HIGH CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS: THE CASE AGAINST BILL CLINTON By Ann Coulter(1) Regnery Publishing, Inc. 1998. Pp. 358. $24.95.
On the first page of her bestselling book, High Crimes and Misdemeanors, Ann Coulter observes that political punditry and careful legal analysis are very different things. (p. 1) This insight--the truth of which has been driven home, painfully at times, to anyone with cable over the last few years--may seem unremarkable. But it does pose great difficulties for someone like me, steeped as I am in the legal academy, in reviewing her book. For High Crimes and Misdemeanors does not purport to be a thorough, analytic, balanced and rigorous treatment of the impeachment process, either in general or as applied to President Clinton. And it would be unfair for me to hold it to the standards of good academic scholarship.
On the other hand, good academic scholars should care about the things Ms. Coulter asserts in her book, for a few reasons. To begin with, the book sets out an interesting, though by no means uncontested, synthesis of the events surrounding various of President Clinton's legal/political problems. The facts she alleges and the evidence she adduces concerning matters outside the Starr Report--such as Whitewater, Filegate and the Travel Office episode--should perhaps be taken with a healthy dose of salt, especially given that Judge Starr and his office apparently have disagreed with Ms. Coulter as to the weight of the actual proof of wrongdoing. But Ms. Coulter's depiction of these affairs is interesting reading nonetheless, and helps paint a picture of President Clinton's personality that may help to explain--better than any legal niceties ever could--why so many persons, both within and without Congress, simply cannot abide Mr. Clinton.
The book's factual account of the Monica Lewinsky matter is better grounded, by references to grand jury and civil deposition testimony and other supporting documentation, and provides a good starting point for any discussion--on the Hill or in the ivory tower--about the impeachability of Mr. Clinton. For that reason alone, people really interested in factually unraveling the mess that has preoccupied Washington will find the book worth skimming. But perhaps more important than any of this, the more general arguments the book makes, about the nature of the impeachment process and its alternatives, both reflect and in turn help shape the perceptions held by the reading public and those in Congress. And became nearly everyone agrees that there is no (or virtually no) judicial review of the Presidential impeachment process, the impressions of Congresspersons and the public are the impressions that count. One could argue that in the long run the Constitution always means what the People who continue to make it the Supreme Law of the Land believe it to mean. Whether that statement is descriptively true about the entire Constitution or not, it is certainly true about the impeachment provisions, which are self-consciously styled as a hybrid of law and politics. Thus, what Ms. Coulter is saying in this book is constitutionally...