February 18, 2012


The Big Creep: An attempt to rehabilitate Bill Clinton is in full bloom. Unsurprisingly, the would-be hagiographers leave a lot out. (ANDREW FERGUSON, 2/27/12, Weekly Standard)

Through a sequence of legal switchbacks, Clinton ended up before a federal judge and grand jury. They were investigating whether anyone was tampering with potential witnesses in the Jones suit. Monica Lewinsky, who in her dawning disillusionment had taken to calling him "The Big Creep," was among them. In his federal deposition, as he had in Jones's civil suit, Clinton lied in multiple instances. Indeed, it was Clinton himself who was behind the witness tampering. He had pressured Monica to sign a false affidavit in the Jones case when he learned she was on a witness list. He enlisted his secretary, Betty Currie, to retrieve gifts that he'd given Monica and which were by then under subpoena. Currie hid them under her bed at home. 

Clinton also encouraged Currie to lie in her own deposition. "I was never alone with Monica, right?" he asked her twice privately, shortly before she was to testify under oath, though she knew as well as he that Lewinsky had been alone with him at least a dozen times. Currie also knew it was a lie when the president said to her, "Monica came on to me and I never touched her, right?" Worried that Lewinsky might flip, as others never had, he leaned on a friend to find her a new, higher-paying job. When it became clear that Lewinsky would, under questioning, testify truthfully, he instructed aides to slander her to reporters, on background. Clinton told one aide, an energetic leaker named Sidney Blumenthal, that she was a "stalker," a mentally unbalanced young woman with a Clinton fixation. And as night follows day, descriptions of Lewinsky as a stalker duly appeared in the papers. 

There was much, much more to Clinton's behavior that was just as reprehensible, and all of it long ago disappeared down the country's memory hole. One more instance: After he publicly denied his affair with Lewinsky, he recruited his cabinet officers, among them Bill Daley and Madeleine Albright, to go before the press and reaffirm their trust in him--trust that he knew to be laughable. That's not an impeachable offense. Taking advantage, as the most powerful man in the world, of a dizzy 22-year-old woman is not an impeachable offense; neither, probably, is using your power as president to libel her after she proved a danger to your political viability. Even the famous incident with the cigar isn't an impeachable offense. On the other hand, witness tampering and lying under oath to a federal grand jury are felonies, whatever the merits of the underlying case that occasioned the tampering and the perjury. Those are impeachable offenses. And so the president was impeached.

It was impossible at the time, and still is, to disentangle the partisan motives of the congressional Republicans who impeached Bill Clinton from whatever genuine sense of duty they felt to insist that his crimes be formally proved, recorded, and censured. Yet the question is beside the point, for the motives, whatever they were, don't violate the soundness of the case made against him. An ethics committee of the Arkansas state supreme court, comprising mostly Democrats, came to the same conclusion that congressional Republicans did, and insisted that Clinton be disbarred. The federal judge to whom he lied under oath fined him $90,000, saying "no reasonable person would seriously dispute" that Clinton had given "false, misleading, and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process." These affirmations of the Republican case do undermine the "consensus" that the impeachment was, as the Esquire editors put it, "so political as to be illegitimate."

The common view of Clinton's impeachment, like the common view of his presidency in general, is exquisitely wrong. The distance of time and the stilling of passions haven't made the case assembled by Starr look more trivial and absurd; if anything the case today looks even more compelling to someone who, at this remove, can go through it with a disinterested eye. And the defense mounted by the president's lawyers and publicists, a tissue of misdirection and question-begging, looks flimsier than ever. 
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Posted by at February 18, 2012 10:54 AM

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