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WATCHING IMPEACHMENT ALL-STAR WRESTLING

The president's lawyer, David Kendall, lip curled with disdain, called him "Mister Starr." With a patronizing smirk, prosecutor Ken Starr chummily called him "David."

Their bout was hailed as the main event of Impeachment All-Star Wrestling. After all, White House lawyer Kendall had pent up nine months of fury at Starr. Their mano-a-mano brawl would shake the Capitol. Wake me when it's over.

For an hour Kendall and Starr struggled for hammerlocks and choke holds like klutzy, over-greased wrestlers. Kendall would throw a verbal haymaker. Starr danced away with a filibuster. Once Starr bleated, "He's not fair."

Their futile draw was a microcosm of the Impeachment Follies -- basically lawyers bickering with lawyers. Only one way to describe the 11 1/2 -hour gabathon: Zzzzzz.

Sure, this House Judiciary confrontation, with Starr presumably playing pigeon in a trap shoot, was billed as historic. It was played out in the room where Richard Nixon's destiny was decided 24 years ago. A wall portrait of then-chairman Peter Rodino recalled past greatness. I swear I saw Rodino's picture go into snooze mode.

In truth, the Great Impeachment Showdown was a crashing bore. Not only was the Democrats vs. Starr match a draw, but no edifying light was cast on the destiny of Bill Clinton. Oddly, Starr's misdeeds, not Clinton's, heated the combatants.

Frustrated Democrats didn't lay a glove on Starr. He listened to their accusatorial rants, then in a calm, prissy voice portrayed himself as a saintly lawman. Triumphantly, he waved his 445-page report, the most famous sex manual since the "Kama Sutra." "I stand behind it because it's mine," boasted Starr in his drab, two-hour monologue.

But Republicans struck out, too. I don't think they or Starr advanced one whit the argument that Clinton should be impeached. In fact, Starr hinted Clinton would be punished after he left office. Nobody mentioned cigars, phone sex or the blue dress. This was a PG version, porn-free as "The Andy Griffith Show." Nine networks began televising this supposed national drama. But only hard-core cable outlets stayed the course.

Sure, Democratic chairman John Conyers blistered Starr: "A federally paid sex policeman spending millions to trap an unfaithful spouse."

But Starr was impervious to Democrat gripes that his prosecutors bullied Monica Lewinsky at their first meeting, preventing the weeping, hysterical Lewinsky from calling a lawyer. "If someone is mistreated, the remedy is in the courts," said Starr stiffly. Later, when Kendall grilled him about FBI agents muscling another witness, Starr shrugged, "I don't go on agents' interviews."

New York soon-to-be Sen. Charles Schumer touched a Starr vulnerability: Why didn't he include verbatim Monica Lewinsky's grand-jury statement, "Nobody asked me to lie, and I was never offered a job for my silence"? Starr juked, saying he paraphrased Monica's disclaimer, but he seemed rattled.

Barney Frank, D-Mass., needled Starr for withholding news that he'd let Clinton off the hook for Whitewater, Travelgate and Filegate. "You only spread bad stuff," grumbled Frank.

Clinton's pursuer, though, was an elusive prey. He ducked charges he'd leaked grand-jury secrets to newsfolk. His methodical style was rarely broken by humor or sympathy. Once, asked about Monica's truthfulness, he exclaimed, "She never wanted to hurt the president."

But it wasn't a lopsided "get-Ken" food fight. Republicans fawned over Starr. "You've been trashed by trash," drawled crusty Howard Coble, R-N.C., and Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, asked Starr, "How do you carry on against this onslaught?"

This dog-and-pony show seems eons away from Watergate's gravity. In '74 Congressfolk listened intently, weighing a momentous decision.

Of 21 Republicans and 16 Democrats, I doubt if a single one will budge from a party-line vote. They should stop parroting cliches and send Clinton's fate to the House for real debate.

When the All-Star Impeachment Wrestling marathon was over, Ken Starr walked out beaming, unbruised by Dems' phony flying kicks. Anybody got Jesse "The Body" Ventura's phone number?

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