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Jewish World Review /Feb. 10, 1999 /24 Shevat 5759


Mugger The Impeachment Trial Splatters: Lindsey Graham Emerges a Hero

IT’S LUCKY FOR ME that Alex Cockburn is so lackadaisical in financial transactions, otherwise I’d be sending a check out to his homestead in California for $1000. But as things stand, when we made our wager as to whether or not President Bill Clinton would leave office prematurely, Cockburn neglected to insert a time clause in the gentleman’s contract; therefore, I still have until Jan. 20, 2001, to pay off, a dog’s-age in Clinton-time.

I’ve wandered off the impeachment plantation: Let the vote proceed, yea or nay, and we’ll be done with it. No meaningless censure; no politically calculated "findings of fact" (which is dead anyway); just a simple roll call of the mostly disgraced 100 senators. A censure, which GOP Majority Leader Trent Lott—who’d resign right now if he were a mentsh—would water down with his Democratic counterpart Tom Daschle, would provoke laughter in the White House.

Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, appearing on Sunday’s Meet the Press, correctly dismissed censure as a "covering-your-fanny approach." "Findings of fact," a harsher stain attached to the President’s resume, and a measure that The Wall Street Journal puzzlingly endorsed, could not possibly blight the public Democratic celebration that’s sure to come later this week. In private, according to the Daily News’ Thomas M. DeFrank, Clinton has told friends, "This was much ado about nothing. I beat the odds."

The Journal made its case last Thursday: "Conservative critics who worry about setting a bad precedent should face reality. The President obstructed justice and will stay in office. This is a precedent for which we can thank Senators Lieberman, Moynihan and Byrd, whom we had thought adult enough to know better... The White House propaganda mills are already ginning up for an offensive; they will try to discredit critics and impugn the Lewinsky investigation. Any first step in containing that offensive would be to get some Democrats on record as acknowledging that the President is guilty of the offenses or, alternatively, making it clear that they are willing to ignore plain evidence."

I don’t agree. Of course the War Room (if Clinton were really bold he’d appoint a War Room secretary to his cabinet) is planning strategy right now, but that’s nothing new. And of course Hillary Clinton is directing the effort, tabling for now Hollywood fundraisers for a Senate race. But come the 2000 elections, when the public has blotted out the Monica Mess (which should take about two weeks), I’d rather have Democratic candidates defend themselves for allowing a criminal to remain in the White House.

The odds are strong that Clinton won’t be nearly as popular as he is today, and when the elections are held, after a string of more Clinton scandals has been exposed, it will be hard for any Democratic candidates to back their putative leader. With a censure or "findings of fact," they could hide behind the scolding, and say solemnly that they voted to chastise the man. A clear up-or-down vote gives Republicans the moral high ground against any opponent, especially liberals who’ll be hard-pressed to enlist Clinton as an ally, considering the grab bag of legislative proposals he put on the table in his farcical State of the Union address.

By Feb. 8, the Journal had given up on "findings of fact," expressing its opposition to censure in an editorial: "The President is charged with taking care that the laws be faithfully executed. He is the caretaker of our system of laws. This President, his lawyers and his apologists have left a whole nation confused, and divided, over which of our laws means what. The Senate’s Republicans should abstain from being a party to that."

It’s been said, time and again by biased, Boomer pundits, that no heroes have emerged from this scandal. Where are the Peter Rodinos, the Sam Ervins, the Barbara Jordans of Watergate, shriek the likes of Lars-Erik Nelson and Thomas Oliphant. Right under your noses, jerks. Consider Rep. Lindsey Graham’s plea to the Senate last Thursday for just one live witness. Graham, because he’s a Southerner—and these days Beltway journalists put the face of Bob Barr on any legislator from the South—hasn’t earned the respect he deserves, but his intelligence and courage are found in the following words: "Mr. Blumenthal, to his credit, said the President of the United States lied to him. The President of the United States did lie to him. The President of the United States, in his grand jury testimony, denied ever lying to an aide. That will be historically significant. It should be legally significant. Mr. Blumenthal, to his credit, said that the President of the United States tried to paint himself as a victim of Ms. Lewinsky. That will be legally and historically relevant, and it will mean a lot in our arguments, and it will be something you should consider..."

It must’ve eaten at Graham to be so polite to the despicable Blumenthal in those remarks—the two had a widely reported exchange of words last December—but that’s the game you have to play when the cards are stacked against you. Graham, like most of the Senate, knows that Clinton is guilty of obstruction of justice; it’s just that he has the courage to say so in public.

That makes him a hero.

Not in the eyes of Times columnist Maureen Dowd, of course. In an absurd piece on Feb. 7, Dowd declares, "Our little girl has grown up... The saucy and wily Monica was up to the crucial task of putting the clueless House managers in their place. Clearly she had absorbed some lessons from her old boyfriend, the operator... And, like Mr. Clinton, she shined in comparison to the other side."

I once thought Maureen Dowd was an intelligent woman: Watching her denigrate men like Graham and Asa Hutchinson in favor of an airhead like Lewinsky and the felon who sits in the White House, who rambles about being an "apostle of hope," just makes me sick.

Already nostalgic for the nonsense spewed forth by Dowd’s soulmate Frank Rich? Here’s the cure. Last Saturday, in one of his last regular columns for the Times, Rich claims that conservatives in the 90s have replaced the radicals of the 60s. He writes: "If you’re looking for pure hatred of government and the ‘elites’ that run it—the anger aimed at Robert McNamara and the rest of the Ivy-League-educated Vietnam policy architects of the 60s—look only as far as the anti-establishment barking of Tom DeLay, Bob Barr and other warriors of the Contract With America Congress that shut down the Government during Newt Gingrich’s short-lived ‘revolution.’"

Funny, when that shutdown occurred—which was only inconvenient if you needed a passport—I’ll bet $100 Rich had never even heard of Bob Barr. Gingrich’s "revolution," which promised lower taxes, fewer federal handouts and less government intrusion, was a smart and necessary movement. It failed, at least temporarily, because Gingrich was outfoxed politically by Bill Clinton.

McCarthyism at the Times

THERE’S CLEAR EVIDENCE that some chemical gas has invaded the editorial offices of The New York Times, for their opinions have devolved from loopy to downright stupid. Perhaps their efforts last week were impeded by a weekend-long bender after the joyous demotion of op-ed columnist Frank Rich, but you’d think responsible men and women at the country’s alleged paper of record would’ve learned by now not to drink and write at the same time.

The paper’s Feb. 2 editorial was the strangest I’ve read in many years.

Danny Hellman
Headlined "Ken Starr’s Meddling," the writer excoriates the independent counsel for pondering the possible indictment of Bill Clinton on the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice while he’s still in office. Never mind that the Times itself broke the story on Jan. 31; forget that Starr claimed that he had no idea where the leaks came from. (If you guess the White House, go to the head of the class.) No, the Times says, "Now we have an apparent effort from the office of Kenneth Starr...to spark a debate over criminal prosecution of the President at a time when the Senate deserves a calm decision-making atmosphere and an open field for negotiation." The Times claims that Starr is interfering with the Senate’s business: What does it call its own constant drumbeat for a censure motion against Clinton?

The editorial continues: "The issue of who leaked news of Mr. Starr’s indictment research to The New York Times is a phony one. What is needed here is not an investigation of journalistic sources, but attention to the substance of Mr. Starr’s legal mischief. It seems designed to disrupt these solemn deliberations into Presidential misconduct of a serious if undeniably sordid kind."

First, the editorial page editor makes a fool of himself by saying that the deliberations have been solemn: When half the senators are asleep during the proceedings while the other half pay no attention to the facts and just compete for airtime to blow gas, it’s hardly solemn. In addition, the question of who leaked is not "phony." It seems to me that’s an admission that it wasn’t Starr’s office, but someone on Clinton’s side. Aside from that, why did the Times even publish the story if the editors felt so strongly that it would disrupt the trial? After all, Times icon James Reston caved into President Kennedy on at least one occasion by not printing a story. It’s clear that Starr didn’t want his plans revealed.

The Times says that Starr is "already regarded by his critics as an obsessive personality. Now he seems determined to write himself into the history books as a narcissistic legal crank." Whoa, Mr. Raines, don’t touch the brown acid! Starr has been vilified at every turn for several years now just because he’s doing his job; an office, by the way, that was expanded by President Clinton. He has a fine record of convictions and just recently his indictments of the Hubbells were upheld.

And "narcissistic"? When that word is bandied about there’s only one culprit who comes to mind: Bill Clinton. Was Ken Starr the man who dropped trou in front of Paula Jones; did he allegedly rape a woman 20 years ago in Arkansas, and now have his goons threaten NBC as they prepared to air a story on the victim? Did Starr give hush money to the Hubbells, concoct the "stalker" story about Monica with Sidney Blumenthal, browbeat his personal secretary into hiding gifts from his oral provider or bomb Sudan for political purposes?

Did Starr play golf with Vernon Jordan, talk about sex and discuss a way to get Monica out of Washington and into Ron Perelman’s offices? Has Ken Starr had relations with every woman who caused him to get lost in those big blue eyes of hers? Finally, was it Starr who held a press conference and lied to the entire country about his affair?

As for Christopher Hitchens ratting out Sidney Blumenthal, I say bravo, but it’s too little too late. Alex Cockburn attacks Hitchens in his column this week, but I won’t even touch the tempestuous relationship those two expats have. Blumenthal’s fried: If it’s true he lied before the grand jury he’ll be nailed for perjury.

On Meet the Press last Sunday, Hitchens claimed he wouldn’t testify against the journalist-turned-dirty-trickster, on the grounds that what Clinton’s done is so egregious that it’s not cricket to make Blumenthal a scapegoat. He said: "If Mr. Clinton is acquitted and allowed to walk, and a separate case is brought against Sidney, that would be a scandal and a disgrace, and no, I would not [testify]. I would rather be held in contempt...than support such a scandalous outcome... The point is the President made sure, some way or another, that that story got into print. It was a threat against a potential witness, a very vulgar and crude one, very, very typical of his modus operandi."

I, for one, would be tickled to see Sid do 18 months at a white-collar prison: The only downside is that he’d write a book while incarcerated. Lloyd Grove wrote a fine story in Monday’s Washington Post about the Blumenthal-Hitchens relationship, focusing on the agonizing side-taking that will now transpire in DC journalistic salons. He quotes the airhead Joan Bingham, executive editor and vice president of Grove/Atlantic Press: "I can’t imagine why Hitch would do this, unless he’s trying to promote his book... Because of what Hitch has done, Sidney is facing hundreds of thousands of dollars more in legal expenses... There are people around town who think that Hitch has gone loony."

Tut-tut. I wonder if Bingham is as concerned about the number of White House aides forced to pay legal fees because Clinton lied to them. Doubtful. After all, they probably don’t brunch and gossip together.

One of my e-mail correspondents was of two minds, writing that Hitchens could be seen as a rat or "the St. Jude of the impeachment trial." Ultimately, however, he came down on Hitchens’ side, even though he feels the journalist could be described as a "government snitch, a stool pigeon" who betrayed a source. "Yet at the same time," he wrote, "this was not an ordinary source where ordinary ethical constraints apply.

Blumenthal was a propagandist using his contacts to destroy the reputation of an adverse witness to his boss. Hitchens is committing journalistic hara-kiri by this action, which makes his intentions seem noble."

I think Hitchens will do fine; it’s doubtful that Graydon Carter will tear up his Vanity Fair contract over revealing the motives of a creep like Blumenthal.

JWR contributor "Mugger" is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


02/05/99: A Slight Stumble for Bush
01/29/99: Rich Is Back in the Tank
01/29/99: Not So Fast, Mr. & Mrs. Pundit
01/27/99:This Is Not America: Clinton’s Set to Walk and Party On, Suckers
01/25/99:Sniffles and High Fever: Kids Say the Darndest Things
01/20/99: Whole Lott(a) Waffling Goin' On
01/14/99: Senator Hillary Rodham in 2000: The First Step Back to the Oval Office
01/08/99: Drudge Is the Hero
01/06/99 : MUGGER & the Martians
12/30/98 : Last Licks of ’98: Some Heroes, Several Villains & Many Idiots
12/17/98 : Boy Mugger's obsession
12/11/98: Irving’s the King Wolf
12/09/98: What do Matt Drudge and Tom Hanks have in common?
11/26/98: Starr’s Magnificent Moment
11/18/98: Who could have imagined!?
11/11/98: Send Dowd Down to the Minors
11/05/98: Feeding Gore to a shark named Bush
10/30/98: "Pope" Jann and his rappers speak ---it's time for fun again
10/28/98: Lowered expectations, but the GOP holds the cards
10/23/98: Speaking from Zabar’s: Michael Moore!
10/21/98: Bubba redux? His uptick won't last
10/16/98: Gore for President: The Bread Lines Are Starting to Form

©1998, Russ Smith