Jewish World Review May 10, 2000 / 5 Iyar, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- JANE AUSTEN'S "Emma," a novel about 19th-century romantic liaisons, has been called the greatest mystery ever written. Not, of course, because it is a mystery. It is because the reader is surprised, along with the heroine herself, when the truth eventually comes out, though all the clues were always there. Famed reporters Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf's captivating book "Truth at Any Cost" is a great mystery in similar vein.
Even if you think you are familiar with the basic plot of Ken Starr's investigation of the president, you find yourself unable to turn out the light and go to sleep until you find out whether Starr's office will recover from Steve Brill's false -- but nearly fatal -- cover story that accused Starr's office of leaking.
You find yourself wondering how the Office of the Independent Counsel is finally going to resolve the little problem of Monica Lewinsky's attorney being a nutcase. (As Schmidt and Weisskopf relay: White House lawyers said "they first saw (Lewinsky attorney William Ginsberg) as a savant, then as an idiot savant, and finally just as an idiot.")
In vivid detail, Schmidt and Weisskopf describe the relentless and almost entirely false charges leveled by the White House and its flacks against the individual prosecutors in Starr's office and their utter helplessness as their reputations were smeared. If you think it was enraging hearing the Clinton flacks lie about the law, imagine having to listen to them lie about you.
One of the most vicious smear campaigns was directed at prosecutor Bruce Udolf. The White House sent out reports that Udolf had been fined in connection with a prosecution when he was a district attorney in Georgia and mentioned in a domestic violence report some 15 years earlier. Soon he was being ridiculed by name in "Doonesbury" cartoons. Though he told colleagues the report had been doctored, the veracity of the attacks soon became irrelevant. Unfounded or not, the smears had succeeded.
Udolf soon left the investigation, a broken man: "Gone was the self-confident prosecutor who took criticism in stride. 'This is the business we have chosen,' he used to say, picking up a line from 'The Godfather II.' On top of everything else, he was sick with a serious liver ailment, and colleagues thought the powerful drugs he was taking to combat it made him depressed and paranoid." Only by resigning could he get the White House to "call off the dogs."
Starr's prosecutors may not have been able to respond to the slanderous attacks emanating from -- as this book makes clear -- the White House, but they did have a voice in the courts. And there they won legal victory after legal victory. By the summer, Starr's "appellate record in the Lewinsky matter was 6-0, but that was not known to the public: Many of his court victories were still under seal and would remain so for months."
Brill claimed that Starr had told him the OIC's practice was to tell reporters what witnesses said outside the grand jury room. Starr, however, denies having discussed the office's actual practice at all with Brill, saying he was merely giving Brill his interpretation of the law on grand jury secrecy. (And Starr's record on truth-telling is markedly better than Brill's.)
Moreover, even if Brill were correct in his description of the OIC's practice -- that they protected the secrecy only of what witnesses told the grand jury itself -- there was still the question of whether that practice would be a violation of the law under Rule 6(e) on grand jury secrecy.
As Brill charmingly set forth his interpretation of the law on CNN: "(I)t is a little embarrassing to have to tell a distinguished attorney general such as Mr. (Richard) Thornburgh this, but the court of appeals decision on May 5 in Washington is clear as a bell that there no legal argument that 6(e) does not include what might happen in front of a grand jury, what witnesses might say. I mean this really is not a terribly debatable legal proposition."
Months later, and thanks to Brill's article, that same court of appeals in Washington was called to rule on this law. Referring to Brill's argument (made in court by Clinton's paid lawyer, David Kendall) the judges "suggested Kendall was reading too much into it." One judge on the panel derided Brill's "(un)debatable" interpretation of their ruling as "staggeringly broad."
As in "Emma," eventually the truth comes out. And in both mysteries, the protagonists get their
JWR contributor Ann Coulter is the author of High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton.
05/08/00: Barbie is a liberal Democrat