Media failed to correct Sen. Hutchison's false Clinton impeachment claim


On the October 23 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) downplayed the seriousness of a perjury indictment as a "technicality" and falsely claimed "there were charges against Bill Clinton besides perjury and obstruction of justice" during his 1999 Senate trial on impeachment charges. In fact, just two articles of impeachment against Clinton were approved by the House of Representatives: one for perjury, and the other for obstruction of justice. Hutchison's falsehood went uncorrected by host Tim Russert and was not mentioned by any of the news outlets that quoted her Meet the Press appearance.

Hutchison's comment came amid discussion of special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald's investigation in to the alleged outing of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame. News reports have indicated that Fitzgerald may be pursuing perjury and obstruction of justice indictments against top White House officials. Hutchison attempted to downplay the seriousness of these charges, saying: "I certainly hope that if there is going to be an indictment that says something happened, that it is an indictment on a crime and not some perjury technicality where they couldn't indict on the crime and so they go to something just to show that their two years of investigation was not a waste of time and taxpayer dollars." Russert challenged Hutchison's statement, saying: "But the fact is perjury or obstruction of justice is a very serious crime, and Republicans certainly thought so when charges were placed against Bill Clinton before the United States Senate." Hutchison responded: "Well, there were charges against Bill Clinton besides perjury and obstruction of justice. And I'm not saying that those are not crimes. They are."

While the House Judiciary Committee advanced four articles of impeachment against Clinton to the full House of Representatives in December 1998, the House passed just two of them. The first alleged that Clinton "willfully provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony to the grand jury," while the second alleged he "obstructed and impeded the administration of justice." Hutchison was one of 45 Republican senators to vote "guilty" on the perjury charge, and one of 50 Republican senators to vote "guilty" on the obstruction of justice charge on February 12, 1999. A February 14, 1999, Dallas Morning News article quoted her as saying: "The principle of the rule of law -- equality under the law and a clear standard for perjury and obstruction of justice -- was the overriding issue in this impeachment."

Russert did not correct Hutchison, nor did he note her votes on the charges against Clinton despite having pressed her on the seriousness of the indictments. Additionally, a number of news outlets quoted Hutchison downplaying the possible indictments but failed to note her Clinton impeachment falsehood. An October 23 Associated Press article quoted Hutchison saying, "Let's tone down the rhetoric, and let's make sure that if there are indictments, that we don't prejudge." An October 24 New York Times article titled "Republicans Testing Ways to Blunt Leak Charges" quoted Hutchison's Meet the Press appearance as an example of a White House ally suggesting "that they intended to pursue a strategy of attacking any criminal charges as a disagreement over legal technicalities or the product of an overzealous prosecutor." The Times failed to note, however, that Hutchison's offensive -- to minimize the significance of perjury or obstruction of justice charges -- was based on a falsehood and ignored her own voting record on the Clinton impeachment. October 24 articles in the The Washington Post and The New York Sun (subscription required) also quoted Hutchison dismissing perjury as a "technicality" but made no mention of her false Clinton-impeachment allegation.

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