Friday, February 11, 1999
As assistant managing editor, DeYoung has been responsible for the overall direction of national news coverage since 1990. She joined The Post in 1975 covering Prince George's County in Maryland and was foreign editor between overseas tours as a correspondent and bureau chief in Latin America and London.
DeYoung joined us online from The Post's newsroom. A transcript of her discussion follows.
Washington, D.C.: In the midst of impeachment what did you learn about politics, the media and the American people that you did not know before? Was this impeachment politics as usual in Washington or something extraordinary? What should we take from this event?
Karen DeYoung: I think impeachment by definition is something extraordinary, not least because it hasn't happened for the last 131 years. As newspaper journalists, I think we learned that a highly-competitive story of this nature can be more difficult to cover than the kind of investigation we would do on our own. Although politics have had their ups and downs over the past year, I share the views expressed by a number of senators and others today that, despite the discomfort the situation caused through the year at times, the system ultimately worked the way it was supposed to.
Bismarck, N.D.: When the Monica story first broke, every major media pundit in the country (liberal or conservative) was saying, "If this is true, he's gone". Well what happened?
Karen DeYoung: I'm not sure this was the view expressed in public by "every" media pundit, although granted it certainly was said by many. I think the moral of the story is don't take pundits speaking live and off the cuff too seriously.
Hyattsville, Md.: Is it really over? Or do you think Starr and others will try and prolong this matter at any cost?
Karen DeYoung: The independent counsel has the option of continuing his investigation and ultimately seeking an indictment of the president, although there are different views over whether this can be done -- or whether it would be legally or politically wise -- while the president is still in office. The statute of limitations on these matters doesn't expire for several years after President Clinton leaves office in 2001. Interestingly, Rep. Henry Hyde said today that he believes Kenneth Starr should just drop the matter rather than leave the nation hanging until after the next election.
New York, N.Y.: Do you think that the Post (and Susan Schmidt specifically) should have kept a bit more of a critical eye on Starr? Your comments on how you felt you the Post covered Starr would be appreciated.
Karen DeYoung: One of the interesting things about this story was that it amounted to covering an investigation, rather than investigating something ourselves. I feel that we were as vigilant and, when warranted, critical of Mr. Starr as we were of other players, breaking the first stories about his office's questionable treatment of Monica Lewinsky, contacts between the independent counsel's office and lawyers for Paula Jones and other aspects.
Grand Prairie, Tex.: In your opinion, is it likely additional revelations of previously nonpublic evidence against the president will emerge in the weeks ahead?
Karen DeYoung: Several aspects of the independent counsel's investigation remain open -- most prominently that dealing with Kathleen Willey. I think it is unlikely that there is any existing evidence -- given to Congress but not released publicly -- that will significantly alter our understanding. If there had been, it would have found its way into public through the congressional prosecutors. We have reported that Starr has thus far found no evidence linking the White House to possible obstruction or other alleged crimes in connection to Ms. Willey, but again, that part of the investigation remains open.
San Francisco, Calf.: On Sunday, Jan. 31, the New York Times' story that Ken Starr had concluded that he could indict a "sitting" Clinton, caused quite a flap.
On Monday, Feb. 1, the Post poo-pooed the story. The Ruth Marcus-Steve Barr story said: "Although there have been several reports in the past that Starr had concluded he could indict a sitting president, yesterday's New York Times article was a major topic of conversation on the talk shows."
Did the Post take this position because it was beaten by a competitor (mercy, forbid) or did it feel that it was a rehashing of news and some subjective timing by The Times?
Karen DeYoung: I believe The Times article you refer to was a major topic of conversation primarily because of its timing, and questions raise about whether the sources of the story -- attributed to unnamed associations of Starr -- had some interest in raising the subject. It certainly had been well reported here, in The Times and elsewhere that some people close to Starr and within his office believed that the Constitution and judicial precedent allowed indictment of a sitting president, although others -- along with numerous constitutional scholars -- disagreed. We published an additional story this week saying that whether Starr believed he could indict the president before Clinton left office or not, he was unlikely to do so.
Washington, D.C.: Since the Republicans and Ken Starr have lost their case, where do we go from here? Basically is this still going to be the dominant headline news two weeks from today or are there some other loose ends that need to be tied that we have to hear about?
Karen DeYoung: It probably will take some time -- perhaps years -- for this story to go away, but it is likely to be overtaken by other stories sooner rather than later. Both Republicans and Democrats are anxious to prove to the nation that they have agendas beyond Clinton's conviction or acquittal, and those agendas will become more urgent as we move closer to the 2000 elections. I would expect that Starr-related stories will pop up occasionally -- there are still trials of Susan McDougal, Webster Hubbell and Julie Hiatt Steele to come this spring. And also the Kathleen Willey matter still under investigation. Also, Mr. Starr still needs to provide Congress with final reports on other aspects of his investigation, including Whitewater.
Kings Cross, Australia: There's much talk about President Clinton's place in history. What do you see as Rep. Hyde's?
Karen DeYoung: I would expect that views of Rep. Hyde will depend on how those doing the viewing felt about the case he brought and the vigor with which he brought it. Many who supported his efforts will believe, as he does, that he was fulfilling his constitutional duty and was, in effect, a hero for doing so under such strong public and political pressure. Others, who found Hyde and the House Republicans overzealous and partisan, will have a different verdict.
Baltimore, Md.: Do you think since the statement "high crimes and misdemeanors" was subject to so many interpretations during the impeachment that some official definition will clarify things?
Karen DeYoung: One thing that I think these proceedings made clear is that the definition of the term "high crimes and misdemeanors" is sort of like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's definition of pornography -- it's hard to define, but you know it when you see it. The Constitution itself doesn't provide a definition, but at the end of the day, after hearing all the arguments on both sides, the Senate made its decision based largely on individual definitions -- some believing that the alleged crimes themselves were not impeachable offenses, others saying they were but had not been proven.
Albuquerque, N.M.: Now that the Senate trial is over, I see real problems all over the radar scope for the Republicans in 2000. What is your outlook for the 2000 national elections?
Karen DeYoung: The Republicans themselves have acknowledged their problems. To the extent the impeachment issue will continue to divide Congress, I would suspect that it will divide the Republicans internally more than causing divisions between Republicans and Democrats. There are differences of opinion among political analysts and the parties themselves as to how long the public memory will be and how much weight voters will place on a Congress member's role in impeachment. That's why this will be such an interesting election.
Ann Arbor, Mich.: Will Clinton be performing a "lucky me" dance soon?
Karen DeYoung: I would expect that the president will try very hard to restrain himself from any public displays of glee.
Sheridan, Wyo.: Now can Janet Reno fire Starr?
Karen DeYoung: She has always had the power to fire him. One interesting thing to watch in the future is the progress of the current Justice Department inquiry into allegations, lodged by Democrats and the White House, of prosecutorial improprieties by Starr in conducting the Lewinsky investigation. Under the independent counsel statute, it would appear her only remedy, should she find something untoward, would be to fire him. Yet I still think that is highly unlikely.
New York, N.Y.: Is Chief Justice Rehnquist now permitted to express his views on any portion of the impeachment and trial?
Karen DeYoung: I believe the Chief Justice is free to say anything he wants about the proceedings. But judging by the reticence he has shown at the Supreme Court, I would be surprised if he says anything (outside perhaps his post-retirement memoirs, if there are any) beyond the comments he made at the close of today's proceedings.
Cambridge, Mass.: What's up with Arlen Spector? Did he really think he could vote "Not proven"? Is he just goofy? And wasn't it weird the way they gave Rehnquist a plaque, like some sort of parting gift? What if they'd convicted Clinton? Wouldn't it have looked strange giving him something to hang on his office wall?
Karen DeYoung: As on so many matters, Sen. Specter is marching to a different drummer here.
Clemson, S.C.: In your opinion, what is the likelihood of criminal charges being brought against the president upon leaving office?
Karen DeYoung: In my opinion, the likelihood is fairly small. But then, I've been surprised at several junctures over the past year.
Blacksburg, Va.: Will Al Gore's presidential campaign be hurt due to his alliance with the president? Should he created distance between the two?
Karen DeYoung: Again, this is one of the reasons why the upcoming election will be so interesting. I don't think the vice president felt he was in much of a position to "create distance" between himself and the president while impeachment was going on, nor do I think he will make much specific reference to it during the upcoming campaign. My guess would be that he will tout what he perceives to have been the successes of the Clinton era, stay away from the problems, and talk about what he wants to do in the future.
Grand Junction, Colo.: Considering just about all the senators conceded that what Clinton did was wrong, do you think the outcome would have been different if they had allowed a full trial, complete with live witnesses and the other trappings of a trial?
Karen DeYoung: Testimony from Betty Currie would have been interesting. But she, like Lewinsky and Jordan, already had testified so many times and I think that the record was so expansive that it is doubtful she would have gone much beyond it. At the end of the day -- as the Lewinsky and Jordan testimony demonstrated -- most people had made up their minds on the broad question of "impeachable offenses" and in the absence of explosive new evidence, which I think was unlikely to appear, the vote would have gone pretty much the same way.
Quincy, Mass.: Do you think that President Clinton's reported revenge against the House managers, election politics and the already present partisan rift in Congress will stall new legislation in the coming two years?
Karen DeYoung: Both parties have an interest in amassing a record of legislative success that they can take on the campaign trail. At this point, both are well aware that the public has very low expectations of their ability to address issues that they both agree are important to the nation. I would guess that, for their own reasons and not because they like or agree with each other, they will strive for compromise on issues like Social Security, etc. At the end of the day, however, they are deeply divided over the basic question of what to do with projected surplus funds. That division -- across the board tax cuts versus social spending -- is the same that existed before impeachment.
washingtonpost.com: That was the last question for Karen DeYoung, who is off to work on tomorrow's newspaper. Thank you very much for joining us today, Karen.
Interesting questions. Thank you.