Let the Rule of Law Prevail

By Terry M. Neal
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 25, 2005; 6:00 AM

In the 1990s, "rule of law" was hot.

In the 2000s, not so much.

Republicans, who impeached and tried to remove a president who lied about his private sex life, have now decided that the whole "rule of law" thing really isn't all it's cut out to be.

Some Republicans -- anticipating the possible indictment of top White House aides -- are launching a preemptive public relations strike that is stunning in its audacity.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Tex.) outlined the strategy on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, when moderator Tim Russert asked her whether White House spokesman Scott McClellan's previous denials that anyone in the administration had anything to do with the leak of covert operative Valerie Plame's name to the media lacked credibility.

"Tim, you know, I think we have to remember something here," Hutchinson admonished. "An indictment of any kind is not a guilty verdict, and I do think we have in this country the right to go to court and have due process and be innocent until proven guilty. And secondly, 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.

"I think we should be very careful here, especially as we are dealing with something very public and people's lives in the public arena. I do not think we should prejudge. I think it is unfair to drag people through the newspapers week after week after week, and let's just see what the charges are. Let's tone down the rhetoric and let's make sure that if there are indictments that we don't prejudge."

So now perjury is a "technicality"?

If caution, judiciousness, respect for people's lives in the public arena are good enough for White House officials such as Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, why were they not for President Clinton?

If people should only be sent to jail for a basic criminal charge that sparked an investigation in the first place, why did Martha Stewart go to jail?

Today's strategy differs quite remarkably from the 1990s, when Republicans sought to hold Clinton, Vice President Gore, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and their aides and advisers to the strict letter of the law, in Whitewater, Travelgate, the Chinese campaign finance scandal, and of course, the Lewinsky imbroglio.

"Rule of law!" was the rallying cry.

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