Christopher Hitchens called me "cousin" and proclaimed that "we love each other." Then he turned on me in a last-minute gambit to convict the president. Part 5 of "The Clinton Wars."
On January 26, after being named as a witness by the House Managers in the upcoming Senate trial, I began preparing by reading through every published article from January and February 1998 that I could find in the databases on Monica Lewinsky as a “stalker” and writing a memo for my own and the White House lawyers:
“There is no evidence whatsoever that the White House was directing or involved in any campaign against her. The evidence, however, does prove that the description of her as a ‘stalker,’ ‘a clutch,’ and ‘obsessed’ was commonly used by the media, her former lover, her friends, and her attorney. This was deliberately overlooked by the Republicans, as they sought to cast a false light on the White House. It is clear that they decided they would not present articles that showed others describing Lewinsky in the terms the Republicans insist came from the White House. They could make their accusation only by distorting the stream of media reportage. Yet they still failed to produce any evidence.”
The House Managers were counting on the scary persona of me that they had created. How wicked was I? It was hard to tell. A week earlier, the Reverend Jerry Falwell announced, “Who will the Antichrist be?… Of course he’ll be Jewish… If he’s going to be the counterfeit of Christ, he has to be Jewish. The only thing we know is he must be male and Jewish.”
I fitted their stereotypes. They didn’t know me, but from every reasonable surmise, they could observe that I was Eastern educated, a 1960s graduate, from the liberal media, Jewish, intellectual — and they believed I was guilty of practicing black political arts against them. For all they knew Drudge was right about me — and the Wall Street Journal, too. Why shouldn’t they believe all those newspaper articles?
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In the meantime, the first witness was called. Monica Lewinsky was questioned on February 1 in her Mayflower Hotel suite by one of the House Managers, Congressman Ed Bryant, one of the “revolutionaries” from the Gingrich “class of 1994.” But Lewinsky’s testimony did not go as the impeachment team had hoped. Monica Lewinsky befuddled these conservative, provincial, middleaged Republicans. She had confused Ken Starr and most of the men in Starr’s office, too. They had not believed her when she said there were no crimes, which was why they had rejected her first proffer. An articulate young woman of her worldly sophistication was beyond their comprehension or ability to acknowledge. For them, there were only two types of women, good and bad. If she had done “bad” things, she must be a victim. She couldn’t have willingly, eagerly been a sexual partner or sexual equal. The House Managers presented themselves as her rescuers, her big brothers, saving her from a wolfishness she could not possibly understand. They were unprepared for the actual Monica Lewinsky.
“Do you still have feelings for the president?” asked Bryant.
“I have mixed feelings.”
“What, uh-maybe you could tell us a little bit more about what those mixed feelings are.”
“I think what you need to know is that my grand-jury testimony is truthful irrespective of whatever those mixed feelings are in my testimony today.” Lewinsky wasn’t about to yield any ground. She was self-possessed, matter-of-fact, dismissive, and protective of her complex emotions about Clinton. Bryant rehearsed her previous testimony, gaining nothing. In fact, she was less ambiguous in supporting Clinton’s version of events than she had been in her grand-jury deposition.
“Did the president ever tell you, caution you, that you had to tell the truth in an affidavit?”
“Not that I recall.”
“It would have been against his interest in that lawsuit for you to have told the truth, would it not?”
“I’m not really comfortable — I mean, I can tell you what would have been in my best interest, but I-”
“But you didn’t file the affidavit for your best interest, did you?”
“Uh, actually, I did.”
Bryant was flummoxed by this answer, which he had not expected. For all intents and purposes, she had destroyed his performance. Almost as if dazed, he wandered into the brambles of the Paula Jones case, setting himself up for Lewinsky subtly to chastise him for his questions and to deliver another unanticipated response that made it clear she did not share the Managers’ general view that Clinton was a sexual predator.
“You believe the president’s version of the Paula Jones incident?”
“Is that relevant to-”
“I — I just asked you the question.”
“I don’t believe Paula Jones’s version of the story.”
“Okay, good. That’s a fair answer.”
Bryant then tangled himself in a semantic quarrel that was not simply about words. The dispute was really about Lewinsky’s notion of her relationship with Clinton. She challenged their presumption of its being somehow dirty. And Bryant had no idea how to defend his lascivious, condemnatory point of view.
“Let me shift gears just a minute and ask you about — and I’m going to be delicate about this because I’m conscious of people here in the room and my — my own personal concerns — but I want to refer you to the first so-called salacious occasion, and I’m not going to get into the details. I’m not-”
“Can — can we — can you call it something else?”
“I mean, this is — this is my relationship — ”
“What would you like to call it?”
“It was my first encounter with the president, so I don’t really see it as my first salacious — that’s not what this was.”
“Well, that’s kind of been the word that’s been picked up all around. So — ”
“– let’s say on this first — ”
Gingerly, Bryant tried to get Lewinsky to describe herself as a sexual victim, a passive partner to the Big Bad Wolf. He stammered, “Okay. Did-did-did you come on to the president, and did he never touch you physically?”
“I guess those are two separate questions, right?” she swatted back.
“Yes, they are.”
“Did I come on to him? Maybe on some occasions.”
Bryant now sprang the “stalker” line on her. In the House Managers’ version, there was a perfidious scheme concocted by the president and his henchman (me) to obstruct justice by tarnishing her reputation. Here was their chance to get Lewinsky to confirm their account.
“Regarding stalking, you never stalked the president; is that correct?”
“I don’t believe so.”
“Okay. You and the president had an emotional relationship as well as a physical one; is that right?”
“That’s how I’d characterize it.”
“Okay. He never rebuffed you?”
“I think that gets into some of the intimate details of — no, then, that’s not true. There were occasions when he did.”
With one more question, Bryant was done.
For the House Managers, Lewinsky had been worse than a hostile witness. She had been in control throughout and had undermined their case in every way. She had refuted their premises of Clinton’s criminality almost offhandedly. And she had asserted her sexuality unabashedly and unapologetically. But her self-descriptions floated by them, for they were incapable of seeing her as she was. They continued to project their one-dimensional, dirty-minded fantasy of her.
They had struck out with Lewinsky, as they would with their second witness, Vernon Jordan. When the videotape of Monica Lewinsky’s testimony was played to the Senate on February 6, Senator Fred Thompson, Republican of Tennessee, walked out in disgust in the middle of Bryant’s questions, muttering, “I can’t take it anymore.”
I was all they had left.
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On February 3, I awoke in the darkness. I turned on the lights in my kitchen to make coffee and looked out the window to see a horde of paparazzi. My home had become the site of a media encampment. Trucks with satellite dishes filled the street. While the coffee brewed, I took my dog, Wiley, into the backyard, and a dozen paparazzi started jumping the fence. Flashes went off as they snapped pictures. Wiley and I beat a hasty retreat into the house. In a short while, my wife Jackie and I walked to our car as klieg lights shone on us and photographers shot away.
From the White House we and my lawyers took a car to the Capitol. Lanny Breuer and two other White House counsels, Michelle Peterson and Max Stier, followed. The Capitol police escorted me inside to be met by the Senate sergeant-at-arms, who asked me if I wished to walk past the gathered press corps, an offer I declined. I wanted to do everything I could to minimize the significance of my appearance.
I was taken to the top floor in an elevator, guarded by police. The deposition was conducted in a sealed, windowless room usually used for intelligence briefings and called the “tin can.” Two senators, one Democrat and one Republican, had been named as “judges” — Senator John Edwards, Democrat of North Carolina, a former trial lawyer, and Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, a former district attorney. Rep. James Rogan, who was to interrogate me, was joined at the last minute by Rep. Lindsey Graham — a ploy designed, as they later explained to reporters, to ruffle me.
Rogan and Graham came in. Rogan headed straight for me and extended his hand. I shook it. “If there’s anyone here who wants to be here less than you, it’s me,” he said. “Oh,” I replied. “That’s right,” he said, “I’m, we’re, on the wrong side of history.” I made a point of shaking Graham’s hand.
Then we assumed our stations. I sat at the center of a semicircular table, flanked by my lawyers. To the left were the judges, Specter and Edwards. At a table across from me to my left sat Rogan and Graham; next to them sat Lanny Breuer and Michelle Peterson. The others constituted the audience, including Jackie.
I stood, raised my right hand, and was sworn in. Rogan’s questioning was straightforward, professional, and narrow. His goal was to get me to restate my grand-jury testimony, particularly the part of it that dealt with my conversation about Lewinsky with the president on January 21, 1998. Whatever I was saying, I did my best not to reveal my emotions. I kept my hands in front of me on the table, holding a pen, and didn’t gesticulate if I could help it. My responses were flat, direct, and unembellished.
“After you were subpoenaed but before you testified before the federal grand jury, did the president ever say that he did not want you to mislead the grand jury with a false statement?”
“No. We didn’t have any subsequent conversation about this matter.”
“So it would be fair also to say that after you were subpoenaed but before you testified before the federal grand jury, the president never told you that he was not being truthful with you in that January 21st conversation about Monica Lewinsky?”
“He never spoke to me about that at all.”
“The president never instructed you before your testimony before the grand jury not to relay his false account of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky?”
“We didn’t speak about anything.”
Rogan passed the baton to Graham, whose manner and skill could not have been in sharper contrast to his colleague’s. He ran his hand through his lanky hair repeatedly, jiggled his leg under the table, and read from an array of disorganized notes, some of which he pulled from his pockets and unfolded.
He began by asking, “Knowing what you know now, do you believe the president lied to you about his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky?”
He seemed genuinely surprised. “I appreciate your honesty,” he said. But of course, Clinton had lied to the entire nation about Monica Lewinsky at the same time. My admission was unexceptional, I thought, and moreover, the question had no bearing on the articles of perjury or obstruction of justice before the Senate.
Graham worked his way to heart of his theory: that top White House aides, including me, were behind a secret campaign to smear Lewinsky as “an untrustworthy climber obsessed with the president,” in the words of one article produced by Graham. In response to his questions, I denied that I was the source for these Lewinsky-as-stalker stories in the press.
My answers made several clear-cut lines of demarcation: I had not mentioned to anyone except my lawyers, my wife, and the White House counsel that the president had told me anything about Lewinsky. I had an obligation to honor the confidentiality of my working relationship with him. However, although I did talk about the published news stories on Lewinsky with many people — from my family to dozens of journalists — I was not a source for anything in them. The whole impeachment and Senate trial came down to a false hypothesis about the gossip trail on Lewinsky, and this had no bearing whatsoever on the articles of impeachment. The concoction was Graham’s hobby horse, all that was left in the House Managers’ stable.
“You don’t know how all this information came out?” asked Graham. “You have no knowledge of it at all: about her being a stalker, her being obsessed with the president… You had no knowledge of how that all happened in the press?”
“I have an idea how it started in the press.”
“Well, please share that with us,” said Graham expectantly.
“I believe it started on January 21st with the publication of an article in Newsweek by Michael Isikoff that was posted on the World Wide Web and faxed around to everyone in the news media, in Washington, New York, everywhere, and in the White House. And in that article, Michael Isikoff reported the contents of what became known as the ‘Talking Points.’ And there was a mystery at the time about who wrote the Talking Points. We know subsequently that Monica Lewinsky wrote the Talking Points. And in that document, the author of the Talking Points advises Linda Tripp that she might refer to someone who was stalking the ‘P,’ meaning the president, and after that story appeared, I believe there were a flood of stories and discussions about this, starting on ‘Nightline’ that very night and ‘Nightline’ the next night and so on. And that’s my understanding from observing the media of how this started.”
When I finished there was a moment of silence. Senator John Edwards, former trial lawyer, was grinning from ear to ear. Isikoff, in fact, had put his story of Lewinsky as “stalker” in circulation before I met with the president that evening. And undoubtedly he had been handed the Talking Points by the Independent Counsel. Kenneth W. Starr therefore was the ultimate source of the “stalker” story.
Minutes later, the deposition was over. Before I could rise from my seat, Graham leaped up and rushed over to shake my hand. “Listen,” he said, leaning in, “when this is over, when you’re going to introduce a patients’ bill of rights, would you let me be the cosponsor?” I nodded, stunned at his sudden transition from inquisitor to implorer, but said nothing. “Just think about it.” He bounded over to shake hands with Jackie. “I’m sorry,” he told her. “I just don’t know what to say.”
Was it all an elaborate prank? Rogan came over to shake hands, too.
“I found him to be a gentleman, and I hope he felt the same way about us,” Rogan remarked about me in the next day’s New York Times. A handwritten note from him was carried to me at the White House by messenger: “I wish my involvement in the trial was as positive for my image as yours apparently has become! No ambiguity was meant by my description.” Senator Specter wrote in his memoir, “Sidney Blumenthal was not as billed.”
This, I thought, would be the end of it. Then I got a call from my lawyer Bill McDaniel. “There’s an affidavit from a British journalist claiming you committed perjury,” he told me. That seemed incomprehensible. What lunatic twist was this? I couldn’t imagine who or what he was talking about. “Who is this person?” I asked. “It’s signed by someone named Christopher Hitchens and he cites his associate Carol Blue.” “That’s his wife,” I said. “Christopher Hitchens is my friend. That can’t possibly be true.” “Well, it is,” said McDaniel.
McDaniel read me the affidavit Hitchens had filed with the House Managers:
“I am self-employed and contribute articles to Vanity Fair and The Nation. Sidney Blumenthal and I are social friends and journalistic acquaintances.
“On March 17, 1998, Sidney Blumenthal, Carol Blue, and I met for lunch at the Occidental restaurant in Washington, D.C. [Hitchens handwrote the date.]
“If called to testify, I would testify on personal knowledge to the following facts.
“During lunch on March 17, 1998, in the presence of myself and Carol Blue, Mr. Blumenthal stated that, Monica Lewinsky had been a ‘stalker’ and that the president was ‘the victim’ of a predatory and unstable sexually demanding young woman. Referring to Ms. Lewinsky, Mr. Blumenthal used the word ‘stalker’ several times. Mr. Blumenthal advised us that this version of the facts was not generally understood.
“Also during that lunch, Mr. Blumenthal stated that Kathleen Willey’s poll numbers were high but would fall and would not look so good in a few days.
“I have knowledge that Mr. Blumenthal recounted to other people in the journalistic community the same story about Monica Lewinsky that he told to me and Carol Blue.”
I was amazed and bewildered. The document was absurd. By the time Hitchens claimed we had had this lunch, hundreds of articles about Lewinsky as a stalker had been published. I had testified that like everyone else I had talked every day about the Lewinsky stories with my friends. If the point of the affidavit was to prove I had obstructed justice by prodding Hitchens, by then a vehement Clinton-hater, to write a “stalker” story, that was ludicrous. If the point was to charge me with perjury, that, too, was nonsensical, because Hitchens’s affidavit didn’t contradict my sworn testimony.
Even more perplexing, Hitchens’s affidavit was utterly irrelevant to the articles of impeachment and could have no effect on the outcome of the president’s trial. While McDaniel was reading it to me on the phone, reporters broke into the television broadcasts of the trial with the startling news that a surprise affidavit had been filed charging me with perjury. As soon as I hung up, my phone started to ring, of course. Some of the reporters who telephoned said Hitchens had instigated their queries.
The day after the House Managers released Hitchens’ affidavit, they made public a second affidavit, signed by his wife, Carol Blue. Suddenly, the plot became clearer — and more threatening. Blue’s affidavit included “facts in addition to those set forth” by Hitchens. Now it was apparent that the goal was to accuse the president of obstructing justice through me — Graham’s original obsession — and that I was covering it up with perjury. Hitchens’ affidavit hadn’t been sufficient, so the one now submitted by his wife added this charge:
“During that lunch, in the presence of myself and Christopher Hitchens, Mr. Blumenthal stated that the president told him that he [the president] was the ‘victim’ of Monica Lewinsky’s sexual advances and that she was a ‘stalker,’ and was ‘crazy.’ Mr. Blumenthal used the word ‘stalker’ several times to describe Ms. Lewinsky. Mr. Blumenthal conveyed his conviction that the president’s version of the events were [sic] true.”
I chose not to reply to these charges. There were only days to the Senate vote. If I fanned the flames of an absurd side issue, even though it involved my reputation, I might give the House Managers a way to prolong the trial. The multiple untruths would have been impossible to disentangle; the details would be lost in the din. It was better, I decided, to weather the allegations than engage with the person that Hitchens had become. The virulence of his attack would have to be its own answer. When Hitchens’ affidavit was revealed, I couldn’t remember the lunch or that it had ever happened. I searched my calendar and found nothing except that on March 17 — the day Hitchens cited — I had been in Puerto Rico on official business. Then on February 8, a third affidavit was released by the House Managers. This one had been submitted by Scott Armstrong, a former Washington Post reporter and, as it happened, the father of a classmate of my older son. It read:
“On or about March 18, 1998, I was on a panel discussion at the National Press Club with Christopher Hitchens among others concerning national security reporting. Following that panel discussion, I met with Christopher Hitchens and Carol Blue at which time they recounted to me a conversation they had had with Sidney Blumenthal in which Mr. Blumenthal had related to them among other things that Monica Lewinsky was a ‘stalker.’”
While I was watching reports of Armstrong’s affidavit on television in my White House office, he suddenly telephoned me. “I got a call from Carol Blue over the weekend, on Saturday,” he said. “She gave me a long story. Did I remember being with them at the Press Club and that they mentioned a conversation with you. If I were called, would I verify their account? Then I got a call from a staff Republican investigator on the House Judiciary Committee, Susan Bogart. She asked if I recalled the conversation. I checked my time manager. On March 18, after a panel, we had a brief discussion. I got another call from Bogart. Would I sign an affidavit? Before I read it, I got a call from ABC News. I was going to be the second person to say that you said Lewinsky was a stalker. Is this Hitchens or the Judiciary Committee who leaked it?” Armstrong seemed equal parts upset and muddled.
I asked if he had spoken with a lawyer. He hadn’t. I asked if he wanted to speak to my lawyer. He said he had already signed the affidavit and faxed it back. “I’m not completely sure about my memory,” he said.
“Well, Scott, we’ll just see what happens. Thanks for calling.”
A few hours later, Armstrong started telephoning reporters to protest his own affidavit. “This is ludicrous,” Armstrong told the Washington Post. “I don’t want to become part of any political witch hunt.” “They were using me to set up Blumenthal,” he said to Newsday. “I said I didn’t have any information to relate, except for the date. But Susan Bogart insisted.” Before he had signed, his affidavit was leaked. “So I called up Susan Bogart and said: ‘If you’re going to leak stuff about me, at least leak something that’s true.’ ”
With Armstrong’s and Blue’s affidavits, it seemed to me that Hitchens either was panicked or was being prodded by the House Republicans, or likely both. I tried to recall such a lunch. He and I had had many over the years. Then my lawyer received a fax from the manager of the Occidental Grill, who, on his own, had located a receipt signed by Hitchens for lunch on March 19. (The bar bill before I arrived was $18.84.) Now I remembered that lunch. It wasn’t March 17, and it was impossible for Armstrong to have heard Hitchens’ story on March 18. But I refrained from giving my account, not wanting to feed the frenzy.
To understand what had really happened at our lunch, or even why I had broken bread with such a fervent Clinton-hater, it’s necessary to understand the history of our friendship. I first met Christopher Hitchens at a think-tank seminar, but didn’t really get to know him until Jackie and I moved to Washington in 1985. At the very first dinner party we attended, a week after coming from Boston, at the home of Peter Pringle, a British journalist, and his wife, Eleanor Randolph, then my colleague at the Washington Post, we encountered Hitchens. He rose at the table to toast our hosts, reciting several bawdy English limericks, and then launching into a gleeful and scurrilous story about a high Reagan administration official, “Reagan’s whip master,” who he claimed was a secret lesbian. It was impressive how anyone could be so lubricated and articulate.
Early on, Jackie and I gave Hitchens’ son boxes of toys that our boys had outgrown. We invited him to celebrate American holidays like the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving with us. Sometime in the late 1980s, he announced dramatically that we were related. He claimed to have learned from his dying grandmother that he was Jewish and that his family name was really “Blumenthal.” He took to calling me “cousin” as a greeting. I took his self-dramatizations with a grain of salt, but when he decided that he was part of our family, we invited him to our Passover seder. His separation from his eight-months-pregnant wife, Eleni, whom we all adored, did not lead to any break or censure. We were supportive of Eleni, but we remained friends with Christopher, tolerant of his “bad boy” persona. We understood that other people’s marriages were mysterious. We befriended his new girlfriend and soon-to-be wife, Carol Blue. And I made friends with Hitchens’ friends, the novelists Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie.
After I left Vanity Fair to join the New Yorker and Hitchens was hired by Vanity Fair, his perpetual money problems seemed to be alleviated. At last, he had his own Condi Nast expense account. Jackie gave him the idea of holding a Vanity Fair party after the White House Correspondents Dinner, the first of these now annual events being held in his apartment. He was delighted when I helped him compile guest lists, especially of Clinton administration figures he didn’t know.
In the early Democratic campaign in 1992, Hitchens had favored Jerry Brown’s quixotic effort, seeing in him some leftist crusader. He muttered after Clinton’s election about how it was bad for the left; he’d rather have Bush: the worse, the better. None of this eccentricity bothered us. Who would take Christopher Hitchens seriously on American politics? He knew little about America’s history, traditions, or Constitution. I told him fairly frequently when he was holding forth that he should go cover an extended political campaign in the Midwest. That never quieted him; he continued to cite Noam Chomsky on the perfidy of U.S. imperialism.
Though he paid scant attention to actual American politics, he caught the drift of things and applied his sensibility with the intent to shock, bedazzle, and entertain. He did not concern himself with domestic policy issues, not health care, education, or the economy. That would have been too prosaic for him, requiring precise knowledge about institutions with which he couldn’t be bothered. While freed from commitment to practical political outcomes, he could purport to be more committed than any American precisely because of his roots in a European radical tradition. London was a good place to be from.
As a political writer, Christopher was a literary critic. As a literary critic, his specialty was not irony so much as mockery — that very English form of implicit superiority and disdain, difficult for Americans to master. As a political reporter, he was, in a word, unreliable. “Why would you ever be fair?” Hitchens once said about his own method of debating. I never took him seriously as a reporter of fact, and I didn’t know anyone in Washington who did.
By the mid-1990s, I began to wonder if he was morphing into someone I didn’t quite recognize. When our mutual friend Martin Walker of the Guardian, an English paper, was leaving Washington for a new assignment, Hitchens (who had been best man at his wedding) hosted the going-away party, but just as it began he rushed off to appear on television shows on the deaths of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana, two public figures he had already vilified in print, in order to besmirch their legacies. If nothing else, this abandonment was no way to treat his friend Walker. Soon he was spending months on end in California, living at his in-laws’. When he came back to town, he would call ahead to set up a lunch, where he would press me for news on what he’d missed in Washington.
By the time I was working in the White House, Hitchens and I had been having conversations and lunches and dinners and drinks and bar mitzvahs and book parties and holidays together for a dozen years, and he had become vociferous in his invective against President Clinton. This had no effect on our relationship. I paid no attention. Hitchens continued to make a great show of being a devoted friend to his “cousin,” greeting me with an embrace and even a kiss. No matter what the political difference, a friend was a friend. He made professions of friendship at every turn. He might leave a wife, but not a friend. He had friends for life.
When Starr issued his subpoena to me, Hitchens proclaimed about us in the Nation: “Together we have soldiered against the neoconservative ratbags. Our life ` deux has been, and remains, an open book. Do your worst. Nothing will prevent me from gnawing a future bone at his table or, I trust, him from gnawing in return.”
For the entire period from January to mid-March 1998, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal was raging, Hitchens was in California. Upon his return, he called, as usual, and asked me to meet him at the Occidental Grill, a restaurant near the White House. Hitchens and Carol were at the bar when I arrived, and he was drinking a Johnnie Walker Black Label. “Cousin,” he said. His embrace and kiss followed. Carol kissed me, too. We ordered our food — and California cabernet — and they demanded that I tell everything. They could barely contain themselves. They had been cooped up in faraway California. What had really happened? What was it like now in Washington?
I gave what I thought was an entertaining retelling of the story to date: how the scandal had broken, the media frenzy, the old boyfriend of Monica’s holding a news conference right before the State of the Union address, how he had called her a stalker, the whole antic cast of characters — Lucianne Goldberg (who had been sued by Kitty Kelley, did they know that?), Linda Tripp, Ken Starr — and the complete story of my appearance at the grand jury, what it was like inside the room, the ridiculous questioning.
As we ate and drank, they laughed and laughed. Tell us more, what happened then? Each incident seemed more absurd to them than the next. Hitchens roared, Carol giggled. Along the way, they asked if I believed Clinton. Hitchens made some mocking derogatory comments. I said I did; they said they didn’t. When the espressos were served, I handed Christopher a large envelope with copies of articles. The packet was one I was giving to a number of journalists — I still have the original file — and it consisted of articles on what I now told Hitchens about: the Arkansas Project, Richard Mellon Scaife, how Whitewater was bogus — they had heard the Whitewater part from me before. Nothing about Lewinsky. Hitchens wasn’t very interested, but I said he should read the articles. When Christopher paid the bill on his Vanity Fair expense account, I rose to go back to work. They asked if I could stay longer, but I did have to go. Hugs and kisses again. See you soon.
In late May, Christopher and Carol invited Jackie and me to dinner at their Washington apartment, where he regaled his guests with stories of Monica Lewinsky. She had posed for a photo spread for Vanity Fair and he had written the short text to accompany it. He described the unreleased pictures for us. She had posed on the beach with pink fans. The retouching, he said, was extensive. “She’s a rhino! A tank!” He roared and Carol giggled. On and on he went with ridicule of Lewinsky.
By the fall, Hitchens was contending in print that the U.S. attempt to kill Osama bin Laden with a missile attack on his training camp in Afghanistan and the bombing of a suspected al-Qaeda factory in Sudan were “cynical” political ploys to distract from the scandal. To him, these events were a real-life version of the movie “Wag the Dog,” in which a president and a public-relations man fabricate a war to sustain the politician’s popularity. A staff member on the National Security Council, who had worked for both Republican and Democratic administrations, was enraged. He wrote a memo carefully refuting Hitchens’s polemics and circulated it to others at the NSC and to me. Didn’t Hitchens know that the joint chiefs approved of these actions? That the CIA had signed off on them? One question after another demonstrated ignorance and irresponsibility. But, I explained, “It’s just Christopher Hitchens.” “Ignore him,” said another NSC staff member. The author of the memo conceded grudgingly that it was best to let the issue fade. But he worried whether leaving the falsity of the article unchallenged was the right thing to do: Wouldn’t some people take the story at face value?
On October 9, Hitchens invited us to a book party for Gore Vidal and to dinner at a restaurant afterward. Steve Wasserman, editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review, came with us. Hitchens spoke to Vidal with slightly mocking deference as “mantre,” or “master,” while Vidal, over dinner, whipped into a jeremiad against the right wing and Ken Starr. Whenever Hitchens piped up with an effort to trounce Clinton, “mantre” rebuffed him, declaring Starr “a traitor.” He was clearly upset that Vidal had sided against him.
A month later, at my 50th birthday party, Christopher and Carol mingled with the other guests, wandering often out to the porch, enclosed and heated for the occasion, where the bar was stationed and smoking was permitted. After the toasts, Hitchens seemed glum, and he explained to my friend Christina Ritch that he had been promised he could deliver one. Her impression was that he had a toast prepared and was let down because he hadn’t been called on. Jackie remembered later that he had asked her if there would be toasts and that she had said there would be; he must have assumed he would be asked to give one.
Just before Thanksgiving, Jackie and I attended a black-tie dinner at the Swedish Embassy in honor of the American Nobel Prize winners, and Christopher and Carol were at our table. Hitchens started up with a stream of his usual denunciations of Clinton. By now, with impeachment at full throttle, he was calling the president “a rapist and war criminal.” One of our tablemates, a human-rights advocate from Stockholm, Monica Nagler-Wittgenstein (the niece, by the way, of Ludwig Wittgenstein), was shocked. “He is a friend of yours?” she asked me. I explained that though we disagreed we remained friends. “That’s right,” said Hitchens. “We still love each other.”
On February 3, I found a phone message from Carol Blue upon my return home after testifying in the impeachment trial. She was in California, expressed support and “love,” and said that when she and Christopher were back in town we’d all have dinner.
The next day, after work, I went to a book party for a friend, David Fromkin, whose “The Way of the World” had just been published. That morning the New York Times had printed its article with Rogan’s comment about my being “a gentleman,” and people congratulated me for having survived the ordeal unscathed. To my surprise, Hitchens was there, looking the worse for wear, sporting a beard. I approached him, but he was strangely cold. I mentioned that Carol had called. He murmured something inaudible. I observed that his beard had a white stripe in it. “Skunk,” he said. The next day he signed his affidavit.
That very evening Jackie and I had dinner with journalists Andrew and Leslie Cockburn, who were among Christopher’s closest friends. None of us yet knew about his affidavit. But the conversation naturally turned to him, and the Cockburns were worried. Andrew remarked on how Hitchens’s Clinton-hating seemed part of a general rightward drift. They had been with him on election night, when Hitchens had muttered imprecations at the reports of Republicans suffering defeats. “He’s turned into Paul Johnson,” said Andrew, referring to the former left-wing editor of the New Statesman who transmuted into a conservative, a figure whose sex life Hitchens had taken special pleasure in ridiculing in print. “He’s more like Peter Hitchens,” I replied. “That’s it,” said Andrew.
Peter, Christopher’s younger brother, was in many respects his perfect mirror opposite. Or was he? A former student Trotskyist like his brother, he was now a thorough reactionary who believed that the Tories had sold out to modernity and that Tony Blair was destroying Britain root and branch. (His book on Blair was entitled “The Abolition of Britain.”) Like Christopher, he was a columnist who expressed extreme opinions with vehement invective. The next day, February 6, the House Republicans released Christopher’s affidavit.
On February 7, the day after the videotaped testimonies of Lewinsky, Jordan, and me had been broadcast, Hitchens was the first guest on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He was unkempt, grizzled, and bleary-eyed. Tim Russert, the host, played a tape of my testimony. “As far as I saw from your tape,” said Hitchens, “Sidney has not lied to Congress. I mean, what he said was he had no idea how that got into print. That’s notionally possibly true.” Having already filed a legal document, he now claimed he wouldn’t testify. “I won’t testify if it’s just against him.” McDaniel faxed a statement from me to Meet the Press, which Russert read on the air: “I was never a source for any story about Monica Lewinsky’s personal life. I did not reveal what the president told me to any reporter. As I testified to the Senate, I talked every day about the stories appearing in the news about Monica Lewinsky to my friends and family, as everyone else was doing. Though I do not recall the luncheon with my ‘then’ friend of 15 years, the notion that I was trying to plant a story with this rabid anti-Clinton friend is absurd.”
Hitchens replied to this fax with a self-contradicting remark: “Well, the last bit is true. If he thought — I can’t believe he would have ever thought I would pass it on.” So what I had said was now “notionally possibly true” and “true.”
“With us now,” intoned Russert, “House Republican Managers Ed Bryant and Asa Hutchinson. Mr. Hutchinson, let me turn to you first. You’ve just heard Mr. Hitchens; you’ve read his affidavit. What fate awaits Sidney Blumenthal?”
“Well,” said Hutchinson, “I think it’s a very serious matter. The Senate should deal with this, should investigate it, determine whether there was any perjury committed before the United States Senate. It also points up how difficult it is to get to the truth in this case and how much of an obstacle it is for the House Managers to make the case, to get to the bottom of it.”
By now, the controversy was a heated subject at the top of the news. The Washington Post reported, “The House impeachment managers are in full cry over Blumenthal and the Washington media-political complex… is obsessed with the affair.” Both the Post and the New York Times published several articles apiece about it.
The Drudge Report screamed, “Hitchens turns in Blumenthal, says White House aide did smear Lewinsky.” Soon Alexander Cockburn, a Nation colleague of Hitchens, called him “Hitch the Snitch.” Michael Kelly, in a column in the Post, weighed in on Hitchens’ side: “There you had it, a presidential aide caught out, a major Republican claim proved.” In another Washington Post column, Robert Novak wrote, “Beyond legalistic accusations of perjury and obstruction of justice, Blumenthal has unwittingly exposed institutional White House corruption that most closely resembles the conduct of Richard M. Nixon.” The National Review featured an illustration of me with a manacle around my neck, wearing prison stripes, being led away on a chain.
Hitchens now began a series of performances on TV shows and in newspapers and magazines. Immediately after the House Managers released his wife’s affidavit, he was asked on CNN if he could confirm her more detailed and damning version. “Would I swear he said this is what the president wants you to know? No, I would swear he did not say that.”
Hitchens’ accounts — of what had happened between us, of what he had heard and what his wife had heard, of how he had come to the attention of the House Republicans and how they had learned of his story, and of his own motives — changed almost daily and gained gaudier embellishment over time. His stories expanded, contracted, and contradicted each other. The effect was Rashomon-like in its altered perspectives.
At first Hitchens claimed he had been called out of the blue by the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee and had no idea why. “So when… I was asked a question by someone who already knew the answer, I wondered for a while who had preempted me,” he wrote in a column in a London newspaper. And he told the New York Times that he was working in ignorance of my testimony when he was sought out by House Republican investigators.
“In retrospect, Christopher Hitchens said yesterday, the only thing he really regrets about signing an affidavit that could land his longtime friend Sidney Blumenthal in criminal trouble is that he did not break the news himself to Mr. Blumenthal, the presidential adviser… “I kept thinking, ‘Can I phone them? If I get the answering machine, I can’t leave it on an answering machine message. If I faxed them…’ ” At the time of the call from House members, Mr. Hitchens said, he did not know Mr. Blumenthal had just testified to the Senate that he was not the source of negative stories to reporters about Ms. Lewinsky.”
(He did not tell the Times reporter that the night before he filed his affidavit he had strangely told me he was a “skunk.”)
Then he offered another version. In this one, Hitchens was searching for my Starr grand-jury testimony in order to write his own exposi of me. (The testimony was in fact readily available on numerous Web sites, including those of major newspapers and television networks.) “In the course of getting hold of the transcripts and so forth, I had a number of conversations with staffers at various House committees. One of them evidently called the House Judiciary Committee, which contacted me on Friday, February 5, while this column was being written.”
Soon he added new elements, including the portentous anecdote that “he [Blumenthal] left me two folders of pro-Clinton clips and documents, which I wish I’d kept, and went off back to the White House.” And Hitchens also offered new information as to why he had been contacted: “When Susan Bogart, senior investigative counsel of the House Judiciary Committee, contacted me in the closing days of the trial, she asked a question to which she already knew the answer. I had put a version of the lunch with Sidney in print, in the London Independent of September 13, 1998.” (In that article, he had written obliquely, “I’ve forgiven a good friend of mine, who sincerely lied for Clinton before a grand jury, for looking me in the eye last March and telling me that Monica was a ‘stalker.’ “) Hitchens also justified his affidavit as a brave effort to right the scales of justice and to override the established procedures of the Senate trial: “I thought it was a disgrace to have a mock trial, invisibly sponsored by the stock market and opinion polls, at which the defendant didn’t appear and at which all efforts to mention Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick were quashed.”
Yet Hitchens claimed he was still my friend. He insisted publicly he meant no harm to me — only to the president. “I made it plain to the House counsel and lawyers that I regarded myself as witnessing only for their Senate trial, and only against the president… I would not testify in any separate or subsequent case against Blumenthal,” he wrote in the Washington Post. Hitchens had a picture in his mind of how the drama would play out. I was “another Clinton human sacrifice,” he continued, and he would be the hero, acknowledged in the end as the true friend:
“The Senate lets Bill Clinton walk. Judge Starr decides to proceed against Sidney, who by his excess of loyalty has become one of Clinton’s victims. And I withdraw my affidavit (as I then would) and am cited for contempt.
“The U.S. Senate then finds out, having “put everything behind us and moved on,” that everything we could even suspect in the Kathleen Willey case turns out to be true. A perfect victory for justice.
“So, for the moment, I am putting myself under the protection of America’s love of the ironic. And, when this is over (and if it matters) I look forward to seeing Sidney again, and to having no differences with him except about politics.”
Hitchens’ plot thickened when his anti-Clinton polemic, entitled “No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family,” appeared. In it he deepened his suspicions and added unnamed coconspirators: “I believe that clippings [about Lewinsky as 'stalker'] were in a folder of material that he brought along to give me, and which I no longer possess. I also believe that at least two other senior White House aides were involved in spreading the smear against a defenseless and vulnerable young woman.” These he did not name.
Three years later, Hitchens was no longer presenting himself as my rescuer or friend. He told an English reporter:
“He looked as if he’d suddenly gone to work for John Gotti. He was shifty, he was looking around the room, he was uninterruptible and paranoid and he said, ‘We’re going to take care of these bitches’ [Lewinsky and Kathleen Willey]. He was talking out of the side of his mouth — like a real thug — and it was very horrible and ugly and scary. Carol and I didn’t know where to look, and she was obviously very upset and horrified. So I said, ‘Look, Sidney, are you sure this is the kind of work you want to be doing? Is this what you signed up with the White House to be doing? I mean, hunting down these women?’ No, I don’t remember what he replied to that.”
He had only been seeking to find a way to confront me, he explained to the Times of London. “But my regret is that I didn’t have a crisis with him before I did.” “A case in point,” continued the Times chronicle, “was the night of Blumenthal’s birthday party, the November before Clinton’s impeachment crisis, when [Hitchens] and [his wife] Carol umm-ed and ah-ed about whether it was hypocritical to attend. In the event they did, and Hitchens spent a miserable evening on the deck in the freezing cold, refusing to go inside. ‘A pathetic compromise,’ as he says. The house was full of Clinton people who were clearly surprised to see one of the president’s most persistent critics among their number. ‘And I thought, ‘Oh well, the unspoken question I can see in your eyes is a very fair one, and I’ve only just begun to really face it myself.’”
But the “freezing cold” deck was nicely heated; the bartender hadn’t needed to wear a jacket.
In the days right after Hitchens emerged with his affidavit, two other witnesses stepped forward to cast some perspective on the issue of calling Monica Lewinsky a stalker. One was Michael Isikoff, appearing on National Public Radio. On the air, Monica Lewinsky’s tape of her conversation with Linda Tripp on December 22, 1997, was played for him, in which she said, “I think people call me that stalker. I think that’s what they say. Oh, my God. That gets me so mad. I hate that.”
Isikoff commented, “Well, actually, it goes back a little further than that. It goes back to the time in April of 1996 when Monica Lewinsky is evicted from her position in the White House… It is true that people called her the stalker… At the time that the president was meeting with Blumenthal, which was the evening of January 21st, we were publishing in Newsweek our first story about this diary of a scandal, which included reporting for the first time about the so-called Talking Points that Lewinsky had handed Tripp. And those Talking Points did include a sentence in which Monica Lewinsky is referred to as a stalker.”
Of course Lewinsky, as she testified, was the author of the Talking Points.
The other witness was Linda Tripp, on NBC’s “Today Show.” “Monica,” she said, “was named a stalker far before Sidney Blumenthal saw fit to share it with his peers. This is not news. Monica was called a stalker when she was forced to leave the White House.”
On February 8, Henry Hyde tried to reopen the Senate trial on the basis of Hitchens’ affidavit. He sent a letter to Republican majority leader Trent Lott and Democratic minority leader Tom Daschle, pleading to “admit new evidence and to authorize and issue subpoenas” for Hitchens, his wife, and Scott Armstrong. Hyde described Hitchens as having “credible evidence” that “the president may have engaged in an intimidation campaign against potential adverse witnesses in a civil rights action brought against him and in a criminal investigation of his misconduct.” This gambit was the very, very last one.
Lindsey Graham, on CNBC that day, remarked on Hitchens’ affidavit: “I think this scenario will bring us votes we didn’t have, that it went from being about concealing an affair, to turning on people and obstructing justice.”
“I will never again laugh at a Southern accent or confuse it with right-wing drivel,” Hitchens told the Washington Times about Graham and Hutchinson.
McDaniel, my lawyer, prepared a ten-page brief he had written on his own initiative, categorically refuting every allegation and falsehood made as a result of Hitchens’ affidavit. In it, he noted that the Nexis database contained 439 stories about Lewinsky as stalker published between the day the scandal broke and the day of my lunch with Hitchens. The White House exhibits, the exculpatory articles that the House Managers had excluded in their batch of articles on the subject, were appended. McDaniel urged me to let him send the document to Lott and Daschle and to release it to the press. I consulted with White House counsel Chuck Ruff, but in the end this was my decision, and I decided that no matter how much I wanted to defend myself, the best decision was not to respond to Hitchens.
Within the Senate, Lott attempted to gain unanimous consent to subpoena Hitchens and the others, but Daschle, under the rules of the trial, vetoed. There would be no more witnesses. Still, Republicans demanded a Justice Department investigation to determine if I had committed perjury, and White House counsel David Kendall explained to me that any member of the House could refer it to the Justice Department, which would then be obligated to investigate. Of course, he said, they would conclude not to prosecute, but that could take months. Even though the trial would be over, my ordeal would be on-going. There were still several days to go before the Senate vote. White House chief of staff John Podesta asked me if I was holding up, and I said I was steady. Within the White House, my colleagues went out of their way to be supportive through small gestures.
I deliberately kept silent about Hitchens, and as the story faded his tone toward me changed from that of concerned friend to hostile foe, attracting new attention. When the Washington Post reported in January 2001 that I would be writing this book, he was quoted: “As everyone now knows — too late — the Clinton presidency was a racket and a shakedown operation. I don’t begrudge Sidney his small share of it. It’s the price of his soul.” In March 2002, the Post quoted him again, apropos of nothing: “It’s right that we should be enemies.” The paper noted, “Blumenthal declined to comment.”
- – - – - – - – - – - -
From the moment I learned about Hitchens’ affidavit, I wanted to know what really had happened and why he had done what he had. Initially I hoped that his stumbling explanations somehow meant that he had regrets. I wanted to attribute his overheated, overwrought self-justifications to an inner recognition of what he had done. However, as I was trying to clarify the events while writing this book, a very different sequence emerged. Unraveling Hitchens’ actions required finding those with whom he had collaborated, and the tale of the innocent truth-seeker faded in these new shafts of light.
A year after the trial, a Republican staff member on the House Judiciary Committee told me that far from being a reluctant witness, Hitchens had “eagerly volunteered,” that initially his wife was upset and the Republicans feared she would “squelch it.” Knowing this led me to ask James Rogan about Hitchens. “Hitchens may well have called Lindsey [Graham], who was a habitui of the talk shows back then,” Rogan said. “That may also be why Lindsey wanted in on the questioning with you.”
This suggestion — that Hitchens had been in touch with Congressman Graham before the Senate trial — prompted me to contact an old conservative source of mine whom I had known when I was a reporter on the Washington Post. I recalled that during the impeachment Jude Wanniski had been a cheerleader for Lindsey Graham.
Wanniski had been an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal in the late 1970s, who helped promote supply-side economics. (He gave the “Laffer Curve” its name — the theory President Reagan adopted from the work of his then adviser, Art Laffer, that tax cuts would increase government revenues.) The voluble, opinionated Wanniski attached himself to politicians and pundits whom he badgered into becoming mouthpieces for his pet ideas. For many years, he was close to Jack Kemp. As a private financial analyst, Wanniski published a newsletter in which he pushed his causes. He called Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan “one of the nicest men I’ve ever met,” crusaded against military action against Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic, and called for Clinton’s impeachment because the United States had bombed Iraq. Wanniski also promoted Matt Drudge as his “Man of the Year.” During the impeachment and trial, Wanniski wrote memo after memo addressed to Lindsey Graham and devoted to “The Importance of Sidney Blumenthal,” which he posted on his Web site and circulated to political acquaintances; they eventually found their way to me. Wanniski, in fact, had incessantly left me phone messages, which I thought prudent not to return.
Now I contacted Wanniski on the off chance that he might know something. He told me he had telephoned Lindsey Graham right after Graham had questioned Ruff about the “stalker” story on December 9, and from then on had been in regular touch with him. Having become a fan of Hitchens’ anti-Clinton screeds, Wanniski also conversed with him fairly often “in this period,” he said. His obsession was the “stalker” story — “I was drawing Graham’s statements to everyone’s attention” — which he said he raised with Hitchens.
This prompted Hitchens to tell Wanniski a version of the lunch with me, and Wanniski said he instantly called Graham. “I told him about Hitchens’ story as soon as I heard it,” Wanniski e-mailed me. I asked Wanniski, “When did Hitchens tell you his story? Was it before the Senate trial?” “Yes,” he replied. “Did Hitchens know of your role with Graham and that you had told Graham his story?” “Yes.” Wanniski explained, “Hitchens told me you had mentioned the ‘stalker’ story at that meal with his wife, not that you were complicit in its fiction, but that if you were bringing it up with him, you were surely bringing it up with others, which is what the Pres. would have expected from you, as a defender. That really sums up what was in my mind.”
I asked Rogan how Hitchens had come to the House Managers. Had they stumbled across his story through the grapevine or an obscure newspaper clipping, as he had claimed? Rogan said he would ask David Schippers, the House Judiciary Committtee’s counsel, for me. Schippers, through Rogan, replied, “Hitchens called us and said what you testified to was untrue. He [Schippers] says that’s how the Hitchens thing popped up.” Hitchens called them.
I discovered another peculiar incident, related to me by Steve Wasserman, which shed light on Armstrong’s affidavit. Wasserman told me that Carol Blue had telephoned him the very day she filed her own affidavit, sounding panicked and pleading that she and Christopher needed him to help them. Could Steve corroborate her memory of a conversation she had with him, telling him about Blumenthal’s “stalker” story at the time? Wasserman remembered no such conversation, then or later. She asked again. Again he insisted that he recollected no such thing.
For reasons unknown to me, Hitchens, having already imagined I was doing the bidding of an evil manipulator, was posing as the saint for whom nothing, not even friendship, would stand in the way of virtuous revelation. It was a familiar story. Both Linda Tripp and Christopher Hitchens had seen fit to relate patently private conversations to prosecutors, knowing the material might be used in criminal proceedings. But unlike Linda Tripp, who had betrayed actual confidences, Hitchens had purveyed what he claimed were confidences and were not.
Lifestyle and “contrarian” politics explained little about Hitchens’ motives. My mistake had been to think that he was a harmless entertainer. The surprise was that he was capable of doing harm without conscience or regret. That remains the mystery.
On February 12, Lincoln’s birthday, the Senate voted on President Clinton’s fate. A small group of us sat in John Podesta’s office to watch the proceedings on television. On Article I, perjury, the president was acquitted, 55-45. On Article II, obstruction of justice, the president was acquitted, 50-50. Thus the president was acquitted on all charges.
“Mr. Chief Justice,” said Senator Lott, “I ask unanimous consent that the February 5, 1999, affidavit of Mr. Christopher Hitchens and the February 7, 1999, affidavit of Ms. Carol Blue, and the affidavit of Mr. R. Scott Armstrong be admitted into evidence in this proceeding, the full written transcripts of the depositions taken pursuant to S. Res. 30 be included in the public record of the trial at this point. This matter has been cleared on both sides of the aisle.”
My colleagues, sitting around, jocularly pointed their fingers at me. “Without objection, it is so ordered,” said Chief Justice Rehnquist. That was the last matter of business, and the court of impeachment of the president adjourned sine die. An honor guard of senators escorted the Chief Justice from the chamber.
Podesta called the president, who was in the Residence, and he emerged in the Rose Garden to make one final statement: “This can be and this must be a time of reconciliation and renewal for America.” “In your heart, sir,” asked a reporter, “can you forgive and forget?” “I believe,” said Clinton, “any person who asks for forgiveness has to be prepared to give it.”
At the next weekly political strategy meeting in the Yellow Oval, the president joked, “They’ve spent so much energy trashing me I’m surprised anyone is willing to be in a room with me.” White House aide Michael Waldman observed that for the first time the cable channels had new scandals on. “They’re just reloading, boys,” Clinton warned. At the meeting’s end, the president announced, “I’ve got to go to the dentist. Anyone want to go for me?”
As we walked out of the room, Clinton put his arm around me and made a remark that echoed what I had told him the day the scandal broke, in our Oval Office conversation. “You know,” he said with a grin, “you shouldn’t be hanging around crazy people.” I laughed and said, “You know, that’s good advice.”
A month later, on March 18, I was a guest of CBS News at the Radio and Television Correspondents dinner at the Hilton Hotel. At the CBS reception held beforehand, I ambled up to Clinton’s attorney Bob Bennett and Lindsey Graham to join their banter. A semblance of Washington etiquette, where partisan disagreements give way to bonhomie, was beginning to emerge. “I can’t get rid of your friend,” said Graham. “Hitchens is your friend. I can’t get him off the phone.” Hitchens wouldn’t stop calling Graham, he said, and kept pestering him with new schemes on how to attack the president. “He really doesn’t like the president. If you have any ideas on how I can get rid of him, let me know.”
On my way to the CBS table, I ran into Jim Rogan. “I hope you don’t think badly about me,” he said. “You were a perfect witness — totally professional, honest. If I were presenting a case, you’re exactly the kind of witness I’d want.”
A year later, on March 27, 2000, I appeared at a charity event for the Arena Stage’s educational programs by joining a cast of political and media figures in a makeshift comedy called “Washington Confidential.” I kicked in a chorus line with Senator Fred Thompson, Congressman Dick Gephardt, Jacob Stein (Lewinsky’s attorney), Cokie Roberts, and Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Arthur Levitt. Backstage, I ran into Representative Mary Bono, Republican from California, who had been on the House Judiciary Committee. As we waited for our cue to go on, she said, “Impeachment was tough on everyone.” “Yes,” I agreed. She continued her patter. “Lindsey Graham sure had a good time making fun of your name,” she said. “Oh,” I replied. “That’s right, he did.” She chuckled. She was just trying to be friendly.
The amateur theatrics about to occur onstage were all in good fun. But the “fun” Mary referred to was a different kind of fun. It wasn’t the first time that that sort of “fun” for the purpose of ridicule and denigration had surfaced — Bob Barr’s comment about “real Americans” during the impeachment battle had been another example. Mary Bono’s cheerful mindlessness didn’t make her account of it any less disturbing.
Excerpted from “The Clinton Wars,” by Sidney Blumenthal, to be published on May 20 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux LLC. Copyright 2003 by Sidney Blumenthal. All rights reserved.
Sidney Blumenthal, a former assistant and senior advisor to President Clinton, writes a column for Salon and the Guardian of London. His new book is titled "How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime." He is a senior fellow at the New York University Center on Law and Security. More Sidney Blumenthal.
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