Punishing Clinton

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 September, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 September, 1998, 12:00am

However wrong his behaviour, it now seems unlikely US President Bill Clinton will be impeached. The Starr Report may have been extremely damaging. The forthcoming release of the video of his evasive and angry testimony before the grand jury is likely to be even more so.

But there is no reason to suppose this will be enough to reverse the consistent public opposition to impeachment. Nor is it by any means certain that Republicans will ultimately opt to start proceedings which would inevitably be very protracted and inflict further damage upon America's international image.

So the task now is to find some other means of punishing Mr Clinton for his misconduct. One option which some Democrats have already suggested would be some form of formal censure by Congress: a relatively mild measure which the White House would be only too happy to accept.

But the Republicans understandably do not want to see Mr Clinton get off the hook so easily, with nothing more than such a token gesture. Now there is another option which might force Mr Clinton to pay a high price for his actions.

A motion introduced in the Senate yesterday demanded that the President be forced to reimburse US taxpayers for the cost of special counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation into the Monica Lewinsky affair, which his lies and obstructionism did so much to inflate.

So far these are estimated at US$4.4 million ($34 million), but the final bill is expected to be much higher. Then there are the substantial costs the US Government incurred in fruitless efforts to frustrate Mr Starr's inquiry. Together with his own US$5 million legal bills, that should be enough to put Mr Clinton into debt and to take a sizeable chunk out of any lucrative book deals or Hollywood studio contracts that he may sign after leaving office.

It may not be much punishment for someone whose actions have transformed the world's only superpower into an international laughing stock. But it is still better than a meaningless motion of condemnation and an option worth pursuing.