Wednesday, June 23, 2004; Page A20
IT IS THE prerogative of former presidents to write self-serving memoirs casting themselves in heroic terms. We don't begrudge Bill Clinton, who presided over an administration of significant accomplishments in many areas, a book-length (or even a two-book-length) highlighting of the ups, and a breezing-over of the downs, of his presidency. Yet Mr. Clinton's new book, "My Life," is also part of a long effort on its author's part to deny, and not just breeze over, his profound disrespect for the law when it inconvenienced him.
In Mr. Clinton's alternate universe, in which many Democrats have also decided to live, his impeachment reflects nothing bad on him but is -- as he put it recently -- "a badge of honor," a defense of the Constitution against the ravages of his Republican enemies. So even as Mr. Clinton's book overflows with apology for his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, the former president still seems indignant that anyone would have investigated his public misconduct -- that is, his lies under oath, including to a grand jury, and other affronts to the justice system. In fact, you wouldn't know from reading Mr. Clinton's book that he had lied under oath, much less that he had at least tacitly encouraged others to as well.
The matters leading to impeachment aren't the only ones where Mr. Clinton veers from the nonfiction category. The tangled real estate investments that became known as Whitewater merited investigation, and the inquiry produced numerous convictions. The campaign finance scandal involved substantial questions as well. Mr. Clinton dismisses as "ridiculous," for example, the "implication . . . that I had been selling overnights in the White House to raise money for the DNC," insisting that "I would never have used the White House in that way." This from the man who scrawled on a proposal from his chief fundraiser, Terry McAuliffe, outlining the plan to entertain contributors at the White House: "Yes, pursue . . . get other names at $100,000 or more, $50,000 or more . . . Ready to start overnights right away."
Most fundamentally, Mr. Clinton showed contempt for the law. You can conclude, as we ultimately did, that impeachment was not justified; you can acknowledge the rank partisanship that helped fuel impeachment; you can criticize Mr. Starr for excesses, as we also did. Mr. Clinton had powerful and committed political enemies who waged a well-financed campaign against him throughout his presidency.
But you can't, as Mr. Clinton seems to hope, erase the facts. The day before he left office, Mr. Clinton acknowledged, in a deal that allowed him to avoid indictment, that "certain of my responses to questions about Ms. Lewinsky were false." He surrendered his law license for five years and paid a fine. Months earlier, a judge had held him in contempt for what she called his "intentionally false" testimony. Buyers of Mr. Clinton's book should beware of the version of history he is selling.
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