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Direct Access: Jesse Jackson

Wednesday, December 16, 1998

Rev. Jesse Jackson, the CNN talk show host and former Democratic presidential hopeful, is leading an anti-impeachment rally at the Capitol on Thursday morning. Hours after President Clinton admitted his affair with Monica Lewinsky, Jackson counseled the first family. Following is a transcript of his online discussion. Welcome, Rev. Jackson. We know that you are very busy keeping an eye on events in Washington and Iraq, so well get started quickly. As a way of keeping up with breaking news: You have provided spiritual counsel to President Clinton in past times of crisis. Have you had any words with him, spiritually, leading up to this latest attack on Iraq?

Jesse Jackson: I was totally surprised by the suddenness of the decision to bomb Iraq after the withdrawal of the U.N. inspectors. We have not talked about that.

Appleton, Wis.: It now appears that Mr. Clinton is prepared to launch an assault upon Iraq as a way to pre-empt the impeachment vote. Do you condemn Bill Clinton for being willing to slaughter brown people as a political survival tactic, or is your cynicism equal to the task of ignoring this?

Jackson: The timing is very suspect and awaits a full explanation from the president. At this point we only know that the bombs are falling without an explanation. And because the time converges with the impending impeachment vote, it is very awkward timing and creates real suspicions.

Silver Spring, Md.: Is the rally still on for tomorrow? Why isn't the fight against Clinton's impeachment getting better press? Other than NOW and DC government officials what groups are supporting this effort?

Jackson: The vigil is on for tomorrow, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and there will be vigils taking place around the country. People who voted sent a message, and that message was reprimand yes, impeachment no. The punishment of impeachment does not correspond to the nature of Mr. Clinton's lack of candor. What he did does not fit the definition of high crimes; it was a little crime. High crime would be treason, crimes against the state, threat to national security. That didn't happen here. In this Congress, which is willing to shut down the government, we see the raw use of partisan political power. Mr. Gingrich lied 13 times to special counsel about tax laws, not about a marriage vow, and he was neither censured nor impeached. He was given a reprimand and a modest fine.

Scholars said Mr. Clinton's lack of candor about a sexual indiscretion did not meet the level of impeachment.

Sacramento, Calif.: Do you have plans to run for any type of office in the future?

Jackson: I have not made a decision yet about the 2000 race. It is a matter of serious consideration. I am concerned that the issues that matter the most to the American people have been pushed off of the front burner, and I am determined to put them back on the front burner.

1. 1,500 Americans die a day from cancer -- half a million people a year.

2. Every six hours a coal miner dies of black lung disease.

3. Most of our rural and urban schools are structurally unfit, and not wired for the Internet.

4. Social Security is under threat.

I intend to make these issues priority issues until 2000, but I have not determined whether they would take place within a campaign context.

Vienna, Va.: Why are you defending Clinton? Because of your religious conviction? Or because of political considerations?

Jackson: Religious and political. Religious in the sense that I believe that once a person has sinned, erred, and has shown contrition, that they are eligible for forgiveness, redemption and restoration. Mr. Clinton has shown contrition over and over again, and expressed his sense of shame and embarrassment. It seems that some Republicans do not want contrition, they want blood. In the political sense, I believe that Mr. Clinton has been good for America. While he, like all men, have sinned and fallen from the glory of God, his policies have helped workers, have helped seniors, have increased pay equity for women, more youth in schools. We are a stronger nation six years later. When we put his six years of service in perspective, he has been a good president.

Tucson, Ariz.: In the event that the House goes against the overwhelming public sentiment and votes to impeach the president, what course of action should those of us who feel he has been railroaded take? Should we actively protest the vote or wait until the next election to try to unseat the Republicans who are making this atrocity happen?

Jackson: We must respond with public protest. We must slate political leaders for the next election who will hear the voice of the people. We must encourage Mr. Clinton that it is honorable to fight to protect the office in light of the partisan impeachment. And he should take his case to the American public and to the Senate. Rev. Jackson had to step away for a news conference. He will be rejoining us as soon as he can. Jackson was unable to rejoin us. Thank you all for joining us in our day-long series of impeachment discussions.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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