I'm almost frightened to write what follows. Nevertheless, let's get the formalities out of the way: I do not believe President Clinton is necessarily a truthful man.
Be that as it may, there is no evidence that President Clinton committed perjury even if we assume that he received oral sex from Monica Lewinsky.
The entire charge of perjury concerns Clinton's sworn testimony in the Paula Jones lawsuit during a deposition. In that deposition, he was asked if he had ever had "sexual relations" with Monica Lewinsky to which he replied "no". (As a side note, the President was first asked about a "sexual affair", but Jones' lawyer clarified the record to ask specifically about "sexual relations").
"That's perjury!" you say. "He received oral sex! That has to be 'sexual relations'."
Hold on. Let's assume for the sake of argument that the President did in fact receive oral sex from Ms. Lewinsky but nothing more. (I know it's a huge assumption, but let's make go ahead and make it for the sake of argument.)
Now assuming that
oral sex took place, the most important aspect of the perjury charge is
the question that was asked. Below is a graphic of the actual definition
of "sexual relations" that was the subject of the Clinton deposition as
obtained from CNN's All Politics web site. Of all the people claiming that
perjury took place, I suspect less than 1% have seen this document.
But note that #1 is circled. I didn't do that. It was circled because the judge in the case ruled that only definition number 1 would control the deposition. This is a critical fact. Mr. Clinton was only asked if he touched "the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks" of Monica Lewinsky. Conversely he wasn't asked if any act took place which was encompassed by definition numbers 2 or 3 .
Try as you might, a female voluntarily performing oral sex on a male does not fall within the definition of number 1.
After actually viewing the definition that President Clinton was presented with, his already famous remarks last Monday evening begin to make sense: "While my answers were legally accurate," the President said, " I did not volunteer information."
"Legally", his answer was accurate. Of course, the man on the street doesn't care about legal technicalities when the facts are this graphic and tawdry. But although the explanation probably will not fly politically, it's not a bad legal defense.
And the President is also right about not volunteering information. A plaintiff who takes the deposition of a defendant is under an obligation to ask every question that needs answering. Moreover, every defense lawyer I know will counsel a defendant before a deposition to "answer only the question - don't give him any information that he didn't ask for".
Now, once again, assuming that Clinton only received oral sex, his choices were limited when he was asked if he engaged in sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky. No matter which way you slice it, to answer the question truthfully requires a "no" answer. Oddly enough, to have answered "yes" would be perjury if he only received oral sex. Finally, I don't think anyone would fault the President for not saying "Hey, Ms. Jones' lawyer, I did have some type of sexual relationship with her, but you didn't include it in paragraph number one." That is not the job of a witness in a deposition.
No one knows what happened between the President and Ms. Lewinsky other than those two individuals. The entire incident is a national embarrassment, and I offer no excuses for President Clinton.
Nevertheless, those that express an opinion about the President have a duty to inform themselves as to the nature of the accusations against him. Consequently, the next time someone says matter of factly that the President committed perjury, ask him why. If he gives you the standard "he lied under oath", at least ask him if he is familiar with the definition of "sexual relations" that controlled the deposition.
Facts are, after all, important.
Barry Green is the District Attorney for the 271st Judicial District.