Ralph E. Shaffer
    Walter P. Coombs

          A day and a half of House debate has made clear that 

    impeachment of the president rested solely on the alleged 

    untruthfulness of Bill Clinton's testimony to a federal grand 

    jury.  But did he actually commit perjury?  Since neither the 

    Judiciary Committee nor the entire House heard directly from 

    any of the principals involved, the president's veracity 

    should have been determined by the only persons who heard all 

    the testimony and questioned every witness: the 23 

    representative Americans who made up independent counsel Ken 

    Starr's federal grand jury. 

          For months Clinton's critics vilified him for using all 

    the tricks in his legal arsenal to evade the most fearsome 

    assemblage of one's peers that exists in our legal system: a 

    grand jury.  The public was first told that his refusal to 

    voluntarily appear inhibited the jurors' ability to get the 

    facts about alleged perjury, obstruction of justice and other 

    crimes.  When he finally went before the videocamera in mid-

    August the jurors were at last in a position to render 

    judgment on those allegations.

          That never happened.  Instead, the jury unwittingly 

    served the purpose of Starr and the pro-impeachment crowd.  

    Those desiring to remove the president never intended for the 

    grand jury to be more than a legal prop in a partisan scheme 

    to unseat the incumbent.  

          Starr's manipulation of this grand jury is an all-too-

    common practice among prosecutors, a criticism frequently 

    made by former jurors.  This was not a grand jury 

    investigation.  It was a Starr investigation, further 

    aggravated by a partisan Congressional decision to release 

    both the videotape and a printed transcript of Bill Clinton's 

    testimony.  That was a flagrant violation of the age-old 

    principle that such testimony must forever remain secret and 

    confidential unless the jury returns an indictment.

         Whether or not the jurors believed the president had 

    committed perjury or had conspired with others to prevent the 

    jury from determining the truth was of no concern to the 

    Republican majority.  Their claim that the president had lied 

    to the jury formed the basis for impeachment of a chief 

    executive whose continued presence in office thwarted 

    adoption of Republican social and economic policies.  

         But this grand jury's work need not be over.  Once a 

    prosecutor concludes the presentation of evidence, grand 

    jurors have the final word on indicting the investigation's 

    target.  Instead of leaving the decision to a partisan House, 

    the Clinton jurors should have voted on the validity of the 

    charge that the president perjured himself.  They, not 

    Congress, spent months hearing testimony and weighing 

    evidence in this case.  Unlike Congress, they were in a 

    position to offer an unbiased decision.

         During the debate in both the Judiciary Committee and 

    on the House floor both Republicans and Democrats suggested 

    that the president may be subjected to prosecution for 

    perjury after he leaves office.  The grand jurors can end any 

    question about that right now.  If the president is, as his 

    critics contend, subject to the laws that govern all other 

    Americans, let the jurors forget that he is a president and 

    decide if sufficient grounds exist to indict ordinary citizen 

    Bill Clinton. 

         Twenty-three reputable, middle-class citizens of the 

    District of Columbia, carefully selected after thorough 

    background checks, heard all the evidence.  They are in the 

    best position to determine if the president should be charged 

    with any violation of law.  They should now hold secret 

    deliberations, without the prosecution team present, and 

    render their decision.  

         If the jurors find that the president did lie under 

    oath, let the impeachment process go forward to whatever 

    decision the Senate reaches.  If the jurors find otherwise, 

    let the Senate formally drop the matter as soon as it 

    reconvenes.  Either way, the public will accept the outcome 

    with less divisiveness than now exists.

                                - - -

          (Walter P. Coombs was vice foreman of the 1993-94 Los 

    Angeles County Grand Jury; Ralph E. Shaffer served on that 

    panel. Both are professors emeriti at Cal Poly, Pomona.)