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The People's Court

In the cases of both Speaker Gingrich and President Clinton, Americans deserve a clear presentation of charges and findings. How else can citizens make their own moral judgments about the interests of the country being served and individuals being treated fairly?

With regard to Mr. Gingrich's problems, the process of laying the facts before the people has gotten muddled in fierce partisan infighting. Charges and countercharges over scheduling of hearings and deadlines for investigative reports, taped Republican strategy conference calls, and alleged Democratic breaches of privacy law, are obscuring the fundamental issue: Just what is the full case against the Speaker, and what should be done about his infractions?

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The truncating of needed hearings and deliberative time is deplorable. The Republicans defending the Speaker should have granted ethics committee investigator James Cole the requested added time to begin with. That would have dispelled any appearance of covering up. The now heightened controversy ensures that Mr. Cole's findings will have an extra long life in the public spotlight. What should have been an orderly - if often delayed - process has become suspect in the public's mind.

With regard to Mr. Clinton, the focus has shifted from financial and political matters to personal moral conduct. The Supreme Court weighs whether he should be subject, while in office, to a sexual harassment lawsuit springing from his time as governor of Arkansas.

Letting this suit go forward would interfere, to some extent, with the president's duties. But ruling that it can't be pursued would seem to put the president - who is, after all, another citizen - above the law.

Americans should take solace that the system for exposing alleged faults and getting at facts still works - even if slowly. The government remains one of laws, not men.

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