Light at end of tumult?
The end is near - the light at the end of the tumult. And with impeachment over, what will happen to the "All Monica all the time" networks and to the principals, who, in the past year, have become more accustomed to testifying than talking?
Will Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp and Vernon Jordan have to go back to not being the center of the universe, their every appearance enough to collect a crowd?
But, wait. There is yet hope. Independent counsel Kenneth Starr, that emblem of law and disorder, has determined to his own satisfaction that he can ask the grand jury to indict President Clinton before he leaves office. The cast of characters could be back again testifying, and one more historic precedent would be created with an incumbent president on trial for perjury and obstruction of justice.
Can Mr. Starr really do that? The Constitution says that a president convicted by the Senate and removed from office shall nevertheless be subject to indictment and trial. But what of a president not convicted by the Senate? Is he, while still in office, subject to criminal action as a unanimous Supreme Court ruled in the Paula Jones case that he is subject to civil suit? Having consulted a couple of legal scholars, Starr has concluded that the answer to the question is: Yes, he can.
There is precedent. I happen to know that the Watergate grand jury in 1974 decided unanimously to indict President Nixon, but was talked out of it by special prosecutor Leon Jaworski pending completion of impeachment proceedings. Meanwhile, Nixon was named as an unindicted co-conspirator. When Nixon resigned, President Ford, informed that an indictment was imminent, hastened to preempt that with a pardon.
But Nixon was, by then, a private citizen. The idea of an incumbent president facing a jury in a criminal trial between speeches on education and Social Security seems almost too mind-blowing to contemplate. When and whether Starr will seek that indictment is not known. That is to say, hasn't yet leaked from his office. Is it conceivable? Well, Starr clearly believes that Mr. Clinton has committed crimes and the prosecutor has made himself so strident a nemesis of the president that his own ethics adviser, Sam Dash, quit. Starr himself faces a Justice Department inquiry into his prosecutorial tactics.
So, for the Starr-crossed cast of characters in the drama of scandal and impeachment, it may not be all over with the end of the impeachment trial. Oh, and good news for Chief Justice William Rehnquist: One of the framers of the Constitution, Gouverneur Morris, said the trial of a president should be before the Supreme Court.
*Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.