FOR a moment let's consider what could happen to William Jefferson Clinton if he decides to throw in the towel and depart from the White House. According to political analysts and legal sources, Clinton stands to lose one of the best pensions from the federal government—$152,000 a year for life, indexed to rise with inflation. That is if he is impeached, found guilty and ousted from office.
According to one calculation, since Clinton might be the youngest ex-President since Theodore Roosevelt left office in 1909—John F. Kennedy was assassinated at 46—the financial stakes are high for him. The National Taxpayers Union, a nonpartisan group advocating presidential and congressional pension reform, asserts that Clinton could get $6.34 million in pension. He also would be entitled to an estimated $15 million over his lifetime for office space, plus staff and travel salaries and allowances.
If Clinton resigns, he could perhaps retain all that. Richard M. Nixon, who quit when impeachment proceedings loomed over the Watergate scandal, was drawing a $148,000 pension at the time of his death. But if Clinton doesn't step down voluntarily, says presidential scholar Charles Jones, "the worry in my mind is that we're going to have to figure out how to run this country for two years with a very crippled president".
"Domestically, we can do that. Internationally, we'd just have to cross our fingers. If he stays on, he lives in the White House, he gets to fly around in Air Force One which he likes, he'll be treated like a Hollywood celebrity which he mistakes for prestige, but he won't really be president. It's not a pretty picture," adds Jones. Agrees Sumit Ganguly, a political science professor at Hunter College: "He is crippled. He simply will not be able to take any major initiatives. The Republicans on the Hill will paralyse him." On the domestic front, Clinton has to tide over mid-term elections in January, which some experts say may be disastrous for Democrats.
Clinton, say experts, has always reverted to populism to divert attention from personal crisis. So, after an elaborate medicare plan, he might now talk about "social security and schools" while his lawyers battle it out for him. Clinton's attorneys emphasise that he did not commit perjury, realising that even if Congress decides to censure the president and let him serve out his term, he could still face charges of perjury and other offences once he leaves office.
And Paula Jones, the lady who began it all, is already appealing a federal court's decision to throw her sexual harassment lawsuit out of court. Her lawyers, who are poring over special prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr's damning report, are certain to exploit any Clinton admission that he lied under oath. The Jones suit will be revived, which could, in all probability, lead to an expensive out-of-court settlement.
Clinton stands accused of perjury in both the Paula Jones suit and before the grand jury in the Starr report. Moreover, perjury is one of the main charges drawn up by Starr in his list of 11 possible impeachable offences. Other allegations include obstruction of justice, jury tampering and abuse of power—all serious offences in the US.
Former New York governor Mario Cuomo, himself a lawyer and intellectual, says Starr had a clear agenda and was unlikely to drop his multimillion-dollar probe of the president even if he resigned. "If he were to choose to resign Starr could indict him tomorrow. If you impeached him and removed him, Starr could still indict him tomorrow," Cuomo asserts.
Several political analysts, including Democratic Party insiders, say they can't visualise a plausible scenario in which Clinton can stay on as president. But they also concede that they can't as of now see the nation getting rid of him.
John Zogby, a respected pollster told Outlook that Clinton's credibility was already badly eroded. "He has a huge credibility problem and it's becoming even larger." He's among the political analysts who thinks Clinton's innings is over. "What people are starting to wonder is, if the president gets away with lying under oath, then why should anyone touch the Bible and swear to tell the truth in court?" Clinton remains popular because there's no clear smoking-gun-type proof of doing something wrong, says Zogby. "That's bound to change if there is clear, incontrovertible evidence that shows a pattern of deceit." As his former White House adviser George Stephanopoulos puts it: "What the lawyers are trying to do now, most of all, is trying to keep the president out of jail."