What Sort of Plea Did Clinton Cop?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Jan. 19 2001 7:09 PM

What Sort of Plea Did Clinton Cop?

President Clinton and Independent Counsel Robert Ray agreed Friday to settle the seven-year Whitewater probe. The president admitted that he gave misleading testimony in the 1998 Paula Jones case about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, accepted a five-year suspension of his Arkansas law license, and promised to cover $25,000 in legal fees related to disbarment proceedings against him in Arkansas. In exchange, Ray agreed not to indict Clinton on perjury charges. What kind of agreement is this?


It's not your everyday legal agreement. It's not a declination, in which a prosecutor drops a criminal investigation because the case isn't solid enough to indict. Nor is it a plea bargain, in which a prosecutor accepts a guilty plea from the indicted in exchange for a lenient sentence (because, of course Clinton was never indicted). Nor is it a referral of a criminal case to civil authorities for resolution (such as when a criminal antitrust case is referred to civil prosecutors). The most unusual aspect of the deal is that Clinton reached a civil resolution with a criminal prosecutor.

The Clinton-Ray agreement occupies a legal space somewhere between a declination and a plea bargain. Ray declined to indict Clinton for criminal perjury (as in a declination), but he also struck a deal that requires Clinton to admit his evasions in the Jones proceedings and to pay a price (as in a plea bargain).

The deal brings in a third party, the Arkansas Supreme Court's Committee on Professional Conduct, which was considering disbarment of Clinton--a civil action--over his alleged perjury. How exactly the deal was brokered is not clear. But here's what it offers the three parties: Ray goes home knowing that Clinton received some punishment for his behavior. The Supreme Court's committee gets the same satisfaction. And Clinton frees himself from the clutches of a criminal prosecutor and from a civil proceeding in which he could have been disbarred.

Explainer thanksPaul Butler, professor of criminal law at George Washington University Law School, and Jamin Raskin, professor of constitutional law at American University.



The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers


Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.


The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 22 2014 2:05 PM Paul Farmer Says Up to Ninety Percent of Those Infected Should Survive Ebola. Is He Right?
Business Insider
Oct. 22 2014 2:27 PM Facebook Made $595 Million in the U.K. Last Year. It Paid $0 in Taxes
Dear Prudence
Oct. 23 2014 6:00 AM Monster Kids from poorer neighborhoods keep coming to trick-or-treat in mine. Do I have to give them candy?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 10:00 AM On the Internet, Men Are Called Names. Women Are Stalked and Sexually Harassed.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 10:39 PM Avengers: Age of Ultron Looks Like a Fun, Sprawling, and Extremely Satisfying Sequel
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 2:59 PM Netizen Report: Twitter Users Under Fire in Mexico, Venezuela, Turkey
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.