Clinton suspended from Supreme Court bar

By MICHAEL KIRKLAND, UPI Legal Affairs Correspondent  |  Oct. 1, 2001 at 12:07 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- Former President Bill Clinton was suspended from the Supreme Court bar Monday and given 40 days to show why he should not be disbarred.

The suspension was automatic following Clinton's deal with an independent counsel in which Clinton accepted a 5-year suspension of his Arkansas law license in exchange for the removal of the threat of prosecution over his testimony in the Paula Jones case.

The Supreme Court ordered the suspension on the first day of its term Monday in a one-paragraph, boiler-plate order: "Bill Clinton, of New York, N.Y., is suspended from the practice of law in this court and a rule will issue, returnable within 40 days, requiring him to show cause why he should not be disbarred from the practice of law in this court."

There were no other details or comment.

Coincidentally, Clinton's old nemesis, former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, was in the courtroom in his capacity as a former U.S. solicitor general.

Supreme Court rules on suspension or disbarment are clear: "Whenever a member of the bar of this court has been disbarred or suspended from practice in any court of record, or has engaged in conduct unbecoming a member of the bar of this court, the court will enter an order suspending that member from practice before this court, and affording the member an opportunity to show cause, within 40 days, why a disbarment order should not be entered. Upon response, or if no response is timely filed, the court will enter an appropriate order."

Clinton's was one of 19 attorneys disciplined by the court Monday, all for suspension or disbarment in a state court.

The White House announced Clinton's deal on Jan. 19, one day before the president was due to leave office. By agreeing to publicly admit he gave "misleading and evasive" testimony in the Jones case about his sexual relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and agreeing to a 5-year suspension of his Arkansas law license, Clinton avoided what might have been years in court, and millions more dollars added to his already multimillion-dollar legal expenses.

Clinton also agreed not to seek reimbursement of attorneys' fees, something that only that a special three-judge panel could have granted in an independent counsel's probe.

By agreeing to drop any possible prosecution against the president, Whitewater independent counsel Robert Ray also avoided what might have been years in court on a case that even Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he could not possibly win.

Before the deal, the multiple-front investigation of Clinton threatened to drag on into its seventh year, blighting the beginning of the new GOP administration and bringing big political risks for the new president. Earlier in January, President-elect Bush publicly called for the Lewinsky investigation to end so that Clinton could "move on."

In 1994, Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno pushed hard for the re-enactment of the Independent Counsel Act, over the opposition of Republicans led by then-Sen. Robert Dole, R-Kan. Clinton and Reno were convinced an independent counsel would clear him quickly of any impropriety in an Arkansas land deal popularly known as "Whitewater," and do so in a manner that had credibility.

Instead, the independent counsel's probe stretched on for six years on a variety of matters and came to be identified in the minds of a significant portion of the public as partisan enterprise with unlimited time and unlimited taxpayer funds to investigate the president in an ever-unfolding series of accusations.

In January 1994, before the law was re-enacted, Reno appointed Robert Fiske as a special counsel to investigate Whitewater, and though Fiske operated independently, he was still answerable to the attorney general.

When a special three-judge panel was set up to appoint independent counsels that summer after the re-enactment of the law, the panel rejected Reno's nomination of Fiske and instead turned to Starr, a moderate Republican, former U.S. appeals court judge and former solicitor general in the administration of Bush's father.

Starr would go on to become something of a bete noire to the president's supporters, and would see his popularity plunge in the polls as the legally embattled Clinton's rose.

The independent counsel would investigate a variety of allegations, and virtually all expansion's of his mandate were approved by Reno. Among other things, the allegations surrounded the suicide of deputy White House counsel Vince Foster, the firing of the White House Travel Office staff and the White House acquisition of FBI file summaries on hundreds of Republicans.

One by one, Clinton and others were cleared of wrongdoing on each of those fronts, either by Starr or by his successor, Ray.

The only exception concerned Clinton's sexual liaison with Lewinsky.

Called to provide a deposition in Paula Jones' sexual harassment suit against him, Clinton denied having sex with Lewinsky under oath. He would later tell a Washington grand jury empanelled by Starr that he was trying to walk a fine line between telling the truth, and not giving his political enemies any ammunition.

It turned out that, despite the president's efforts, he was loading up his political opponents' big guns.

Lewinsky told the details of her sexual activities to then-friend Linda Tripp, who told Jones' lawyers, who sent Tripp to Starr. By the time Clinton was denying the relationship under oath in the Jones case, the independent counsel knew the president was lying.

Starr recommended articles of impeachment to the House, which impeached Clinton, largely along party lines, after the 1998 congressional elections. But Clinton was acquitted of perjury and obstruction of justice by the Senate in early 1999.

Starr eventually resigned, and was replaced by the three-judge panel with Ray.

Clinton went on to serve out his second term -- one poll in January said he was leaving office with a 68 percent approval rating, the highest ever recorded for the waning hours of a presidency -- but until the deal with Ray the threat of prosecution still hung over his head like a sword.

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