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Monday, December 11, 2017

Evidently Donald Trump believes that his campaign can accomplish with an Internet video what Kenneth Starr failed to do with $50 million and a platoon of private detectives and FBI agents: Bring down Bill and Hillary Clinton by dredging through moldy muck. Somehow he doesn’t seem to understand his own vulnerability on scandalous matters that are real rather than invented.

The problem Ken Starr confronted during six years as independent counsel was neither a shortage of resources nor a lack of support from the political media, most of which seemed as eager to ruin Clinton as the right-wing Republican prosecutor. No, the trouble with Whitewater, Travelgate, and Filegate — so dubbed by scandal-addled reporters — was that substantive, plausible evidence of wrongdoing simply didn’t exist. The Lewinsky affair was all too real, but most Americans didn’t believe that sex, or even lying about sex under oath, merited a costly, hypocritical, and rabid investigation, let alone a presidential impeachment.

Aside from Lewinsky, the “Clinton scandals” each ended the same way: Despite all the blaring headlines, ranting editorials, grand jury dramatics, and talk-radio thunder, Starr never prosecuted the President and First Lady because he couldn’t sustain an indictment. The Clintons fully deserved the presumption of innocence that the press, the prosecutors, and the Republicans in Congress refused to afford them.

The hollowness of all those old pseudo-scandals is why the Clintons are still standing — even as ace sex detective Starr is ousted from the presidency of Baylor University in disgrace for covering up sexual assault by members of the school’s football team.

Yet Trump, under the tutelage of Nixon-era dirty trickster Roger Stone, apparently believes that he can resuscitate even the most discredited old tales to smear the Clintons – and especially Hillary, the Democrat he is likely to face in November.

It is typically insolent for Trump – the most dubious character ever to win a presidential nomination in this country – to bring up the failed Whitewater real estate venture. The Clintons lost money on that deal, ripped off by a huckster named James McDougal whose grandiose style of double-dealing was just a small-time, Southern-fried version of a Trump scam. Will the casino mogul still be talking about Whitewater and the death of Vince Foster when he goes to court to defend the con game known as “Trump University”?

Actually, both Trump and Stone know that Whitewater is too arcane. So this sordid pair quickly turned to Starr’s sex files, with a misogynist twist: The sexual accusations against Bill Clinton should be blamed on Hillary. They’re confident that if they shriek “rapist” and “enabler” loudly enough, nobody will realize that their attack has no factual basis.

Only Juanita Broaddrick and Bill Clinton know what, if anything, ever happened between them, and their accounts are directly contradictory – except that Broaddrick has offered at least two versions, under oath, that contradict each other. It is important to recall that Starr immunized Broaddrick and thoroughly investigated her revived rape accusation against Clinton during his impeachment probe in 1998. He found the evidence that she provided “inconclusive,” and didn’t include her case in his impeachment brief. (There are other reasons to wonder whether Broaddrick told the truth that are explored in The Hunting of the President by Gene Lyons and me. Our free e-book,The Hunting Of Hillary, is available here.)

Naturally, Trump is promoting Broaddrick’s additional claim that Hillary Clinton, only weeks after the alleged rape by her husband, sought to intimidate the Arkansas nursing home owner into remaining silent. But as with all of the sensational charges lodged by Broaddrick over the years, it isn’t easy to know what to believe about her charge against Hillary – because, again, she has also said, and may even have sworn, precisely the opposite.

Nearly a year after she testified before the independent counsel, Broaddrick was interviewed on NBC News Dateline by correspondent Lisa Myers. After tearfully describing her alleged encounter with a violent Clinton, she tried to explain why she had denied being raped for almost 20 years and – in a moment that Trump has made relevant again – stated firmly that nobody had ever tried to intimidate her.

From the Dateline transcript of February 24, 1999:

Lisa Myers: Did Bill Clinton or anyone near him ever threaten you, try to intimidate you, do anything to keep you silent?

Juanita Broaddrick: No.

Myers: This has been strictly your choice.

Broaddrick: Yes.

Did Broaddrick ever tell Starr or his investigators about Hillary’s alleged intimidation of her? Having received a grant of immunity against prosecution for perjury, did she tell them that Hillary – also a target of Starr’s broad-ranging investigation – had feloniously tried to “silence” her? Or did she tell the Office of Independent Counsel — as she later told Myers on NBC — that nobody had ever done so?

The next reporter to interview her might want to ask those questions.

Meanwhile, perhaps the moment has come when Donald Trump, blustering rape accuser, should respond to the rape accusations lodged against him by his estranged first wife Ivana – in a sworn deposition — during their bitter 1990 divorce, which a New York court eventually granted her on grounds of “cruel and inhuman treatment” by Trump. Journalist Harry Hurt III first recounted the ugly details of Trump’s allegedly very violent assault on Ivana –which involved ripping out her patches of her hair as well as sexually violating her – in his book The Last Tycoon.

Although Ivana sought to withdraw her accusation after the Daily Beast reported it last year, Hurt told me there is much more to be learned from the Trump divorce papers, which are under seal. So here is a suggestion for Trump, who still refuses to release his tax returns as American presidential candidates have done routinely for decades.

If he wants to accuse other people of rape and intimidation, Trump should unseal his divorce papers and let voters assess his standing to make those charges. The evidence gathered about Bill Clinton by the independent counsel’s sex probe is public record. If Trump has nothing to hide, he should let the public view the evidence of what he did to his first wife – and then they can judge him accordingly. If he doesn’t have the guts to disclose those scathing documents, then maybe he should shut up about the Clintons’ marriage, which endures.

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