsuit that Paula Jones had brought against him in 1994 for sexual harassment when he was governor of Arkansas.

Meanwhile, Ken Starr, as special counsel, had been conducting a wide-ranging investigation of the Whitewater controversy, the firing of White House travel agents, and the alleged misuse of FBI files. Linda Tripp, a co-worker of Lewinsky, had been secretly recording conversations with her and had been working with Paula Jones’ lawyers. Starr obtained approval from Clinton’s attorney general, Janet Reno, to expand his investigation into whether Lewinsky and others were breaking the law.

Clinton testified before a grand jury and relied on his statement that “there’s nothing going on between us” and claimed his testimony was truthful because there was no ongoing relationship with Lewinsky. Clinton said, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’” claiming that his statement was true. Starr claimed that Clinton had committed perjury and submitted his findings to Congress in the lengthy “Starr Report,” which was released to the public a few days later.

Many believed that the whole saga was political, but it may have opened the door to an era of “truth stretching.”

The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump begins Monday as he continues to claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Legal questions abound as many challenge whether a former president may be impeached. I suspect that may be decided in an appellate court someday if he is convicted of the charges against him.

His lawyers have been using his First Amendment rights to defend his words that form the basis for the allegations against him. I suspect that there will be heated debate for years over his words, “we fight.” He also said that “these people (those who gathered to protest) are not going to take it any longer.”

As he concluded his speech which lasted over an hour, he told those assembled in his closing remarks that he would walk with them down Pennsylvania Avenue and said, “And we fight. We fight like hell and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” He said, “we’re going to try and give our Republicans – the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help – we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”

At that time, the proceedings in Congress had just begun, so none of the certification of the electoral college votes had actually begun. I assume that President Trump and his lawyers will ask the members of the Senate to look at the totality of his words and suggest that “fight like hell” does not mean that he was encouraging the protestors to break through the security barriers and invade the Capitol because his speech was hopeful that Congress would not certify the electoral college vote.

Thus, at one time we were quarreling over the word “is” and what sexual relations are, and now we quibble over “fight like hell.” It is ironic that the words of the president are being debated to determine if he should be convicted.

I make a living with words. I have often said that it is amazing to have a livelihood that depends on the words that come from a witness’ mouth. It is a rare case that the client’s words can destroy the case. We prepare our clients and always insist on telling the truth. I had a professor in law school who said that once you begin lying, you must continue to lie to cover up the lie you just told. There is a lot of wisdom in those words.

There is much we do not know about the events of Jan. 6 and the weeks that preceded that day. It appears that some entered the Capitol with an intent to commit acts of violence. I suspect the overwhelming majority were there to peacefully protest and even some of them were caught up in the moment and found themselves in the middle of a situation they wish they had avoided. Unfortunately, people died.

I fully expect the impeachment trial to be uneventful as partisan lines have already been drawn. It will occupy the country while we hopefully are celebrating a repeat Super Bowl championship in Kansas City.

I also expect that the FBI and Justice Department are working full time to determine what led to this sad day in American history. The district attorney for the District of Columbia will undoubtedly focus on this and there may even be special counsel appointed by the new attorney general. In many respects, the impeachment trial may be premature. We all deserve to know the truth.

Oscar Wilde, the Irish playwright, poet and author of many short stories, said, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” He might be right.

– Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence, www.wagblaw.com. Email him at bbuckley@wagblaw.com