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The Oliver Twist

If perjury is such an unforgivable sin, then how come so many Republicans treated Oliver North like a hero -- and tried to get him elected to the Senate -- after he lied to Congress?


And now the senate, where reason wears the crown, and more sensible heads prevail. Right?

It was looking that way last week, as Majority Leader Trent Lott appeared to kibosh House Republicans' wet dreams about having a repulsed populace watch Miss M describe the presidential ministrations in detail. Senators take themselves very seriously and regard the House as a sort of Bad News Bears operation, which it increasingly is. If anything could prod a howling zealot like Lott toward statesmanship, it's a presumption on the part of mere House members, announced with gusto to the Times and the Washington Post, that they can tell the majestic Senate what to do.

His announced timetable for the impeachment trial, from January 11 to 22, is hardly written in stone, though. The Senate, after all, is not exactly short on people who'd fit in nicely on the House Judiciary Committee. Through last week, not much had yet been heard from them, butyou can be sure that more than a few senators want every ugly truth, or every one that suits their purposes, revealed: Phil Gramm of Texas, John Ashcroft of Missouri, Connie Mack of Florida, Jesse Helms, that sort. Lott seems to believe that forcing Democrats to vote "not guilty" can somehow be used to political advantage in 2000, when fourteen Democratic senators face re-election. It's a nice theory, except that several Republicans are also up for re-election, many of whom -- Maine's Olympia Snowe, Delaware's William Roth, Vermont's Jim Jeffords -- are likely to vote the same way.

Lott and company, though, are almost sure to pronounce Clinton guilty when the time comes. The world's greatest deliberative body cannot excuse perjurers. Except, that is, when they worship them.

Turns out that these great men have considered perjury at least once before in their careers -- and excused it. In 1994, Oliver North, admitted and proud perjurer, ran for the Senate from Virginia. North testified before the select Iran-contra committee in 1987, and under immunity, he admitted that he had lied to Congress in the past about the arms-for-hostages scheme and about his surreptitious aid for the Nicaraguan contras. He broke the law and lied about it, he said, because he was serving a higher purpose than the law (run that one by Henry Hyde), a purpose the liberals and the man-hating feminists and the predatory homosexual lobby couldn't understand. He was convicted; the conviction was overturned because a judge ruled that it had been based in part on testimony he'd given Congress while under his immunity grant, but it didn't erase his admission of having lied under oath to members of the House and Senate. Then, in January 1994, tabula technically rasa'd, he announced his challenge to Virginia's Democratic senator, Chuck Robb, who had some colorful problems of his own at the time.

You might recall that North's candidacy embarrassed some Republicans, notably Virginia's sitting GOP senator, John Warner, who actively campaigned against him. And what did Trent Lott have to say about the possibility of the man who lied to senators becoming one of their number? This: "I'm going to support Ollie any way he will allow me to, and I cannot wait till I see the expression on the faces in Washington when North walks down the aisle and is sworn in next January."

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