The Question of Impeachment WE DON’T MEAN TO BE beating a dead horse, but there is still much to be said about the governor and his SMU scandal. The Methodist bishops’ report that was released June 19 is a remarkable document; it gives the fullest accounting so far of how a program of illicit payments to student football players at Southern Methodist University came to pass, and how Bill Clements was at the center of at least three years’ worth of behindthe-scenes efforts to keep the program quiet. The 48-page report is candid, stern, at times hard-hitting, and unquestionably damaging to Governor Clements. The bishops’ narrative makes two things especially clear: it shows how tight was the control of SMU by Clements and a very small group of cronies, and it shows how lax were their ethical standards. The bishops meant for the report to clear the air, and the SMU establishment undoubtedly wants to put this embarrassment behind them as soon as possible. But the scandal is not going away not yet. Attorney General Jim Mattox announced soon after the report was released that he would follow up with his own investigation to see whether the behavior of SMU trustees including Clements violated civil or criminal laws. In addition, a small group of Democrats in the House stands ready with a resolution calling for the machinery of impeachment to be oiled up, just in case. Most House members seem to think it is too early for impeachment proceedings, but if Mattox’s investigation shows that laws were broken not just NCAA rules the governor will be in deeper trouble. Leaving aside those legal questions for a moment, there is no shortage of charges that can be made right now about the governor’s ethics. Perhaps the most appalling lesson of the SMU affair is that Clements had no apparent hesitation about lying through his teeth to the press and the public. Clements’s behavior, from the time he rejoined the SMU Board of Governors in 1983 until he was forced by the press to disclose his role in the SMU recruiting scandals this past March, is reminiscent of nothing so much as the behavior of the besieged President Richard Nixon at the height of the Watergate scandal. There are the furtive meetings between a small group of insiders intent on stonewalling . . . the conviction that some actions are “above the law” . . . and most of all, the chronicle of lies. The bishops’ report dramatizes just how outrageous Clements’s public statements could become. After several pages about months of meetings and discussions among Clements, SMU President L. Don Shields, Athletic Director Bob Hitch, football coach Bobby Collins, and SMU lawyer John McElhaney, , Clements sat at a table with those four people and told the NCAA in August of 1985, “I acknowledge our university’s mistake. . . . None of us at this table had anything to do with this.” In fact, Clements had had a discussion with SMU president Shields in November of 1983 in which he told Shields that he and the chairman of the board of trustees, Dallas businessman Edwin L. Cox, had already known that payments were being made to athletes. When Shields objected, Clements told Shields to “calm down and not be so self-righteous,” in the words of the bishops’ report, and to “go run the university.” Shortly after Clements told the NCAA that “none of us . . . had anything to do with this,” he met with athletic director Bob Hitch and asked if there was a way to continue payments to players who were already on “the payroll.” Hitch said there was. Clements said, “Then do it.” And yet when Clements was asked by a reporter in February of this year, after the NCAA had suspended the SMU football program, if he had anything to do with the payment schemes, he responded “Hell no. Absolutely not.” A week later, having realized that newspapers were about to break the story, Clements admitted his role at an Austin press conference. He spoke of a “moral obligation” to continue paying the players who had already been promised money. Just as interesting is the role of Clements cronies such as Edwin Cox \(a Dallas oil man who also served on the board \(the former mayor of Dallas who was a member of the SMU it clear that Cox and Clements pretty much ran the university and had numerous discussions about the payment schemes since 1983. Yet when Clements disclosed his role and said at least half of the board knew what was going on, reporters asked Cox if he was in on it. “I’ll say emphatically it’s not true,” Cox said. Folsom’s comment to reporters was, “I was totally not knowledgeable about the continuation of payments.” The bishops’ report suggests otherwise. Cox knew about payments to SMU football players at least as early as 1981. Folsom was present at a meeting with Clements in March of 1985 in which a key booster told them they had “a payroll to meet.” The report states unequivocally that Cox, Clements, Folsom and a few other top SMU people were all aware of the payments prior to August of 1985. The SMU affair gives an unusual glimpse into that dangerous impulse among people in power who operate by the watchwords, “Don’t let the public find out.” These events were taking place while Bill Clements was the chairman of the board of governors, as well as a candidate for governor. Obviously, much of the explanation for why wrongdoing at SMU had to be kept hushed has to do with Clements’s political ambitions. This is also the question that needs more exploration than the bishops’ committee gave. Their report revealed that SMU higher-ups were afraid to fire the athletic director and the head coach for fear they would tell all. So in December of 1986 by which time Clements was Governor-elect Edwin Cox, and two other members of the board of governors negotiated termination agreements that allowed the director the length of their contracts. This decision to allot more than $863,000 in SMU funds is now of concern to the attorney general, who is charged with overseeing public trusts. Was this money given with the condition that Clements’s role would be kept secret? Was using money in this manner a violation of the trustees’ responsibility? And , did Clements have any part in the decision? The governor denies that he was involved in the $863,000 decision, or that he participated in a “cover-up.” But, of course, his denials come cheap. There are some in the legislature who think that if this denial by the governor turns out to be false, there will be grounds for impeachment. Senator Hugh Parmer, D-Fort Worth, for one, says, “I would be most concerned if I found out that the governor actually participated in the paying of that hush money. It sure seems to me that would be a misappropriation of trusteeship funds and that’s a criminal violation.” 4 r , JULY .17, 1987
You May Also Like
The Texas Rangers are tasked with investigating corruption and crimes by public officials. Those officials are rarely held accountable.