Ocean Springs – Perhaps President Bill Clinton should have talked to impeached federal court judge Walter L. Nixon prior to giving testimony before a federal grand jury.
Nixon, who was convicted of grand jury perjury while being found innocent of illegal gratuity charges, said his case shows that even someone who is innocent can fall into a perjury trap.
There are intriguing similarities between the present legal problems facing Clinton and Nixon`s perjury conviction that led to his impeachment by the U.S. Congress in 1989. Some legal experts say Clinton is in danger of falling into the same trap that led to Nixon`s conviction.
In 1986 Nixon was charged with accepting an illegal gratuity from Hattiesburg multimillionaire oilman Wiley Fairchild in order to influence the outcome of drug smuggling charges against Fairchild`s son, Drew. A jury found Nixon innocent of accepting an illegal gratuity from Fairchild in the form of an oil investment, but found Nixon guilty of perjury in grand jury testimony in the case. Nixon ended up receiving a two-year prison sentence, and was impeached by Congress.
Sexual harassment charges in a civil lawsuit by Paula Jones against Clinton were dismissed by the judge hearing the case. But now Clinton faces possible perjury charges relating to testimony regarding his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
James Blake Halsted, professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, covered the Nixon trial for WLOX-TV and continued to watch the case through appeals and Nixon`s eventual impeachment by the U.S. Congress. At first Halsted wasn`t sure he could be totally neutral in reporting the case since he was predisposed to believe Nixon guilty. By the end of the trial Halsted was convinced Nixon was innocent of charges of accepting an illegal gratuity.
Halsted`s opinion is that Nixon was also not guilty of perjury. He believes the perjury charge was “manufactured” by the grand jury, and that Clinton now likely faces the same situation.
“It is so scary what a federal grand jury can do,” Halsted said. “The Nixon case shows they can manufacture a crime, which I am convinced happened in Nixon`s case and is about to happen in Clinton`s case. Nixon was convicted of lying to cover up his own innocence. I bet you a perjury charge against Clinton is going to come out of this. Both the Nixon and Clinton cases are magnificent perjury traps.”
A matter of perspective?
Nixon was convicted of perjury before the grand jury when he denied discussing the Drew Fairchild`s case with Forrest County District Attorney Bud Holmes.
“Similarly, you get Clinton to come in with Paula Jones case,” Halsted said. “He says he didn`t have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. What does that have to do with a Whitewater deal in Arkansas, which was why Starr was appointed as a special prosecutor? There have been no indictments in that case.
“No way on God`s earth he could testify in consistency with everyone else. Other witnesses going to contradict each other. Recall is weak; people recall things in different ways. That`s what convicted Nixon, and that`s what is going to be used against Clinton. If they are going to go after Clinton, it is going to be on a perjury charge instigated and run by a federal grand jury with an out-of-control prosecutor.”
Halsted, who authored a 57-page scholarly article on the Nixon case called “The Trapping of a Federal Judge,” said that in the Nixon case witnesses were manipulated and threatened with prosecution and long jail terms to testify against the judge. Fairchild said that he was threatened by federal prosecutor Reid Weingarten with being prosecuted under special federal racketeering laws.
“At the time I was so confused I thought it must be a federal crime to even enter into an investment with a federal judge,” says Fairchild, who dropped out of school in the fourth grade to work. Fairchild was advised by his attorney (who specialized in oil and gas law, not criminal law) to plead guilty.
Other parallels in two cases?
There are a number of other similarities between the grand jury investigation of President Clinton and the Nixon case. In the Nixon case, Fairchild, who was 72 at the time of the trial, said he was told how to testify by Weingarten, and given a script or “talking points.” In the case being investigated by federal special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, part of the investigation surrounds whether Clinton tried to influence testimony by Monica Lewinsky, Linda Tripp and others.
“When a federal prosecutor gives talking points as Weingarten did with Fairchild, that is supposed to be justice,” Halsted said. “But when Monica gave talking points to Linda Tripp, they investigated Clinton for being involved in writing the talking points, which everyone agreed would be the most significant grounds for impeachment.”
Starr is reportedly investigating whether Clinton encouraged Lewinsky or others to lie or cover up facts regarding their relationship.
Halsted believes another parallel is leaking information that was damaging to the men being investigated.
“They leaked information about Judge Nixon and caused him to be astounded at the tarnishing of his reputation,” Halsted said. “Nixon voluntarily testified at the grand jury because he thought he could end it there. Knowing what he testified about, they got people to come in and testify about things that were not germane to the original inquiry which, in Nixon`s case, was the alleged corruption and backdating of oil deeds that was later proved to be an ordinary business deal.
“Nixon, testifying about something totally unrelated to the bribery charge, is contradicted by Bud Holmes, who gets this incredible sentencing deal. I talked to Bud Holmes concerning Nixon`s argument that he never talked to Holmes about Drew`s case, and Bud Holmes said Nixon was basically telling the truth. Bud Holmes said the two didn`t `discuss the case` in the manner which two lawyers would discuss a legal case. That has a very specific meaning.”
Halsted contends that if Holmes had been asked the right questions, and if the jury had asked for a legal definition of what discussing a legal case meant, Nixon would not have been convicted for perjury.
Another similarity between the Nixon and Clinton cases involves Starr. Starr was the solicitor general who argued the government`s case against Walter Nixon when he challenged the constitutionality of his impeachment process before the U.S. Supreme Court. Starr won the case.
Nixon argued his impeachment was unconstitutional because his case was heard only before a Senate committee instead of before the full Senate. The full Senate only heard a summary of the case.
In the Nixon case, his legal troubles – like Clinton`s – stemmed from a case unrelated to the charges eventually filed against him. That was the finding of the Mississippi Supreme Court when it reinstated Nixon`s license to practice law in 1993.
“Nixon remained on the bench until his removal in 1986, which can be traced to a case he tried in 1980,” the Mississippi Supreme Court said. “This case – United States v. 717.42 Acres of land – involved a taking of the federal government of a large portion of Petit Bois Island which lies off the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Nixon`s participation and decision in this case prompted a special investigation by the Justice Department.”
Nixon`s decision gave the Petit Bois landowners $6 million for about 700 acres of land on the wilderness barrier island while a government appraiser said it was worth only $700,000. The land was condemned to include in the National Park Service`s Gulf Islands National Seashore. Federal prosecutors suspected Nixon of taking a bribe in the case. Nixon`s judgment in the case was later upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appe