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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}


Mueller Report: What Was Good For Clinton Is Good For Trump

This column first appeared on

When the Office of Special Counsel completes its assigned tasks and sends its findings to Attorney General William Barr, Americans will expect to learn what is in that document. Despite recurrent warnings that Barr can legally withhold some or even all of the “Mueller Report,” those expectations of transparency must be fulfilled.

The matters investigated by former FBI director Robert Mueller are so fundamental to the national interest that there is no alternative to full disclosure. It is a need that outweighs Justice Department policy designed to safeguard the reputation of individuals who are investigated but not charged with any crime.

Republicans seeking to protect Donald Trump from Mueller’s most damaging findings may cite that traditional policy to argue that Barr should refuse to release the final report that the Office of Special Counsel must send to him. But it is worth remembering how little attention was paid to such concerns when the partisan roles were reversed.

Almost exactly 17 years ago, on March 21, 2002, the Office of Independent Counsel released a five-volume, two-thousand-page-plus report under the anodyne title In re: Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan Association, the name of the tiny thrift institution that had financed Bill and Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated rural real estate investment — more popularly known as “Whitewater.” Given the failure to find any actual evidence that the Clintons had done anything wrong in that financial fiasco — except to trust their deranged partner Jim McDougal and lose about $40,000 — the final Whitewater report had to acknowledge their legal innocence.

But Robert Ray, the Republican prosecutor who had taken over preparation of the report from Kenneth W. Starr, deliberately sought to cast suspicion on the Clintons despite the fact that neither of them was ever charged in that investigation. (Ray may have believed that denigrating then-Senator Clinton would enhance his popularity among his fellow Republicans in New Jersey, where he was simultaneously seeking a U.S. Senate nomination, an ambition he abandoned within a few weeks.)

Throughout the final report’s tidal wave of turgid prose — at $73 million, or more than $33,000 per page, certainly among the costliest publications in human history — Ray tried to concede failure without exonerating the investigation’s main targets. To read the report was to see how stubbornly he and his fellow OIC prosecutors had evaded any obligation to simply admit that those targets were in fact innocent. Instead, the report repeatedly complained of “insufficient available evidence to establish [guilt] beyond a reasonable doubt” — and reviewed at great length all the evidence that supposedly indicated wrongdoing.

By March 2002, most Americans had long since forgotten what exactly Kenneth Starr, his persistent associates, and the Republicans who sponsored his inquest had ever hoped to prove. The Whitewater allegations were always vague and constantly shifting, as every headlined accusation quietly evaporated. The few clear and pertinent questions about the development deal and its financing were answered with finality by December 1995, a little more than a year after Starr took over the probe.

As the Whitewater final report showed, Starr’s prosecutors had spent years trying to prove that Hillary had once lied or concealed something — and to them the actual substance of the supposed lie didn’t really matter. They tried to prove that she had testified falsely about minor matters at her law firm, or whether McDougal had paid his legal bills on time. Taking up hundreds of pages of small print, Ray’s account of that phase of the investigation seemed numbingly pointless.

The notion that anyone might face criminal charges over such minutiae would have been hilarious, if it weren’t so sinister. Somehow the authoritarian style of prosecution didn’t seem to bother official Washington or the national press corps, which had swooned over every leak from Starr’s office.

In every respect, the matters currently under investigation by the Office of Special Counsel differ from the Whitewater fantasy. That “scandal” was inconsequential and essentially non-existent — while this scandal could hardly be more serious and pressing. The law is different now too, because the Independent Counsel Act was allowed to expire in 1999 after Starr’s embarrassing performance. Unlike the independent counsels of yore, mostly Republicans who ran rampant during Clinton’s administration, the special counsel is under direct Justice Department supervision and is expected to observe the department’s rules.

But if Attorney General Barr — or any other Republican official — argues that the president’s privacy must prevail over public interest in the Mueller final report, remember this. Their zealous prosecutors seized that last opportunity to tarnish Hillary Clinton in the Whitewater final report, although no charge could be sustained against her. And nobody in official Washington spoke a word of protest.

Yes, The President Must Testify — Just Like Bill Clinton Did

Donald Trump tells reporters that he is eager to chat with Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating his campaign’s suspected collusion with the Kremlin and his attempts to obstruct that investigation, but his sincerity is in doubt. When he proclaims his willingness to let Mueller question him, “under oath,” it sounds like typical Trump bluster.

Still, as one of the most successful liars in modern history — with a talent for prevarication that has seen him through many civil lawsuits and a presidential campaign  the former casino mogul may believe he can slither past Mueller verbally. His lawyers feel no such confidence, however; they reliably show up to cancel his reckless offers to testify, as they did recently under some feeble pretext.

Should Mueller insist that Trump must testify, he is certain to complain that the special counsel is treating him unfairly. He will cry “witch-hunt.” He will whine that no president has ever been subjected to such diabolical persecution. He will claim again that Hillary Clinton escaped from the FBI investigation of her emails without giving testimony under oath. None of which is true.

While there is no way to avoid a barrage of self-serving jive from Trump, let’s be clear about certain basic facts: Not only did the FBI interrogate Hillary Clinton about her damned emails, but she and her husband testified before investigative authorities on several occasions during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

On July 2, 2016, Hillary Clinton appeared at FBI headquarters in Washington, where she answered questions for well over three hours from the agents investigating her email practices. Although she would have been vulnerable to a subpoena, that wasn’t necessary because she came in voluntarily. More important, every word of that lengthy interview was subject to 18 U.S. Code 1001, the statute that criminalizes false statements to federal agents. Had Hillary lied, she could have been indicted for any material falsehood.

That was nothing new for her, having testified on at least eight other occasions during her husband’s presidency. Prosecutors with the Office of Independent Counsel interviewed her five times for the Whitewater investigation – first in 1994, then twice in 1995 and twice in 1998. She also testified before the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Resolution Trust Corporation, always under the same punitive federal law. And eager as Kenneth Starr’s minions were to indict her, there was never “sufficient evidence…beyond a reasonable doubt.” They had no case.

As for President Clinton, it’s true that he resisted the lawsuit brought against him by Paula Jones, who claimed that he had sexually harassed her in a Little Rock hotel room, all the way to the United States Supreme Court. His lawyers argued, with ample justification in hindsight, that a civil lawsuit would become a severe distraction for a sitting president. The high court overruled the president, nine to zero.

So Clinton famously testified in the Jones case, which led to his impeachment for lying about Monica Lewinsky. He had given a deposition under oath, and later testified on videotape for Starr’s grand jury.

 Years before those sorry events, Clinton also responded to the independent counsel’s questions about Whitewater, giving three interviews to OIC prosecutors at the White House between 1994 and 1995. He also submitted to three additional interviews by federal agents during the Justice Department’s investigation of illicit fundraising in the 1996 presidential campaign. And he appeared by videotape at the Whitewater trial of James McDougal, the banker who swindled him and Hillary in that ill-fated land deal.

 Such facts don’t matter to Trump, who will snivel and slander and invent alternative facts to portray himself as a victim. Yet no matter how much noise he makes, he will soon confront a fateful choice. If he testifies, his legal risk will be extremely serious. If he refuses — or tries to escape by firing Mueller — his political risk will be equally grave.

 Either way, as one of his confederates might say, Trump’s time in the barrel is coming.

A ‘Reckoning’ For Bill Clinton? Don’t Forget Starr’s $70 Million Probe

Suddenly it has become fashionable again in liberal circles to flay Bill Clinton for his sexual misconduct, whether real, alleged, or imagined. Amid the national frenzy swirling around the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore, prominent journalists and politicians are competing to display their dudgeon over the former president and things he is said to have done long ago.

On the New York Times op-ed page, a forum for Clinton-bashing from the late William Safire to the eternal Maureen Dowd, new columnist Michelle Goldberg writes that the former president ought to be expelled from “decent society” because of Juanita Broaddrick’s allegation that he raped her in 1978, under the headline “I Believe Juanita.” In Politico, former ABC correspondent Jeff Greenfield pillories Democrats who supported Clinton for supposedly “brushing aside the serious questions not of philandering but of predatory sexual behavior” toward Broaddrick, Paula Jones, and Kathleen Willey.

And in The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan — eager to defame feminists and especially Hillary Clinton as somehow culpable for her husband’s alleged predations — demands “a reckoning” of the way that “the Democratic Party protected Bill Clinton.”

All these commentators, and a few more, seem to recollect a moment when Clinton blithely escaped accountability for awful sex offenses because the feckless liberals let him skip. But that isn’t how I remember the record of the Clinton years, because that is precisely the opposite of what happened.

Unlike Weinstein, Moore, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, or any of the dozens of powerful men whose misdeeds have provoked a wave of justified fury, Clinton endured a long, painful, and very costly series of official investigations of his alleged sexual misdeeds. Various accounts of his private behavior, whether invented or truthful, filled thousands of hours of national airtime, millions of inches of newsprint, and dozens of books (including The Hunting of the President by Gene Lyons and me, published in 2000).

Unlike the Fox News criminals and many other creeps who quietly reached settlements that kept the most lurid details of their behavior under court seal, Clinton’s alleged acts were litigated publicly all the way to the Supreme Court — with attendant coverage that included, among other embarrassments, a debate about the appearance of his penis.

And most important, unlike any of those now in the dock, Clinton underwent a $70-million investigation by a zealous federal inquisitor who had all the powers of the Justice Department, a team of relentless and experienced prosecutors, and the forensic services of the FBI, which he employed in a wide-ranging sex probe that went back decades. That special prosecutor’s name was Kenneth W. Starr. He would be dismayed to learn that his dogged efforts to destroy Clinton have so soon been forgotten.

What Clinton’s freshly enraged critics also seem to have forgotten is how the Starr investigation actually unfolded after the independent counsel and his staff abandoned “Whitewater,” a small-time land swindle whose principal victims turned out to be the Clintons themselves. Approached with a tip by lawyers for Paula Jones, the former Arkansas state employee who claimed then Governor Clinton had dropped his trousers and exposed his genitalia to her in a Little Rock hotel room, Starr opened a new case that was designed to ensnare President Clinton in a perjury trap over his illicit consensual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Not only was he not shielded, but his appointee, Attorney General Janet Reno, secretly gave a stamp of approval to Starr’s new prosecutorial direction.

While Clinton certainly prevaricated about Lewinsky, partly in order to avoid telling his wife, his affair was not exactly a predatory attack on an unwilling victim, despite the glaring difference in their age and station. Indeed, she forthrightly portrayed herself as the aggressor and continued to pursue him long after she was transferred from the White House to a job in the Pentagon.

The Lewinsky opening provided Starr with a license to intensify the scrutiny of Clinton’s personal life that his deputies had already begun in Arkansas as an adjunct of Whitewater, which was going nowhere. During the months leading up to Clinton’s impeachment in 1999, the Office of Independent Counsel deployed its full forensic authority to investigate every salacious claim or rumor about him. Included in that expansion of Starr’s probe were the cases of Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick.

Keen as Starr was to compile a thoroughly damning impeachment dossier against Clinton, both of those cases presented factual and legal problems that proved impossible for him to overcome. (Oddly, the New York Times noted this week that the Broaddrick and Willey cases were omitted from Starr’s impeachment referral, but neglected to reveal that he investigated them thoroughly.) Two of Willey’s closest friends directly contradicted her version of how Clinton aggressively “groped” her in the Oval Office despite her protestations. One was Linda Tripp, a fellow White House employee and, inconveniently, a key witness for Starr in the Lewinsky case. The other was Julie Hiatt Steele, whom Starr cruelly and unsuccessfully prosecuted in an effort to force her to change her testimony.

During his investigation, Starr learned that Willey had lied to FBI agents after receiving a grant of transactional immunity from his office. He immunized her again, but by then Willey was bereft of believability. She went on to publicly concoct bizarre fantasies of plots against her life, the assassination of her cat, and so on. Immortalized as a Clinton victim in a gripping CBS “60 Minutes” interview, she was lucky not to be prosecuted for lying to federal agents. In the Final Report of the Office of Independent Counsel, Willey was singled out as a figure lacking in credibility.

Starr also confronted vexing problems with Broaddrick’s charge that Clinton had assaulted her in a hotel room in 1978, biting her lip until it was swollen. Before the independent counsel brought her in, she had sworn an affidavit in the Paula Jones case denying any sexual contact with Clinton, and then repeated that denial in a deposition under oath.

The FBI found five witnesses who insisted that Broaddrick had told them about the rape at the time. Two of those witnesses were sisters and close friends of Broaddrick who hated Clinton for commuting the death sentence of their father’s convicted killer. A third was Broaddrick’s husband David, with whom she had been conducting an illicit affair when the alleged incident occurred. Broaddrick said she told her then-husband Gary Hickey that she had hurt her lip in an accident, but Hickey could recall neither the injury nor her explanation. Republican operatives who had pursued the rape rumors when Clinton first ran for president also cast doubt on her story and her motives. Later she made an accusation against Hillary Clinton that directly contradicted her own prior comments about whether anyone had sought to “intimidate” her.

Whether Clinton assaulted Broaddrick was impossible to know — or to prove — from the available evidence. That was why, in a footnote to his report, Starr described his findings about the woman called “Jane Doe #5” as “inconclusive.”

As for Paula Jones, it was she who had described the famous “distinguishing characteristic” of Clinton’s penis in a sealed affidavit, which Jones attorney George Conway (now better known as the husband of Trump aide Kellyanne Conway) leaked to the Drudge Report. Urologists eventually determined that Clinton had normal male equipment with no marks or misshapenness. But that was only the most notorious of several contradictions marring Jones’ testimony, which led more than one observer to doubt the validity of her harrowing story, including her sister. Finally, Clinton agreed to pay her a settlement of $850,000 without any admission to end the litigation.

In many ways, the payment to Jones was the least of the indignities and injuries that befell Clinton. The independent counsel probe and impeachment proceedings cost him tens of millions of dollars, a five-year suspension of his license to practice law, a searing scar upon his family, a continuous series of public humiliations, and a future obituary that will feature his status as the only president ever impeached over a sex lie.

So he may well think that there has been some public reckoning, at least, with the accusations against him – and that Starr’s exhaustive investigation, completed almost 20 years ago, served as an adjudication of those charges.

Yet those who still feel an urge to flog Clinton, for whatever motive, should pursue that stern impulse with all the seriousness it deserves. A just reckoning requires grappling with all the evidence – the depositions, the testimony, the recordings, the exhibits, the affidavits, the books, and even the journalism, dreadful as much of it was. This case isn’t a current legal proceeding. It’s history—and the facts, not fitting an easy storyline or moral fable, are available to those willing to deal with them.

Having been there and done that, I can assure the would-be judges that this is no small project. What they’ve written and said so far indicates a need to stop posturing and start reading.


Does Hillary Owe Us An Apology? Or Does The Media Owe Her One?

Way back in April, 1994 Hillary Rodham Clinton held a press conference concerning Whitewater, the granddaddy of all phony Clinton scandals. Pressed about whether she and her husband should have known that their Ozarks real estate partnership was doing badly and paid off its loans, she responded flippantly.

“Shoulda, coulda, woulda,” she said. “We didn’t.”

Editorialists pronounced themselves offended. She was even dubbed a “congenital liar,” although the facts eventually showed that the Clintons’ partner Jim McDougal had actively deceived them about their investment. But you never saw a straightforward account in the scandal-mongering press. That would have spoiled the fun.

From Whitewater through Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation and her accursed emails, it became a familiar pattern. Hillary Clinton was arrogant, corrupt, deceptive—essentially a brass-plated bitch. Each time the actual evidence revealed no real crime, her detractors simply moved on to the next damned thing. It was like something out of Lord of the Flies.

“Lock her up,” crowds chanted, although that was never going to happen.

Sorry to say, but among Hillary’s most ardent detractors were certain of the MSNBC All-Stars and New York Times columnists currently rending their garments over the misbegotten presidency of Donald Trump. I’ve yet to notice even one acknowledge his or her role in the ritual stoning.

In 2015, both the Times and Washington Post cut deals with Peter Schweitzer, author of Clinton Cash, a murky expose of imagined corruption at the Clinton Foundation. Schweitzer basically proved that to raise billions for health care in Africa, it’s necessary to pal around with rich people. Not that Bill and Hillary ever minded. Schweitzer’s book was financed by a foundation run by one Stephen K. Bannon—a fellow recently in the news.

To summarize, a recent report from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center documented that  Clinton scandals drew “sixteen times the amount of news coverage given to [Hillary’s] most heavily covered policy position.” Her emails alone drew four times more negative coverage than the old P***y Grabber’s treatment of women.

On the day FBI director James Comey released his ill-advised, ultimately withdrawn letter hinting at previously undiscovered emails, the Timesentire front page above the fold was devoted to the story. Sample headline: “With 11 Days to Go, Trump Says Revelation Changes Everything.”

As, indeed, it did. Absolutely did the bitch in. Anybody who denies Comey’s intervention settled the election can’t have looked at the data.

Fat lot of good it did him.

So anyway, there was Hillary last week giving us the shoulda, coulda, woulda version of her 2016 election loss. Given that any baseball fan can name pitchers who never got over surrendering dramatic home runs, maybe her contrition shouldn’t be surprising.

Nevertheless, I found it so.

  “Every day that I was a candidate for president,” she wrote, “I knew that millions of people were counting on me, and I couldn’t bear the idea of letting them down—but I did. I couldn’t get the job done, and I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life.”

But what really eats at Hillary is her failure to confront the Bully-in-Chief when she had the chance. In a recorded excerpt on “Morning Joe,” she remembers thinking “This is not O.K….It was the second presidential debate, and Donald Trump was looming behind me. Two days before, the world heard him brag about groping women. Now we were on a small stage and no matter where I walked, he followed me closely, staring at me, making faces. It was incredibly uncomfortable. He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled.”

Indeed, replays show the big galoot lurching around the stage like the villain in a teen slasher film. All he lacked was a pair of overalls and a chainsaw. Hillary recalls asking herself what to do:

“Do you stay calm, keep smiling and carry on as if he weren’t repeatedly invading your space?” she said. “Or do you turn, look him in the eye, and say loudly and clearly: ‘Back up, you creep, get away from me! I know you love to intimidate women, but you can’t intimidate me, so back up.’ ”

“I chose option A. I kept my cool, aided by a lifetime of difficult men trying to throw me off. I did, however, grip the microphone extra hard. I wonder, though, whether I should have chosen option B. It certainly would have been better TV. Maybe I have overlearned the lesson of staying calm, biting my tongue, digging my fingernails into a clenched fist, smiling all the while, determined to present a composed face to the world.”

Better TV maybe, but Option B risked disaster. A classic New York blowhard surrounded by bodyguards all his life, Trump revels in name-calling contests. There are no depths to which he won’t sink.

But then I don’t think Hillary Clinton owes me an apology at all.