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World Today

Committee Recommends That Clinton Be Disbarred

Aired May 22, 2000 - 8:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The web of legal entanglements which led President Clinton's impeachment may have faded from memory for many Americans, but the issues are proving much harder for President Clinton to put to rest. The president's answers under oath in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit are at the center of a legal complaint, which argues Mr. Clinton should be stripped of his license to practice law in Arkansas.

Today, a state legal panel agreed and recommended the president be disbarred.

More on what the decision means and what happens next from CNN's senior White House correspondent, John King.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The recommendation that the president be disbarred stems from his testimony in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case. An Arkansas State Supreme Court disciplinary committee found that Mr. Clinton committed serious misconduct when questioned under oath about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At any time, were you and Monica Lewinsky together alone in the Oval Office?

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't recall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you have an extramarital sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky?

CLINTON: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Mr. Clinton later acknowledged his relationship with Lewinsky and the judge in the Jones case cited the president for contempt of court and fined him $90,000 for giving false testimony.

The president didn't contest the fine, but he did fight recommendations from the judge and the conservative Southeastern Legal Foundation that he be disbarred.

MATTHEW GLAVIN, SOUTHEASTERN LEGAL FOUNDATION: This isn't about Bill Clinton. This is about 275 million other people in America who have a right to a court system that's free from lawyers who lie under oath and obstruct justice.

KING: The case now goes to the Polaski (ph) County Court in Little Rock for trial.

In a statement, Clinton attorney David Kendall said: "This recommendation is wrong and clearly contradicted by precedent. We will vigorously dispute it in a court of law."

The president signed off on the appeal. He told his lawyers he would take no personal role in the proceedings.

It's been nearly 20 years since Mr. Clinton practiced law and he's not planning to resume any active legal role after leaving office.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: But for a man whose first elected office was Arkansas attorney general and who once taught constitutional law, being disbarred would be highly embarrassing and it would add another scar to the legacy of impeachment and the Lewinsky scandal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John King at the White House, thanks.

On NBC Television tonight, Mr. Clinton said he would not go to Arkansas to personally defend himself because it would interfere with his duties as president.

Joining me to sort through the legal issues surrounding the question of disbarment, CNN legal analyst Roger Cossack. He joins us from Atlanta.

Roger, this issue of the president saying until he leaves office he is not going to personally be involved, personally testify: Is that going to hurt his effort to fight this potential disbarment?

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's hard to say, Wolf, and the reason is obviously as the president of the United States he could -- no one could probably make a better argument for putting this matter over until he left office than the president and what his duties are.

Now, what happens is, of course, is that this recommendation goes to the Polaski Circuit County Court, where a trial will be held. A judge will be picked and a trial will be held, and a judge will decide what evidence is necessary and what evidence the judge will decide to hear. BLITZER: Could the judge compel Mr. Clinton to appear in some form, videotape perhaps, do a deposition in connection with that trial?

COSSACK: You know, this is not a criminal trial. This is an administrative hearing having to do with whether or not the president should be disbarred.

I'm not sure, to be honest, whether or not they could compel him. I think he would have the decision whether or not he wishes to go forward and give evidence or not. But obviously, unlike criminal trials where you get the Fifth Amendment, this is the kind of situation where if you don't show up perhaps inferences can be taken.

BLITZER: Now, it's unlikely Mr. Clinton after he leaves office would want to practice law any place, but if theoretically he were disbarred in Arkansas, could he practice law any place else?

COSSACK: No, Wolf. While there is not a law that says, if you're disbarred in one state, you cannot practice in some other state, no other state is going to let you in once you've been disbarred. On almost every application for membership of a bar that I've always seen one of the first questions they ask you is if you've ever been disciplined, or in this case disbarred, from any other state. Certainly, no state wants a lawyer who's been kicked out of another state.

BLITZER: President Clinton's legal supporters are pointing out that eight of the 14 judges on this judicial panel recused themselves because they had some sort of connection with the president or the Democratic Party, leaving six judges who didn't have any connection. Is that enough of grounds there to question this recommendation?

COSSACK: Well, this is a highly unusual event, and obviously, that is something that will be talked about. But if you think about the other side of it, if they didn't recuse themselves and they felt strongly that they had a connection to President Clinton and they would have voted in his favor, we would be asking the same question, which is, you know, how can we depend on these eight who had connections to him?

The law calls for a majority of those who were present -- there were six there; we know that at least four people voted for this sanction. That's who was left.

BLITZER: OK, Roger Cossack, our legal analyst, thanks for joining us.

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