Seventeen years ago, as a Republican-controlled Senate concluded its impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., expressed her concerns about how future generations would perceive what had happened.
Feinstein — along with every other Senate Democrat and five Republicans — voted on Feb. 12, 1999 that Clinton was "not guilty" of either of the two Articles of Impeachment the House brought against him.
"Clinton acquitted but tarnished forever by impeachment," said an Associated Press headline the next day.
"[T]he Senate, with Democrats solidly in his camp, acquitted him on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice," said the AP story.
But Feinstein had recruited 37 other senators, including some Republicans, to co-sponsor a resolution she hoped the Senate would pass to "censure" Clinton.
"[D]uring these trying days," Feinstein said, according to the Congressional Record, "the question has been asked of many of us: 'What will we tell our children about this sordid period in our Nation's history?'"
Future Secretary of State John Kerry co-sponsored Feinstein's resolution. So did future Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin and future Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
So, what did Feinstein's resolution say?
As recorded in the Congressional Record, it said: "Whereas William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States, gave false or misleading testimony and his actions have had the effect of impeding discovery of evidence in judicial proceedings;
"Whereas William Jefferson Clinton's conduct in this matter, is unacceptable for a President of the United States, does demean the Office of the President as well as the President himself, and creates disrespect for the laws of the land ...
"Whereas future generations of Americans must know that such behavior is not acceptable but also bears grave consequences, including the loss of integrity, trust and respect ..."
In one of its final paragraphs, it resolved: "That the United States Senate recognizes the historic gravity of this bipartisan resolution and trusts and urges that future congresses will recognize the importance of allowing this bipartisan statement of censure and condemnation to remain intact for all time."
Republican Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, who had voted that Clinton was "guilty" of both Articles of Impeachment, moved to block Feinstein's resolution from coming up for a vote. Feinstein needed 60 votes to overcome Gramm's move. She only got 56. But every Senate Democrat — except Robert Byrd of West Virginia — voted with her.
Two months later, a headline in The New York Times said: "Clinton is Found to Be in Contempt on Jones Lawsuit."
"A federal judge held President Clinton in contempt of court today, saying he had willfully provided false testimony under oath about his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky in the sexual misconduct lawsuit filed by Paula Corbin Jones," said the first paragraph of the Times' story.
"The court takes no pleasure whatsoever in holding this nation's president in contempt of court," the Times quoted from Judge Susan Webber Wright's ruling.
"The record demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that the president responded to plaintiffs' questions by giving false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process," the judge said, according to the Times.
Two years after that, on the day President Clinton left office, a New York Times story carried this headline: "Exiting Job, Clinton Accepts Immunity Deal."
"In a stunning end to the long melodrama and pitched legal battles over President Clinton's relationship with a White House intern, Mr. Clinton today agreed to a settlement in which he will avoid the possibility of indictment in exchange for admitting that he gave false testimony under oath and agreeing to surrender his law license for five years," the Times reported.
Sen. Slade Gorton, R.-Wash., who voted that Clinton was "not guilty" on the first Article of Impeachment but "guilty" on the second, predicted serious consequences for America if Clinton was not removed.
"The Republic will not be weakened if we convict," he said, according to the Congressional Record.
"But if we acquit, if we say that some perjuries, some obstructions of justice, some clear and conscious violations of a formal oath are free from our sanction, the Republic and its institutions will be weakened," said Gorton.
"One exception or excuse will lead to another, the right of the most powerful of our leaders to act outside the law — or in violation of the law — will be established," he said.
"Our republican institutions will be seriously undermined," he said. "They have been undermined already, and the damage accrues to all equally — Republicans, Democrats, liberals and conservatives.
Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor in chief of CNSnews.com.