The Clinton wars

He began his second term with talk of national healing. But Chief Justice Rehnquist knew what the president could expect: "Good luck. You'll need it." Part 1 of an explosive new White House memoir.


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Sidney Blumenthal
May 5, 2003 11:10PM (UTC)

Editor's note: It was a time of "Italianate conspiracy," in Sidney Blumenthal's words, when "intrigue supplanted debate" in Washington: "Plotters brandished the law as a stiletto to try to destroy the president they considered illegitimate." And Blumenthal, who served as a senior advisor to President Clinton during his second term, was at the center of this political drama, as Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's ceaseless and baseless Whitewater inquiry morphed into a fevered sexual inquisition. Blumenthal, who had met the Clintons in 1987 when he was a political reporter and they were the rising young "it" couple in the Democratic Party, was labeled "Sid Vicious" by the anti-Clinton plotters for his bare-knuckled defense of the president and first lady. As a confidant of both Clintons, he would find himself drawn inexorably into the scandalmongers' web, accused of smearing the White House's relentless political enemies and dragged into Starr's grand jury chambers as well as the Senate impeachment trial's bizarre endgame.

Blumenthal, who wrote for the Washington Post and the New Yorker before his White House tour of duty, offers a riveting inside look at this sordid Washington era in his new memoir, "The Clinton Wars." No other journalist has ever enjoyed -- or suffered -- such a vantage point from which to chronicle the underside of American political history. From Monday through Friday, Salon presents exclusive highlights from "The Clinton Wars," which will be published later this month by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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By Sidney Blumenthal

May 5, 2003  |  About two weeks before Clinton's second inauguration the president asked me to come over to the White House. It was a Sunday night. Clinton was dressed in jeans, sneakers, and a sweater with an American flag stitched across its front. He led me to the family kitchen, in a part of the residence I had never seen. It was unlike the large White House kitchen on the ground floor, with its long steel counters and huge refrigerators and sinks, where presidential meals, including state dinners, are prepared. This kitchen was indistinguishable from any kitchen in an ordinary suburban house: Formica surfaces, chairs around a small table, a range, wood cabinets. Clinton set out mugs, boiled some water, and made tea.

Now we had a chance to discuss his inaugural address. I suggested to the president that he use the occasion to deliver a valedictory to the 20th century. He would be the president presiding at the turn of the century. He had campaigned on millennial themes, and he should continue to develop them. From the vantage point of the end of the century, he could describe the transformation of the country and then swivel to describe the demands of the 21st century. He could define the progressive unfolding of the American experience and set himself and his program within it. Gertrude Stein had remarked that America was the oldest country in the world because it had been the first to enter the 20th century. It was always seeking to become a new nation, its oldest identity.

We reviewed the campaign and how it had ended: his frantic but failed efforts in its closing days to help Democrats win the Congress. Clinton wasn't angry, just disappointed, not particularly by his own result, but by the Democrats' lacking the majority. He still had to maneuver his way through a Republican Congress to reach his goals. But his demeanor was of one who felt far more secure and knowledgeable about wielding his power than he had in 1992.

Clinton was frustrated but almost philosophical about the pseudoscandals. He knew that the Republicans knew they had been ginned up for political effect -- and the Republicans knew that he knew that they knew. He related a conversation he had had with Senator Alan Simpson, the Republican from Wyoming, who was retiring.

"You know there's nothing wrong that Hillary and I did in Whitewater," Clinton told him.

"Of course," Simpson replied. "We all know there's nothing there. It was just politics. And it just got out of hand."

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Clinton shrugged. He told me another story. He and Bob Dole, his Republican opponent in the presidential race, had become even friendlier after the campaign than they had been before, when they bonded over Newt Gingrich's antics. They were two veterans, no longer competitors, who had a love and respect for politics.

"Let me ask you this," Clinton said he told Dole. "Do you think that politics are dirtier or cleaner since you came in?" Here Clinton was the younger man asking the older one about gritty reality before his own time.

Dole, during the race, had billowed clouds of smoke about campaign finance scandals at Clinton. Now the race was over. "Much cleaner," said Dole. "No comparison." He related that politicians literally used to stuff their pockets with payoffs. He recalled long-forgotten Senator Herman Talmadge of Georgia, who had had the misfortune of getting caught.

Clinton wondered why politics was depicted as dirtier. "What accounts for the difference?" he asked.

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"The media," Dole replied. He explained his view that campaign finance laws gave the media endless grist for their mills, and the details were mostly blown out of proportion. So even if politics were cleaner, they were reported as dirtier.

Clinton shrugged again. The scandals were not going to disappear, but they were more an undercurrent than an engulfing wave. In Hillary's terms, they were more "chronic" than "acute."

After we reviewed the inaugural address one more time and rummaged across the political scene, he posed a question. "Do you want to come work with me?" the president asked. He wanted me to help him develop and communicate his political ideas and policies. His ambition was not necessarily confined to domestic affairs, for he thought there might be an international influence for the kind of progressive politics he was pioneering. Clinton was renewing a political party that had been considered hopelessly encrusted in the past. Within the last year I had introduced him to Tony Blair, who was engaged in a similar project with the Labour Party in Britain. There would be an election there in the coming year. We discussed Blair's prospects.

Then Clinton brought the talk around again to his question. "What do you want to do?" he asked.

I accepted his offer to join his staff. "Leave it to me," he said.

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On January 20, at the Capitol, overlooking Independence Mall, Bill Clinton took the oath of office again. And then he spoke: "At this last presidential inauguration of the 20th century, let us lift our eyes toward the challenges that await us in the next century." He reviewed the progress of America to put the moment in perspective:

"It is our great good fortune that time and chance have put us not only at the edge of a new century, in a new millennium, but on the edge of a bright new prospect in human affairs -- a moment that will define our course, and our character, for decades to come. We must keep our old democracy forever young. ... We began the 19th century with a choice, to spread our nation from coast to coast. We began the 20th century with a choice, to harness the industrial revolution to our values of free enterprise, conservation, and human decency. Those choices made all the difference. At the dawn of the 21st century, a free people must choose to shape the forces of the information age and the global society, to unleash the limitless potential of all our people, and, yes, to form a more perfect union."

As it happened, this inauguration day was also Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday.

"The challenge of our past remains the challenge of our future: Will we be one nation, one people, with one common destiny -- or not? Will we all come together, or come apart? The divide of race has been America's constant curse. Each new wave of immigrants gives new targets to old prejudices. Prejudice and contempt, cloaked in the pretense of religious or political conviction, are no different. These forces have nearly destroyed our nation in the past. They plague us still. They fuel the fanaticism of terror. They torment the lives of millions in fractured nations all around the world. . . . Our rich texture of racial, religious, and political diversity will be a godsend in the 21st century. Great rewards will come to those who can live together, learn together, work together, forge new ties that bind together."

Clinton, whose father had died before he was born, often reflected in public on mortality. He had done so in an inaugural address as governor. Now he quoted Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago, who had recently died: "It is wrong to waste the precious gift of time on acrimony and division."

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Those on the podium shook his hand and offered their congratulations. Chief Justice Rehnquist, however, had been chilly and inexpressive toward the president throughout the morning. He was grim while swearing in Clinton to his second term, with Hillary holding the Bible. Now Rehnquist turned to speak to him. "Good luck," he said. "You'll need it."

"They're going to screw you on the Paula Jones case," Hillary said.

The president waved to the crowd.

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It's a cliche that working at the White House is like living in a firehouse. Without notice, an alarm would sound and I'd be racing. But at other times the White House was like being on the floor of the Chicago Commodities Exchange. Instead of trading in the pit and shouting bids on pork bellies and wheat, I'd be trading policies with other presidential aides: Health care! Climate change! Guns! We lobbied each other to muster support before meetings: What do you feel about pushing for funding heart defibrillators at airports? Should we advocate this safe food standard this week or that environmental program? How about doubling the Peace Corps budget? Why don't you come in on African free trade? The pace never ceased. The White House was like a 24-hour pickup basketball game that just kept going and going.

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President Clinton's staff in the second term was different from the staff in the first. The Arkansans whom Clinton had brought with him either had left their positions or were in secondary ones. The youthful network put in place by George Stephanopoulos had lost more than its central organizer; most of those who had been close to him were gone or dispersed, and the 20-somethings within the complex did not see themselves as a distinct corps but were layered into the operations. Many on the staff had extraordinary political histories; almost all of them had come from working- or middle-class backgrounds, having accomplished much professionally, and having wended their way up on Capitol Hill, in campaigns and public interest groups. They were like the classic cast in a war movie about a platoon on the Western Front. I worked every day with people from West Virginia, Iowa, Idaho, Brooklyn, North Carolina, Texas, Vermont, and California. Nearly half the staff were women, including some of the most seasoned political operatives in the Democratic Party, and they were as battle-tested as any of the men.

The West Wing during Clinton's presidency was the most integrated place I've ever worked in. Blacks held positions of responsibility throughout the staff. They were anything but token figures, as they had been in Republican administrations. They attained a critical mass at every level, from director of the Office of Management and Budget to deputy legal counsel to political director to chief speechwriter. Members of the first generation of black professionals made possible by the civil rights revolution, some had been activists in the struggle, and at least one I knew had witnessed firsthand as a child, like Clinton, the integration of Little Rock's Central High School. They were perhaps the greatest meritocrats of all. Their loyalty to Clinton was profound, heartfelt, and unwavering. They took the attacks on him personally, as attacks on their own progress. Terry Edmonds, the chief speechwriter, spoke for them when he wrote that Clinton was "a brother in the struggle. ... So, in black America the question is not why we love the man so much, but why you don't."

If there was any ethnic deficit in the Clinton White House it was of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant males, especially wealthy ones. Only chief of staff Mack McLarty and his successor Erskine Bowles qualified. At many meetings there would be none -- only conglomerations of Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Jews, Hispanics, and blacks. At one such meeting, Clinton joked that he was the only WASP present. Gore made two.

Clinton had promised to appoint a cabinet that looked like America, and he did. Forty-four percent of the administration appointees were women. There were seven black cabinet secretaries. And there were the first openly gay appointees in any White House.

In the Oval Office, President Clinton sat behind a massive oak desk, called the Resolute desk, which had been used by President Kennedy. It had been built from the timbers of a British frigate, HMS Resolute, and given as a gift by Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880. Or he sat in a gold upholstered chair in front of the fireplace that was flanked by two long couches. If I was alone with him, or with just a couple of others, he might stand up and walk around while he talked, the better to gesticulate or wrap his hand around your arm as he made a point. On the wall he had hung Childe Hassam's great impressionist painting The Avenue in the Rain, filled with American flags fluttering above New York's Fifth Avenue. In a corner he had stationed a large Native American drum. On a table behind his desk he displayed medallions and trinkets he had received from every state. Around the room were busts of Benjamin Franklin, Harry Truman, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr. On the desk, amid pictures of Hillary and Chelsea, were busts of FDR, JFK, and a world leader Clinton revered, Yitzhak Rabin, the only non-American represented. The shelves were filled with volumes of his personal library of biographies of the presidents. On a coffee table, Clinton had placed a rock from the moon, to remind him, he sometimes told visitors, of how short was his time in this place.

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When he was among his advisers he spoke directly about his views of the memos they had given him. Sometimes he played with his reading glasses and sometimes he read memos and magazines or even worked on a crossword puzzle while he was being briefed. If you thought he wasn't listening to every word, you were wrong. He'd interrupt on a nuance and ask you to clarify it. He rewrote every single speech, marked up every memo that crossed his desk, and circulated daily to his aides and friends dozens of newspaper and magazine articles he had read, almost always underlining key parts and writing comments in the margins: "Unbelievable ... I wish ... Good point ... What can we do about this?" After rewriting his speeches, he would read portions aloud: "How does that sound?" Someone would make a suggestion and he'd knock off a word or add a phrase. He'd read it again: "That's better." He disliked obsequiousness, regarding it as distinctly unhelpful. He didn't mind arguing over a point and often demanded an argument. He did not like simple assent. He wanted a discussion in which all potential criticisms and pitfalls were raised.

If a speech was settled, the mood would become relaxed before it was time for him to deliver it, and he might launch into a rambling political tale from Arkansas -- like the time he faced down a lobbyist from the National Rifle Association and challenged him to a shootout. He'd be laughing until the last moment before he had to step through the double French doors to the Rose Garden to speak. He liked to tell jokes and stories and laugh uproariously. But he also had an ironic sense of humor that he mostly kept hidden because it revealed a sharp edge to his observations.

Clinton's talk in private was endless but not loose. It always had an objective. He was working through some problem, testing a proposition, trying to elicit a reaction, seeing whether a particular idea would be supported or not, or expressing his frustration with a political opponent. He rarely showed off his superior knowledge. He was confident in his intelligence but never used it to appear superior. If he had any arrogance, it showed in his incorrigible lack of punctuality. Even when world leaders were kept waiting, he took his time, seeing sights, reading, and dawdling; usually he was also figuring something out. Another sign that he was in a ruminative mood was that he would start rearranging objects on his desk, moving things slightly here and there.

His humor and his cloudbursts of anger always had reasons behind them. Clinton was genuinely spontaneous and conscious that he was spontaneous. He understood his effect on people while he was having it, an unusual combination of instinct and self-awareness. Being oneself is the hardest thing to achieve in politics, and it demands an undetectable self-control. "If an actor can become a president," Clinton said, "a president can be an actor."

His preferred mode of communication was often the telephone, and his preferred call was placed around midnight. He padded around his study, sifting through memos and articles and books, fielding calls, rocking in his chair. He would talk about basketball, the intricacy of a new government proposal, the motives of this or that senator, golf, something a foreign leader had said to him about a diplomatic initiative, something that someone he had run into at a recent Democratic event had said about what he was doing, something he had just read. In the middle of this patter, he would often say, "Let me ask you a question." And then he would.

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Clinton played cards for hours with the staff, Secret Service agents, and visitors. He played hearts, and also other games he picked up, like "oh, hell," which Steven Spielberg taught him one night. He liked to keep score and comment on how the other players were doing. He was a card counter, paying close attention even when it seemed he was just talking. He would take risks but not risks that endangered his hand. He would play double solitaire if he was alone. Once, at one in the morning, in a hotel room in Cologne, Germany, at a G-8 economic summit, I found him playing cards by himself, watching the news on television, reading memos, and talking to Hillary on the telephone all at the same time. He would play games to the very end. As tension built outside his presidential limousine as it pulled up, with people awaiting him, Secret Service at attention, crowds murmuring, sometimes Clinton would be finishing a game in the back seat with his staff.

Clinton's thorough knowledge of government policy was prodigious. Rarely did anyone in the room know more than he about a given policy's details or implications when it was discussed. For his aides this was a burden and a relief. If you wanted to have an effect you had to have mastered the policy, too -- why else were you there? -- but you could also depend on his knowledge. It was reassuring that he would make the decision. He understood that policies were politics, that they were means and ends at once. He saw them both on their own merits and as elements in strategy. But he frequently made difficult decisions on the logic of the facts, overriding his political inclination.

Throughout the fall of 1997, President Clinton gave speeches and launched initiatives to advance civil rights. Racial equality was his earliest and most passionate motivation in politics. He returned to the source of his commitment on September 25 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock's Central High School. The nine black students who had first walked the gantlet of taunting whites once again marched up the steps, and the president opened the schoolhouse door for them. (Goodie Marshall, whose father had been the lawyer for the Little Rock Nine, accompanied him.) Clinton's political career was an outcome of the struggle at Central High. The line from Faubus to Clinton was from the Old South to the New South. And some of the segregationists who had whipped up the crowds 40 years earlier, like Justice Jim Johnson, were still plotting against Clinton in the shadows with the Arkansas Project. The past was not another country; it was operating differently in the present.

For Clinton, the anniversary was a moment when he could address the nation's whites, too. "Like so many Americans, I can never fully repay my debt to these nine people," he said. "For with their innocence, they purchased more freedom for me, too, and for all white people." He sought to restore the ideal of integration. Jim Crow had been banished, but American society still remained fractured by race and suspicion. "Segregation is no longer the law," he said, "but too often separation is still the rule." Soon he turned to another aspect of rights and separation.

In October 1997, Matthew Shepard, a young gay man, was brutally beaten to death in Laramie, Wyoming. Shortly after, President Clinton was invited to speak at the Human Rights Campaign annual dinner, the biggest event of the main gay rights group. No president had ever appeared at a gay event, though Clinton had attended numerous private gay fund-raisers and had been the first president to welcome a delegation of gay leaders to the White House. Within the White House a position had been created for someone to be a liaison to the gay community -- an important and overwhelmingly Democratic constituency. Clinton saw gay rights as akin to other rights movements. Richard Socarides, a softspoken and politically adroit New York attorney, was appointed director of the Office of Public Liaison. I joined him and others on the staff in advocating that the president speak at the HRC dinner.

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On November 8, Clinton delivered the first presidential speech placing gay rights within the American tradition. He addressed programmatic measures -- the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, increased funding for research on HIV and AIDS, and an executive order banning discrimination against gays in the federal government -- but his speech was especially notable for its statement about the essential relationship between the establishment of rights and the function of the presidency:

"Our ideals were never meant to be frozen in stone or time. Keep in mind, when we started out with Thomas Jefferson's credo that all of us are created equal by God, what that really meant in civic political terms was that you had to be white, you had to be male, and that wasn't enough -- you had to own property, which would have left my crowd out when I was a boy. Over time, we have had to redefine the words that we started with, not because there was anything wrong with them and their universal power and strength of liberty and justice, but because we were limited in our imaginations about how we could live and what we were capable of and how we should live. Indeed, the story of how we kept going higher and higher and higher to new and higher definitions -- and more meaningful definitions -- of equality and dignity and freedom is in its essence the fundamental story of our country."

Only two days later, Clinton convened a White House Conference on Hate Crimes at George Washington University. Three years earlier he had gotten legislation passed increasing the penalties for hate crimes, and one year earlier he had created the National Church Arson Task Force to investigate a plague of church burnings and prosecute those responsible for them. Now he proposed new laws that would make violence because of gender, disabilities, or sexual preference hate crimes. (As a direct consequence of these initiatives, the number of hate crimes reported by law enforcement agencies to the Justice Department more than quadrupled, from 2,771 in 1991 to 12,122 in 1999.) "All Americans deserve protection from hate," he said at the conference. A heckler interrupted, shouting, "If you murder Vince Foster, it is not a hate crime!" The tangled paranoia of the right wing, like underground steam building up pressure, had burst out. "We have the First Amendment, even here," Clinton replied evenly. "But I think the hate's coming from your way, not mine." This tiny, isolated incident tellingly demonstrated how Clinton's efforts at social conciliation provoked the right. It was not that he was vaguely misunderstood, but that he was seen as devious, hypocritical, and criminal.

Under Clinton, poverty among black Americans had dropped to its lowest level in American history, homeownership among blacks had risen to its highest, black enrollment in colleges had increased from 48 to 59 percent from 1992 to 1997, and black median income had risen almost 15 percent. Moreover, the income of the poorest fifth of Americans had grown at a 5.4 percent annual rate, compared to 3.9 percent for the top fifth. Of course these gains were the result of Clinton's overall policies that encompassed minorities, not specifically as a consequence of the One America initiative, but the initiative coincided with an immeasurably important change in the American self-image, and it was an emblem of Clinton's intent. He did not want to reiterate the old debate of the 1960s or even that of his first administration, which had centered on affirmative action. He wanted to turn the discussion to the theme of the national strength that could be found in diversity. The country was receiving new waves of immigrants from Asia and Latin America as well as assimilating the repercussions of the civil rights revolution. More than his economic policies, his renovation of the welfare state, or his education programs, this recasting of the national ideal ranks as among his most lasting accomplishments. Clinton's notion of inclusion was at the root of his idea of the country.

The private president was even more adamant about this theme than the public one. In front of the cameras, Clinton used his persuasive powers for conciliation and understanding. He tried to convince, to reason, and to appeal to emotion. But when he was not on public view, when there was no chance that what he said would be reported, he was more insistent.

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Once, a small group of about six senior advisers met to brief the president in the Oval Office. We presented the policy options and the political implications. We thought we had covered all the bases. Clinton waited patiently for us to finish. Then he said, "You are the dumbest bunch of white boys I have ever seen." He reprimanded us for coming into the Oval Office as an all-white, all-male group. He mentioned the names of several minority women whom he expected to have included the next time. "Don't let it happen again," said the president. It didn't.

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President Clinton's deposition in the Paula Jones case went well. That's what I was told. It was Monday, January 19, 1998. Hillary was told the same thing. The media had been building up the tension leading to this moment for months, and now it seemed that another would-be scandal had turned into another nonevent. It was more than an anticlimax: it was a triumph for the president. "They didn't lay a glove on him," Robert Bennett, his lawyer, told me. "On a scale of one to ten, it was a 15."

Clinton had testified on Saturday, January 17. I had gone to Chicago for the weekend. On television network news, I watched the presidential limousine drive to Bob Bennett's office at the Skadden, Arps law firm, a short distance from the White House, and then, when the deposition was over, depart. Nothing amiss was reported. Bennett prided himself on his street-smart Brooklyn origins -- he had been an amateur boxer -- and, unlike his brother, the conservative ideologue William J. Bennett, the pragmatic Bob was a consummate Washington player, who shuttled from his corporate clients to the Hill, from media interviews to the White House. His manner was more jagged than silken, but that was how he liked to project his aggressive, savvy defense. He knew his way around the city's Byzantine mazes and cleverly led his clients to safety. Bill Clinton would be only the latest to be rescued. Yet Bennett confided to me that the President seemed "down" to him after the deposition. He didn't know why. Bennett said he told him, "You did a magnificent job. The worst is over."

I had been speaking to Bennett fairly often about the Jones case, especially since the Supreme Court ruling in January 1996 that the President could not postpone depositions until after his term of office was over, and through all its bizarre convolutions thereafter. Regardless of the media attention and publicity, it appeared that Clinton would win the case without complicating judgment. Jones had spurned Bennett's reasonable effort in August to settle it, despite the urgings of her lawyers, Joe Cammarata and Gil Davis. Her husband, the underemployed Steve, had believed he could make a much bigger killing. He demanded $1.2 million and began chasing a lucrative book deal. Their lawyers warned the Joneses, "A perception of greed and hatred on your part will lose the public relations battle for your good name which your lawyers have worked long and hard to build up."

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At Steve's instigation, Paula Jones fired these lawyers in September and hired new ones from the Rutherford Institute, a tiny foundation on the far shores of the right wing that advocated a literal interpretation of biblical scripture as a replacement for civil law. Its inspiration, R. J. Rushdoony, was a Holocaust denier who favored the death penalty for homosexuals and doctors performing abortions. The person responsible for recruiting the Rutherford Institute to the case was Jones's new adviser and makeover consultant, Susan Carpenter-McMillan, a conservative antiabortion activist from suburban Los Angeles whose full-time occupation was to appear on radio and television talk shows. She managed to gain control of Jones's legal defense fund -- and rewarded Jones with a nose job and a white Mercedes. (In 1999, Steve left Paula and they divorced. Carpenter-McMillan also divorced her husband at the same time, fantasizing on a TV talk show about having an affair with John F. Kennedy: "I know he's dead, but if I could raise him from the dead . . .") Meanwhile, Jones's unofficial lawyers, the right-wing "elves," as they came to be known, worked behind the scenes to destroy any settlement efforts and to continue the case as a political weapon against Clinton. Jones's lawyers relied on the elves to write their briefs, but they never knew of these secret and successful maneuvers to derail the settlement.

From the moment in 1994 when Jones was introduced at the Conservative Political Action Conference, she had time and again altered her story about her encounters with Governor Clinton to make it more salacious. Her shifting account, undoubtedly not of her own invention, was fuel for her hidden handlers in their media campaign against Clinton. They would load stories in right-wing media from the Drudge Report to Murdoch-owned outlets like the New York Post and Fox News to the Moonie-owned Washington Times. Then the rest of the media would clamor after the unproved but irresistible tales, justifying coverage by their prior circulation. One Newsweek reporter, Michael Isikoff, was an exception to the rule in mainstream news organizations in that he carved out a special beat on the sexual folderol swirling around the Jones case. As he darted from sex rumor to rumor, competing news organizations felt increasingly obliged to follow or risk losing an edge.

When in October 1997, Jones added a new twist to her evolving charges, now claiming that Clinton had "distinguishing characteristics" on his genitals, George Conway, a key elf, rifled this bit of imagined pornography by e-mail to Matt Drudge, who promptly posted the story on his website for days. It was soon widely reported elsewhere. "This was just an effort to humiliate and embarrass the President, and at the appropriate time we will show that it is absolutely baseless and without merit," Bennett declared. And Clinton's doctor signed an affidavit stating that it was completely false.

For months Jones's legal team had been trolling for women who had supposedly had sexual relations with Clinton. The women's stories were uncorroborated; some were contradicted; and according to the President, Dolly Kyle Browning, a former high-school classmate of Clinton's, explained to him at their class reunion, in the presence of a witness, that she had felt compelled to make her claims because she was in dire financial straits and seeking a book contract. (She denied making this statement and sued for libel, but her case was dismissed.) In May, after Jones had filed her complaint with the Arkansas court, Bob Bennett had said, "In a single term, this complaint is tabloid trash with a legal caption on it," and he made it clear to me that, though there might be a season of "tabloid trash," Jones would lose. He had affidavits that proved that Jones's claim of sexual harassment on the job, the only legal basis of her claim, was dismissible on its face. (She had, in fact, been promoted despite her evident absence of ability.) The case would very likely never even come to trial; it would be tossed out.

January 19, 1998, Monday, was Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, and not much went on at the White House. I came back from Chicago and spoke with Bob Bennett, and the next day I went to staff meetings where we worked on drafts of the State of the Union address. I met with the President in the Oval Office about it; I met with members of the National Security Council; I attended meetings to prepare for the next political strategy session with the President. Also on that day Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a prickly character whom Clinton was trying to handle, came to the White House. Yasser Arafat, an even more difficult customer, was due on January 22.

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I had not a glimmer of knowledge that several members of the legal counsel's office were already responding to Ken Starr's expanded probe from Whitewater into the sex tapes of Monica Lewinsky. I learned later that a few of the lawyers, less than half a dozen, were aware that a story was coming soon about the President's sexual relationship with a White House intern, a rumor whose dimensions they weren't sure of.

The first portent had come from a Drudge Report, posted late Saturday night, January 17:

NEWSWEEK KILLS STORY ON WHITE HOUSE INTERN,
BLOCKBUSTER REPORT: 23-YEAR OLD FORMER WHITE HOUSE
INTERN, SEX RELATIONSHIP WITH PRESIDENT

The next night, Drudge posted Monica Lewinsky's name. His sources for his stories were the elf George Conway and Lucianne Goldberg, Linda Tripp's Linda Tripp, the goad to the goad, whose role was still masked. On January 20, Drudge posted:

CONTROVERSY SWIRLS AROUND TAPES OF FORMER
WHITE HOUSE INTERN, AS STARR MOVES IN!
**World Exclusive**
**Must Credit the DRUDGE REPORT**
Federal investigators are now in possession of intimate taped conversations of a former White House intern, age 23, discussing details of her alleged sexual relationship with President Clinton, the Drudge Report has learned.

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Though I later learned that some people in the White House were reading the Drudge Report with growing trepidation, I had only rapidly skimmed it while I was away from Washington. From what I gleaned superficially, I simply thought this was just another Drudge story, like the "distinguishing characteristic" one. It was enough for me to hear the name "Drudge" to dismiss it. I did not even read it closely enough to see the name "Lewinsky." Paul Begala told me about Stephanopoulos's rejoinder to Kristol, and I thought George had reduced the item to its proper place. Eerily, most of the President's political team was working without any sense that the legal team was frantically scrambling. That brief division of labor would abruptly end.

On Wednesday, January 21, I woke up to a blaring headline in The Washington Post: "Clinton Accused of Urging Aide to Lie." The article began:

"Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr has expanded his investigation of President Clinton to examine whether Clinton and his close friend Vernon Jordan encouraged a 24-year-old former White House intern to lie to lawyers for Paula Jones about whether the intern had an affair with the president, sources close to the investigation said yesterday.

"A three-judge appeals court panel on Friday authorized Starr to examine allegations of suborning perjury, false statements and obstruction of justice involving the president, the sources said. A Justice Department official confirmed that Attorney General Janet Reno had forwarded Starr's request to the panel that oversees independent counsels after Starr had asked her for 'expeditious' consideration of his request."

The article identified Monica Lewinsky as the intern and Linda Tripp as the informant. It was the first time I recall reading those names.

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The obvious was immediately apparent: Starr's stalled investigation had broken through to an entirely new plane that now threatened the president. This was not just another wrinkle in the tangled fabric of Whitewater.

It was about 6:45 a.m. when I bolted from my house for the West Wing. I arrived before almost anyone else. Fewer than about a dozen of us filed into Erskine Bowles's corner office for the regular early-morning meeting and sat around his long table. We all turned to the Post in our White House News Summary. Bowles's face was pale, his voice subdued. Just a week before, he had agreed reluctantly to serve for another year. He had wanted to return to North Carolina, where his wife and children spent most of their time. For him, negotiating the passage of the balanced budget the previous fall had been a crowning achievement. During the Whitewater investigation, he had been subpoenaed before the grand jury and had not liked it a bit. Now everything about his body language and tone conveyed that he wished he were anywhere but where he was. He said that the White House staff would focus on the work at hand and avoid distraction. At the senior staff meeting in the Roosevelt Room, he repeated his stricture to maintain focus and just do our work. But he was clearly upset.

Erskine worked hard and was respectful of everyone around him, encouraging, well organized-and wealthy, therefore independent. He was neither censorious nor particularly judgmental about people's private lives. He had become a regular golfing buddy of the president's and shared in humorous banter with him. As information began to pour out, we learned that he had played a tangential role in trying to get Monica Lewinsky a job. Perhaps the revelations about her and Clinton came as less of a surprise to him than to others. Nonetheless, the impact swept him off his feet. After a mid-morning meeting with lawyers and the political staff, he remarked, "I think I'm going to throw up." Later that day -- or was it the next day? -- I went to see him alone. I told him I would support him in any way I could. I knew that others had also gone to talk to him. He replied that he wouldn't have anything to do with managing the scandal and he didn't want to hear about it. I understood, without his mentioning it, that he expected to be subpoenaed. I was sympathetic to his reticence and even withdrawal, but I didn't have the same feelings. By the end of the week and through the weekend, Erskine took time off. He was coping with his emotions, as everyone was, and in his case he wanted to be able to get back to work on the President's legislative program. But his absence on those first few days created an instant vacuum at the center.

By the time the senior staff meeting finished, at about eight o'clock, the last semblance of regular order had departed. Pandemonium descended. The television morning shows were preaching apocalypse. On ABC's Good Morning America, Sam Donaldson held forth: "If Kenneth Starr can mount sufficient evidence that the President of the United States told this young lady to lie, that's a federal crime, that's suborning perjury. And, clearly, a serious impeachment investigation would begin on Capitol Hill." George Stephanopoulos adopted that scenario as his own: "If the allegations are true, it could lead to impeachment proceedings."

George had already talked that morning to Begala and Rahm Emanuel; they had all worked together in the Little Rock War Room during the 1992 campaign. The trio had gone through ups and downs in the first term, Begala leaving for a sojourn in Texas after the 1994 midterm defeat, Rahm going in and out of various posts, and George losing favor, then inching himself back, only to depart for television punditry after the reelection victory. Whenever a crisis had struck Clinton, Stephanopoulos's impulse was to turn doomsayer. In difficult situations, his pessimism invariably overcame him. He had once been a vote counter on the House floor for Dick Gephardt (in whose office he had worked side by side with Begala) and was, by his own admission, more a tactician than a strategist. During the New Hampshire primary, at a particularly low ebb, George had believed that Clinton would have to quit the race. And now, once again, pessimism gripped him. He believed the charges against Clinton and was doomsaying to friends and acquaintances on the phone. Since he was Clinton's best-known former aide, his uttering the word "impeachment" on television was treated as a news event in itself. Some on Clinton's political staff were furious at him as a betrayer for using what quickly became known as "the 'I' word." But the problem wasn't Stephanopoulos.

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Tensions were already developing within Clinton's staff. The political aides thought the lawyers were withholding information. The lawyers, both those in the counsel's office and Clinton's outside attorneys, believed that information had to be guarded and dispensed according to the best interests of the president's legal situation. But nobody had much information to begin with. The political people tended to think the lawyers lacked political sense, while the lawyers tended to think the political staff lacked legal understanding. Each believed that the other side might create a catastrophe if given control and left to its own devices. But neither side really had a strategy. Out of the early meetings among all these people, a consensus emerged to issue a statement on behalf of the president denying the charges. Almost everyone in the White House was swamped with phone calls from the media, demanding responses, tidbits, hints, anything to feed the story that was the only story. Charles Ruff, the legal counsel, wrote a draft statement in which the president, through the press secretary, Michael McCurry, would say that he was "outraged by these allegations" and "never had a sexual relationship with this woman." Someone in the meeting suggested a word change: from "sexual" to "improper." McCurry, with Clinton's concurrence, released the statement. "Improper" became the other "I" word of the day.

Within the White House, there was no organizing focus, no strategy, no one calling meetings, and we had a growing sense of standing on a beach waiting for a tidal wave. Some felt near panic. Normally poised political people believed they faced potential personal ruin. They correctly thought that Starr's power was limitless and his motive to destroy the President relentless. They convinced themselves, even if they had no reason, that they, too, would become Starr's targets. Their fear was stark and it was seeping out to reporters.

The scandal plague that had gone through chronic and acute phases from the beginning of Clinton's administration was now extremely acute. But as sudden and all-encompassing as the crisis was, its elements were not unknown to us. For years there had been accusations, congressional hearings, and Starr's grand juries. There had been prosecutorial leaks and raging firestorms over Whitewater, with Hillary herself dragged past the klieg lights to testify. The entire scandal system was already in order. All the actors, from Starr to Gingrich, from the reporters to the talking heads on television, were on their well-rehearsed marks. The plague now arrived in full force and the whole political city was consumed by delirium.

Lewinsky was Starr's salvation. He had been flustered by the dead ends he kept encountering in his Whitewater investigation. He had wanted to escape and had tried to resign; he had been humiliated into going back into this thankless case with no leads. His pride was injured, the last of his predecessor Robert Fiske's judicious, skillful prosecutors were gone, and his office was being run by fiercely partisan Republicans who had embarked on a sexual fishing expedition before Lewinsky ever appeared on the witness list. Starr's invasion of the Jones case showed the culmination of his frustration. It was his only way out.

Mark Tuohey, the deputy counsel to Fiske and then to Starr during his first six months in his post, thought that Fiske, had he not been replaced, would have finished the Whitewater investigation and report by the spring or summer of 1996, and that he would have found no wrongdoing by the Clintons. He told me he was sure the report would have concluded the matter once and for all. Tuohey, who directed Starr's only successful prosecutions, became aware after he left the independent counsel's office for private practice that Hickman Ewing, the deputy in charge of the "Arkansas phase," was leaking grand-jury material, or what purported to be grand-jury material, to the press. This was, of course, most improper conduct, and Tuohey told me that his successor, John Bates, had reprimanded Ewing and demanded that he stop -- to no avail. Ewing, who had once considered seeking a job with the Rutherford Institute, the base for Jones's lawyers, kept up the leaks. Long before the Monica Lewinsky story, the Office of Independent Counsel had developed relationships with reporters who came to depend on its unacknowledged leaks.

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Tuohey told me that Starr himself never believed the Clintons were innocent, though the Independent Counsel's closing argument against Jim McDougal in his trial had pointedly stated that the President was innocent. As for Ewing, he had a particular animus against Hillary Clinton, and he also believed that the deep secret of Whitewater was that she was covering up an illicit affair with Vincent Foster. Thus, sex charges against both Clintons seemed to be an obsession for the Office of Independent Counsel.

On January 21, Hillary went to speak at Goucher College in Baltimore at the invitation of an old friend, Taylor Branch, the biographer of Martin Luther King, Jr. She was chipper in her remarks to reporters who asked her if she believed her husband: "Absolutely."

Upon her return to the White House that afternoon, she called me. She explained that this story involved Clinton's concern for a person with personal problems, a common occurrence since she had known him. His empathy, she went on, came from his relationship with his mother, an open, compassionate woman, and from Clinton's own difficult experiences growing up. I knew, of course, what she was referring to: being fatherless and poor, the often terrifying battles with his alcoholic, abusive stepfather. She had always known her husband to befriend people in trouble, and as she saw it, this was another example. I knew myself of people Clinton had gotten close to and helped, privately and without publicity. Anyone who knew him would encounter this unusual ability of his to connect. In explaining what had happened, she relied upon her understanding of her husband. I assumed that she had spoken with him and that what she was saying reflected their conversation.

For her, the stakes were greater than for anyone. They encompassed not only everything she had worked on politically for a lifetime, but her marriage. She had to defend both. Over the years, I had had many separate conversations with the Clintons, and especially with Hillary, during which they spontaneously talked about each other. They were, of course, a team. They talked to each other several times a day, and each thought the other was the smartest person he or she knew. They were always warm about and toward each other and, in each other's presence, touching. They were also extremely caring about their daughter, Chelsea. I saw the three of them together fairly frequently. They seemed to me to be a close family.

I didn't presume to have superior insight into the deep, dark secrets of other people's marriages. I had had friends who I thought were happy but suddenly divorced. And I had married friends whose marriages, which appeared less than ideal, endured everything. I had many friends in second and third marriages. I had friends who had committed adultery and loved their wives. I had friends who had never strayed, to my knowledge, and complained constantly about their spouses. A marriage belongs only to those in it. As a friend, I didn't believe it was an act of friendship to second-guess a marriage from the outside. Had Clinton had an affair with an intern? I just didn't know. I had no reason to doubt Hillary's sincerity in her version of events, and whatever my doubts, I wanted to believe her -- to believe along with her.

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Above all, though, she and I had no doubt we were confronting a supremely political crisis. Starr's investigation was a daring political venture that used dubious accusations of criminality as a justification. The notion that President Clinton and Vernon Jordan had criminally conspired struck me as ridiculous. Whether Starr would succeed in making this charge stick would depend on the politics. Could he foster enough hysteria and momentum? Neither of us was panicked. This was politics, perhaps a greater crisis than ever, but politics nonetheless. She said that the president had remarked to her, "Well, we'll just have to win."

I related to Hillary a conversation that I had that very day with conservative muckraker David Brock, who was becoming disillusioned with the anti-Clinton crusade. Brock told me about the secret connivance between Starr's office and a cabal of conservatives who were controlling the Paula Jones case from behind the scenes and about how they were manipulating the media coverage. His revelations filled in the details of what was driving this new "acute" scandal phase. Having knowledge restored a sense of normality, even amid the storm. We could see the lines of influence underlying the scandal, the cause and effect, intent and action -- and they were political and familiar. Thus, on the first day, both Hillary and I knew about what she would soon call the vast right-wing conspiracy.

Hillary laughed and told me that as a matter of fact, the Daddy Warbucks of the conspiracy, Richard Mellon Scaife, was coming to dinner that night at the White House. Of all the gin joints in the world, why was he showing up at this one? It turned out to be a long-scheduled dinner to honor the donors to the White House Preservation Society. Those who had contributed since the 1980s would be present, including, for a rare excursion, the reclusive Scaife. But who should sit next to him? Hillary thought maybe I should, or maybe my wife, Jackie. For the rest of the afternoon, while the President was giving his three dreaded interviews, Hillary and I were back and forth a couple of times on the phone joking about Scaife and the seating arrangements.

At about six that evening, Betty Currie, the president's private secretary, called me in my office and asked me to come up to the Oval Office. I found the president alone, standing, his gaze distracted. He started pacing slowly behind his desk and then in front of it. He rearranged knickknacks, touching some and slightly moving others. He wanted to explain to me about Monica Lewinsky. He told me he had been trying to help her. I said I had spoken to Hillary and that she had told me the same thing. Before he could elaborate, I said that I understood his feeling of wanting to counsel a troubled person. I knew he was compassionate. I knew he had helped many people. Then, I said: The problem with troubled people is just that, that they're troubled. These troubled people can get you into incredible messes, and I know you don't want to, but you have to cut yourself off from them. He replied: It's very difficult for me not to want to help. That's how I am. I want to help people. I cut in: You can't do that at this point, whatever you've done in the past. The reason is that you have to be self-protective. You can't get near anybody who is remotely troubled. You don't know how crazy people may be. You are the president.

He shifted the discussion. He told me that he had spoken that day to political consultant Dick Morris. I wasn't surprised. I knew he maintained some contact with Morris. Most of the people on Clinton's staff despised Morris, and I was one of the few who didn't. I had had no history of conflict with him; I thought his political intelligence deserved a hearing, which should not be confused with accepting his advice. And Clinton knew I thought that. He told me that Morris had said to him that if Nixon, at the beginning of Watergate, had delivered a speech on national television explaining everything he had done wrong, making it all public, he would have survived. I thought this was one of Dick's wacky ideas, a complete misreading of history and a false analogy. The Plumbers who broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters had committed crimes at Nixon's behest and were being paid from a secret fund he had authorized. I asked Clinton: What have you done wrong? Nothing, he replied. I haven't done anything wrong. Then, I said, that's one of the stupidest ideas I've heard. Why would you do that if you have done nothing wrong?

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He launched into an account of an incident involving Lewinsky. He said that she made a sexual demand on him and he rebuffed her. He said: I've gone down that road before, I've caused pain for a lot of people and I'm not going to do that again. He said she responded by threatening him. She said she would tell others they had had an affair. She said that her name among her peers was "the Stalker," that she hated being called that. If Clinton had sex with her and she could say she had had an affair, she wouldn't be known as the Stalker anymore.

I repeated to Clinton that he had to avoid troubled people. You need to find some sure footing here, I said, some solid ground, some traction.

I feel like a character in a novel, Clinton said. I feel like somebody who is surrounded by an oppressive force that is creating a lie about me and I can't get the truth out. I feel like the character in "Darkness at Noon."

I knew the novel well. "Darkness at Noon" is a fictional portrait by Arthur Koestler of one of the original Bolsheviks facing a purge trial and execution for political crimes. I did not respond to this literary reference. Instead, I asked a series of questions about reports I had read or heard about Lewinsky. Were you alone with her? I asked. I knew that the Oval Office had outside peepholes at its doors. I had looked in through them myself many times. The president was surrounded by a host of watchers, by aides, secretaries, valets, waiters, Secret Service agents. If he were ever alone, he would have to arrange it carefully. I was within eyesight or earshot of someone, he said.

You know, I said, there are press reports that you made phone calls to Monica Lewinsky and that you left voice-mail messages on her machine. Did you make phone calls to her? He said he recalled calling to tell her that Betty Currie's brother had died in a car accident. He explained that Monica had been friendly with Betty, that Betty had been kind to her.

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I repeated myself again. You need to find some solid ground here, I said. You need to find some traction. I mentioned that I had heard a report that Vernon Jordan had scheduled a press conference the next day. Maybe, I said, that will provide some traction. Clinton didn't say anything. Our extraordinary meeting ended.

I had seen him upset before, wandering around the Omni Center in Atlanta at the Democratic National Convention in 1988 after he had delivered a disastrous nominating speech for Michael Dukakis. But I had never seen him this off-balance before. I was used to him in the Oval Office as a master of policies, facts, and ideas, the judge of arguments, always in control. Now he described himself as being at the mercy of his enemies, uncertain about what to say or do.

In that Oval Office encounter I saw a man who was beside himself. He told me a story that was basically the story I had heard earlier that day from his wife. Part of me wanted to believe him as a friend. Part of me wondered if his story could be true. That was why I repeatedly asked him probing questions. I wanted an explanation. Part of me had nagging doubts. I was a friend separately and together of the president and the first lady, though closer to her. And I was also the president's aide. Both of them wanted me to believe the story as he told it, because he wanted her to believe it and she wanted to believe him. In any case, I felt awkward even being in the middle. I felt it should be between the two of them. But this was a personal crisis that affected my job in the White House and how I would do my work in the future. Even if he was lying about Lewinsky, I could understand. He wouldn't have been the first man to lie to me about sex. More than one of my friends (including wellknown journalists) had done so and then asked for my help afterward, and I was happy to give it, and the friendships lasted. These are the terms of a mature friendship, what friends expect from friends, freely given. I did not believe that President Clinton and Vernon Jordan had obstructed justice or suborned perjury. Nor, in my wildest dreams, did I imagine that my listening to his telling me what he did was, as the House Managers later claimed, part of an obstruction of justice. That was absurd.

I did not mention this conversation to anyone except my wife. I did not tell other people on the staff. Not until later did I learn that this was the most detailed story the president had given to anyone, including his lawyers. To several other aides that day he had denied having an affair with Lewinsky, I learned later, in uncomplicated, brief denials. It was only then that I realized he probably had told this elaborate story only to me because of my relationship with Hillary. He knew we would share information and develop our politics together. There was no reason for him to think I would ever be subpoenaed. After all, I had never heard of Lewinsky until that very day. I never knew her, spoke with her, or met her. To my knowledge, I was never even in the same room with her. But I was close to Hillary and there was nothing more important to him at that moment than protecting his marriage.

Much much later, after the release of the Starr Report, I learned that almost everything he had told me was true. Almost. He had spoken with Morris, who had run a poll. (When I saw the poll reproduced in the Starr Report it struck me as mostly worthless as a political document, because all the key questions had the word "crimes" attached to them, ensuring negative responses. The statistics indicating the public's inclination to forgive incidents that were just sex, Morris misinterpreted.) Clinton had called Monica about Betty's brother's death -- one of several calls. Lewinsky had, in fact, demanded that he engage in sexual intercourse with her, which he refused. It was when he broke off with her, according to the Starr Report, that she made her demand for intercourse and her threat to expose him.

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Had he done anything "wrong" -- the word I used with him? He had committed no crimes; he was innocent of Starr's accusations. But he had acted recklessly, and in doing so he had given ammunition to his enemies and endangered everything he believed in. Later, I told him and Hillary that that was what I thought he had done wrong. Infidelity was between them, but this was the error that pulled the rest of us in.

Clinton was a man who came from nowhere; overcame all obstacles by virtue of his own intelligence, skill, and attractiveness; and then, having achieved his goal, gave in to his weakness. It was a mundane weakness, a most ordinary weakness. He did not give in to it for money, power, status, or fame. He did not do it out of mean-spiritedness, resentment, or cruelty. What he did was not a crime. It was part of the same personality that got him to the White House, with his need for affirmation, attention, and affection. He was a character with large appetites and desires, and a surplus of human nature, not unlike Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, the good-natured, life-loving figure who falls into follies of his own making as he tries to fend off the vicious connivances of others. The tragic aspect, the inexorable drama, was that this least unconscious president knew that what he had done was stupid. He understood that he had given in to his weakness. He had known that it was a mistake, but he made it anyway. It hurt his wife, Lewinsky, and himself. He knew, moreover, that this was not like the Kennedy era, when private lives had been kept private. He knew hateful pursuers were seeking to hurt him, and he knew he had the Jones case before him. Yet with this self-centered act he set himself up. And he knew it. Stunned by the situation, he did what most husbands would do: he tried to protect his wife, his daughter, and his own privacy. He acted as a man, not as a president. But the collision of roles could not be avoided.

Hillary, in her conversation with me, was not wrong in her assessment. She knew Bill Clinton, loved him, and worried about him -- more than anyone. Understandably, she didn't want to believe that his empathy had extended into an affair. Whatever the truth of that situation, it was entirely her business -- and no one else's. No matter what, she would defend her marriage, her privacy, her husband, and his presidency.

Even though Clinton had momentarily lost his equilibrium, he was not deprived of his political sense. His reference to "Darkness at Noon" indicated that he was anticipating that a certain kind of spectacle was about to take place. The impeachment trial, when it came, was in one respect the very opposite of a Stalinist purge trial, where countless people were called to account for public crimes they had not committed; it was a special inquisition only for Clinton -- and everyone around him. And he knew why: it was because he had won the presidency. Whatever the animosities against him, his ultimate offense was that he was in the White House. That was the truly unforgivable crime. The additional crime was that he had survived previous would-be scandals.

In the book, at noon the accused is forced into a dark inquisition chamber and can give no right answer. His position is always that of a guilty party. The fact of being named is a certificate of condemnation. Just raising the question of innocence means it is a moot question. Rubashov is indeed guilty -- of seditious thought -- and he confesses, agreeing with his prosecutors that, given his loss of faith in the revolution, he should have rebelled against Number One. If that text was not apposite for President Clinton, then another notable novel about totalitarianism, George Orwell's "1984," perhaps was. In it, Winston commits the "thoughtcrime" of having an affair with Julia, which is a crime against the state, which trains young people through compulsory membership in the Junior Anti-Sex League. The Ministry of Love tortures him into betraying Julia and loving Big Brother. He is reduced to terrified obedience.

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But, then, the Starr inquiry was not operating in a totalitarian state. Clinton knew how it was. He understood the Republicans' ruthlessness and unscrupulousness. He had been through years of Whitewater, years of the Independent Counsel's grand jury, years of endless congressional hearings. Now everything came down to a sheer political struggle. Clinton may not have known where to find "traction" on the first day, but he knew the score: "We'll just have to win."

That night, the White House Preservation Society dinner was a glittery event. The president shook the hand of Richard Mellon Scaife, who waited in line for the honor, and they posed together for the official White House photographer. At dinner I was seated not next to Scaife, but next to the wife of the chief executive officer of the Philip Morris tobacco company, Mrs. Bible. Mrs. Scaife was at our table and seemed delighted to be present, applauding when the president delivered gracious remarks. After dinner, Clinton and the first lady mingled with the guests as though they didn't have a care in the world.

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

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.

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