God's whip hand

Convinced he is the instrument of the deity, bug killer Tom DeLay uses money and threats of political extermination to flay House Republicans into voting for impeachment. Part 4 of "The Clinton Wars."


Sidney Blumenthal
May 8, 2003 11:36PM (UTC)

The November 1998 midterm election was a smashing victory for the Democrats. Instead of losing 22 seats in the House as Speaker Newt Gingrich had confidently predicted, the Democrats picked up seats -- only the second time in the century when the party of the incumbent president had done so in the midterms. The results gave a sharp, clear statement against impeachment. Instead of enjoying the fruits of victory, Gingrich was suddenly confronted by a rebellion within his own party. Overcome with anger and anxiety, worried that his own extramarital affair would be exposed, he decided in a fit of pique to resign. The Republicans' Robespierre made his last appearance before his Committee for the Public Safety, the House Republican Conference, and then walked out of the room holding hands with his wife, to return to his Georgia redoubt, where he soon left her for his mistress.

Inside the White House we thought impeachment was about to end with a whimper. After the midterm election, nothing else seemed to make sense. The matter should devolve into one that could be resolved among reasonable people. It should not be a pitched battle, but a compromise of the sort that was the daily fare of the capital. And we had approached the best connected people in Washington to try to work out with the Republicans the terms of the censure. Big wheels were in motion: Lloyd Cutler, senior partner of Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering, former counsel to both Presidents Carter and Clinton; Vin Weber, former Republican congressman, who was part of Gingrich's inner circle and head of a lobbying firm; Kenneth Duberstein, former chief of staff to President Reagan and chief of the Duberstein Group, a lobbying powerhouse; and Bob Michel, former Republican House leader.

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President Clinton encouraged negotiations for a censure as the least contentious way to conclude the controversy. For weeks, even after the House Judiciary Committee had begun impeachment hearings, we continued to believe that there would be a rational solution. As late as Saturday, November 21, 1998, we were still strategizing about censure.

But by Monday it struck me that we in the White House were in denial. Why should reason prevail? We were operating on a series of false premises: rationality, self-interest, and common sense. Why should an election result unprecedented in American history reverse the dynamics of the House Republicans? Defeat might well intensify their radicalism. I told Hillary that I thought we would never get the votes to stop impeachment. "That never occurred to me," she said. Even Hillary, usually the pessimistic realist, had joined in the Pollyanna-like chorus. But why should we be right on the basis of being "reasonable"? By Thanksgiving, first Clinton's chief of staff John Podesta and then everyone else concluded that a battle over impeachment was inevitable.

The Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee inhabited a world of their own and resisted intrusions that might upset it. They had expected they would win the midterm and believed with every fiber of their beings they should have. They knew they had lost the midterm because of their insistence on trying to impeach a popular president, but they could not reverse themselves. The more the White House tried to move forward from the election result, the more they rebelled against it. The more they thought about it, the more they believed they were right. Their losing, they decided, was another of Clinton's offenses.

"The White House was arrogant," James Rogan, then a key Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, told me later. "The White House was saying, Screw you, you don't have a mandate." The account of how the Republicans were thinking that he related to me while I was writing this book was curious in its contradictions. Rogan explained the Republicans' raised expectations that fall: "Gingrich was telling us in October that we would pick up 20 or 30 seats-plus. We were going to come back with a windfall of seats." Gingrich, I learned, had even called up the president to warn him to resign before a delegation of House Democrats asked him to. "But not only did the Speaker miscalculate," Rogan said, "the way we read the results, Americans took a look at impeachment. There weren't many people on our side disputing that. There was almost no will on our part to pursue a losing strategy any further. We had hung on by our fingernails."

Right after the election, both Gingrich and his designated successor Bob Livingston talked to Rogan. Neither one thought the impeachment should go any further, he told me. And yet it did. "There was a missed opportunity, a window there," Rogan insisted, but he couldn't spell out exactly what it was. The more the White House spoke of a censure resolution instead, something "reasonable," and the more Democrats criticized the idea of impeachment, the more abused the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee felt. They didn't want to go further, but they went ahead. It wasn't their fault, but the White House's: "The White House was arrogant."

This was the logic of a vanguard consumed with its mission. They felt themselves to be "warriors," as Rogan put it. They had separated themselves from all society except their own, from any notion of political consequences, and from Republicans who didn't share their hard-shell militancy. "It happened because we were the only ones in town," Rogan said about their isolation. The House had adjourned before the election, and with Gingrich's resignation there was no Speaker; Livingston couldn't assume his position until formally elected by the next Congress. In early November, only the members of the House Judiciary Committee were in Washington. "If this had happened in March 1999," Rogan said, "when you had 535 members, there would have been a heightened sense of nervousness. You just had the small band, comfortably elected except for me." (Rogan was politically vulnerable, having squeaked by with 50.8 percent of the vote in his district in suburban Los Angeles.) "And there was nobody there who felt pain."

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The "small band" of "warriors" was the tattered remnant of the Republican "revolution." They knew they couldn't sustain an impeachment vote in the next Congress -- they would have had to accept defeat and slink away, but rather than acknowledge that, they became warriors imagining victory. Alone in their bunker, they were not about to give up this fantasy, especially for politics as usual, which would reduce them to being mere congressmen among hundreds trudging through the problematical, complex tasks of cutting deals to gain appropriations for local interests and servicing the incessant needs of constituents. The more embattled they became, the greater their faith in the righteousness of their cause and the more grandiose their self-image. They could not imagine how Americans could fail to support their shining example. The scandal became their myth, and the myth became their theater of impeachment.

But the drama needed to be played out before the new Congress convened in January. The process for the impeachment and removal of a president is described in the Constitution. First the House Judiciary Committee must draft the articles of impeachment. If a majority of the entire House approves any or all of these articles, the president is impeached. A trial in the Senate is prosecuted by so-called House Managers with the chief justice of the Supreme Court serving as judge. A two-thirds majority in the Senate is required to remove a president from office.

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The House Republicans would establish no standards about what constituted an impeachable offense or how to go about assessing it, but instead replay backward almost the whole reel of Clinton scandals in a surreal kaleidoscope. In the end, a majority was forced to vote not on the actual evidence, but in reaction to these gaudy tales. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Henry Hyde, and the incoming Speaker of the House, Livingston, deferred to the true power in the House, the Republican whip, Tom DeLay. Through the political machine he had constructed and controlled -- the engine of the GOP in the House, linking the party's constituency groups, corporate interests, campaign contributions, and dominance over the committee structure -- he whipped the Republicans into line, with threats if he had to. And after the House Managers entered the Senate, they contrived a desperate last gambit -- focused on me -- to topple the president.

Tom DeLay had always suspected Gingrich of weakness, had always regarded him as a rival. He had opposed him for whip in 1989, and with the Republican capture of the Congress in 1994 and Gingrich's elevation to Speaker, he had clawed his way into the post. After the government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, when Republican senators had wanted to end the self-defeating conflict with the president, DeLay had said, "Screw the Senate. It's time for all-out war!" Secretly, he had mobilized opposition to Gingrich, plotting to overthrow and replace him, yet when his internal coup had failed in 1997, his power was so secure that Gingrich dared not punish him. Now, with the equivocal Gingrich gone, Livingston quaked in DeLay's presence and did what DeLay told him to do.

DeLay lacked Gingrich's patchwork of neuroses, and having seen how Gingrich had become a bogeyman by appearing constantly on television, drawn to the light like a helpless moth, he accepted only occasional guest spots on the talk shows, preferring to operate with the curtains drawn. DeLay's plotting was unrestrained; his machinations on behalf of impeachment were the Founders' nightmare of American politics turned Roman. He held his vanity in check to focus his wrath on the president -- a wrath he believed was divinely inspired. In 2002, DeLay preached to the First Baptist Church of Pearland, Texas, that God was using him to promote "a biblical worldview" in politics, and that he had pushed for Clinton's impeachment because the president held "the wrong worldview."

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Just days after the election and within hours of Gingrich's resignation, Henry Hyde held a conference call with the members of the House Judiciary Committee. According to James Rogan, he said: "We've seen the (midterm) results, but the House passed a resolution. We have an objective. Come back to Washington." Hyde posed his call in terms of grim duty. His heart wasn't in it, in fact, and he was willing to entertain private proposals for a censure motion instead. But he allowed them to fall flat and, pushed by conservative Republicans, fell back on his march, putting one foot ahead of the other and insisting wearily he had no choice. Yet he also saw himself as a statesman, playing a role that would gloriously cap his career.

When the Judiciary Committee Republicans convened on November 9, Hyde conveyed the instructions he had received from the Republican leadership: "I have been told in no uncertain terms that we need to finish the inquiry, take it to the floor, and get it voted up or down before the Christmas recess," he said.

Hyde gaveled this first session of the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment proceedings to order. It was a sprawling committee of 37 members -- 21 Republicans and 16 Democrats -- spanning the spectrum from the most conservative (Bob Barr of Georgia) to the most liberal (Barney Frank of Massachusetts). A majority of the Republicans, 11 in number, were Southern conservatives, and six were from the party's old Middle Western bastions. There was not a moderate among them.

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Defeat had not tempered the Republicans, and in their trench, they fixed bayonets.

After Hyde's committee approved four articles of impeachment against the president, the battle moved to the House floor. Within the White House we set up a boiler-room operation of congressional liaisons to target uncommitted moderate Republicans. We worked mainly through surrogates, Republicans who would work with us. Our lists showed that plenty of Republicans might well vote against impeachment. We drew up lists in two categories -- those who we believed would vote against and those who were likely to vote against. There were more than enough, some said. I remained extremely skeptical. Soon reports came trickling into the White House about the intense pressure being exerted on all Republicans by Republican whip Tom DeLay. The pest exterminator from Sugar Land, Texas, surrounded by his centurions -- a staff and 60 Republican members designated as whips -- was directing what they called "the Campaign." Peter Baker of the Washington Post wrote:

"Besides his public statements advocating impeachment, DeLay had privately been coaching Hyde since the election, advising him on media relations and assisting with logistics. DeLay had sent copies of Starr's November 19 statement before the Judiciary Committee to each member of the Republican conference and was organizing committee members to do what he could not do himself -- whip their fellow congressmen as the vote on the floor approached. The committee staff was provided with whip cards and taught how to divide up the caucus to focus on key congressmen who would move whole blocs of members. DeLay's aides were also enlisting prominent Republican fund-raisers and party officials to help persuade those on the fence."

On Saturday, December 12, immediately after the Judiciary Committee vote, DeLay and his staff had circulated a letter against bringing up censure for a floor vote. They told Hyde that the leadership had already decided, which it hadn't, so Hyde signed. They told Livingston to sign and he agreed, but he wasn't physically available, so his aide was ordered to sign for him while one of DeLay's aides hovered over her. Gingrich, still nominally the Speaker, was in Georgia, and he agreed over the phone. DeLay's name never appeared on any letter, but through coercion and will he had snuffed out any alternative to impeachment.

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We heard from Republicans that DeLay's operation was putting pressure on the campaign finance chairmen of certain individual congressmen. In one case, we learned, a congressman's brother had been called and told to influence his brother, who would otherwise face a right-wing opponent in the 2000 primary. Representative Amo Houghton, a moderate Republican from New York who opposed impeachment, had already been declared a betrayer and a conservative primary opponent had announced against him, even though it was two years to the election. This was an obvious demonstration case to encourage the others. Houghton was an heir to the Corning Glass fortune and self-financing, but other Republicans were not in his protected position. Representative Peter King, another New York Republican opposed to impeachment, was threatened with being stripped of a subcommittee chairmanship. An aide to DeLay warned him that the Whip would make "the next two years the longest of his life."

"Coming out of the election, everyone thought impeachment was dead," Congressman King told me later. "I didn't hear anyone discuss impeachment. It was over. Then DeLay assumed control. In most districts in the country, a majority was against impeachment, maybe a majority of Republicans. But a majority who voted in Republican primaries was for impeachment. When you put individual members under the gun, a lot of them could get killed in a primary. That was the way he did it. I heard of Christian radio stations going after Republicans. Right-wing groups were stirring it up in parts of the country outside of the Northeast. Most of the pressure went through the Christian right network. It happened over a ten-day period. The whole world changed. I remember talking to people like Rick Lazio and Mike Forbes [both Republicans of New York] and they were saying this is nuts. Then suddenly they were holding news conferences saying their consciences were torn."

The stress exerted on Representative Jack Quinn, another Republican from New York, who told King he would vote against impeachment and told us that he would hold out, was tremendous, and he crumpled under it, so beaten by DeLay that he didn't tell us of his decision despite promising he would do so. Tom Campbell, Republican from California -- a bellwether of the moderates, a former Stanford Law School professor whom we had counted on -- caved, too. At his press conference declaring his intention to vote for impeachment, he was asked about the substance of the articles and responded, "I couldn't say off the top of my head." Campbell had higher political ambitions to run for the Senate, and so he made his decision. (He lost in 2000.) On December 15, nine previously uncommitted Republican moderates announced for impeachment.

The day of the House impeachment vote arrived on December 19. By Republican lights, it was to be the day of Clinton's disgrace. Since long before he ran for president in 1992 he had been the object of a Republican campaign to remove him from politics. Richard Mellon Scaife had invested millions looking for dirt about him. A flood of books and articles, videotapes, and radio talk shows had spread malicious stories that he had murdered dozens to cover up his crimes. If he was not a murderer, then he must be a rapist. The Republicans had tried to corner him, expose him, and eliminate him for years. Now they believed he was done at last. Hillary Clinton was calm, composed, and defiant. At 8:30 in the morning she appeared before the House Democratic Caucus. "I love and care deeply about my husband," she said. "We have committed our lives to the values of equality of opportunity and a better life for the children of America." She asked the Democrats to support the Constitution and "the commander-in-chief, the president, the man I love." She received a standing ovation.

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The House proceedings opened with the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance: "... with liberty and justice for all." "All! All! All!" chanted the Democrats.

Bob Livingston, who a day earlier had been forced by a forthcoming expose in Hustler magazine to confess his own sexual indiscretions before a stunned meeting of the House Republican Conference, now walked to the podium and addressed his remarks to the president: "Sir, you have done great damage to this nation ... I say that you have the power to terminate that damage and heal the wounds that you have created. You, sir, may resign your post." The Democrats, already outraged, shouted: "You resign! You resign!"

Livingston continued reading: "I can only challenge you in such fashion that I am willing to heed my own words. But I cannot do that job or be the kind of leader that I would like to be under current circumstances. So I must set the example that I hope President Clinton will follow. I will not stand for Speaker of the House on January sixth." For a moment, everyone was still. Then the Republican leaders jumped up and quickly escorted Livingston from the chamber. Some Republicans applauded, others cried. "He understood what this debate was all about," DeLay said on the floor, "... about relativism versus absolute truth." Livingston had spent the days of his "intended" speakership, as he called it, in fear and trembling.

In the White House, Livingston's resignation came as a bolt from the blue. But we instantly saw it as part of Tom DeLay's strategy to drum up pressure for Clinton's resignation. The president was in the White House residence. Lockhart ran over, got his remarks, and immediately briefed the press. We could not allow DeLay's strategy to gain the slightest momentum. Clinton, Lockhart explained, had enjoyed working with Livingston, was dismayed by his resignation, and wished he would reconsider. That response closed off DeLay's effort to use Livingston against the White House.

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After Lockhart gave the press the president's comments on Livingston, we held another meeting on the State of the Union address, deciding on various social initiatives to be mentioned in it and communicated to the press beforehand. It was business as usual on the most unusual day.

Back at the House, Democratic leader Dick Gephardt delivered a stem-winder: "We are now rapidly descending into a politics where life imitates farce, fratricide dominates our public debate, and America is held hostage to tactics of fear and smear." The Democrats stomped and cheered and wouldn't stop, as if they could forestall the inevitable. When the roll was called on the first article, the Democrats marched out onto the Capitol steps to protest, returning after 15 minutes to cast their votes. The president of the United States was impeached.

Dozens of Democratic representatives boarded buses to take them to the White House, where they congregated in the East Room. A number of us on the staff joked that there was no protocol for an impeachment party. The Christmas decorations were up, and soon the White House would be filled every night with cheery throngs. We all milled around under the portraits of George Washington and Dolley Madison, a roomful of Democrats, not at all mournful, but political people who knew each other, closing ranks by schmoozing.

When the president came in with Hillary, Gephardt spoke: "We will stay with you and fight with you until this madness is over." Vice President Gore had words for the members who had just rejected impeachment: "History will judge you as heroes." Then Clinton came to the microphone. Subdued but sharp, he drew distinctions between Republicans and Democrats, one party seeking power for its own sake, the other seeking to use government for the common good. "That's what this thing is about. It's about power." He added, "I would give anything if you had not been in the position you were in today, and if I had not acted in such a way as to put you there." Now everyone marched out to the Rose Garden to speak before the media. Gephardt denounced "a partisan vote that was a disgrace to our country and our Constitution." Gore introduced the president: "What happened as a result does a great disservice to a man I believe will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest presidents." And Clinton spoke: "We must stop the politics of personal destruction. We must get rid of the poisonous venom of excessive partisanship, obsessive animosity, and uncontrolled anger." He called for "one America," took Hillary's hand, and walked into the White House.

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I joined them in the outer Oval Office. Clinton's private secretary Betty Currie was taking phone messages. The president started flipping the pages of a newspaper. Hillary and I gave each other a reassuring hug.

Clinton grabbed my arm and asked me to come into the Oval Office. He asked me what I thought. I gave him my views on the Republican strategy, on DeLay and his tactics. The Republicans were ruthless, Clinton agreed. They know what they want: power. They don't have another agenda. Their agenda is a means to an end: power. He was sorry about what everybody had been through because of the scandal. He was apologetic that he had given ammunition to our enemies. He was sorry about Lewinsky and the whole thing, but no apologies would be enough. That's not what they're interested in. They want him out because he's there. They can't accept him as president. They never did and never will. This is about nothing except power. After they won the Congress in 1994 and he didn't roll over and die, they wanted him out even more. The more we do, the more they want him out. Everything that's happened to them -- losing the midterm election and losing Livingston -- they've brought on themselves because they want to destroy him. They don't care if all of them are exposed as hypocrites. They just don't care. They'd sacrifice every Speaker just to try to get rid of him. Because this is just about power.

Two days after he was impeached, Clinton's popularity reached 67 percent in the Washington Post/ABC News poll. The festive Christmas parties at the White House went on as planned. At each one, the president and the first lady stood for hours, as they did every year, to pose for holiday pictures with guests in the Dish Room -- a room located between the Diplomatic Reception Room and a portrait gallery of first ladies that exhibits the representative dishware of the presidents since Washington. At the party held for members of Congress, I observed Republicans who had voted for impeachment standing patiently and excitedly in line with their wives to have their photographs taken. Merry Christmas!

Throughout the Christmas vacation, while the Congress was adjourned, we worked on the State of the Union address. The day after the impeachment the president had held a meeting in the Cabinet Room to discuss how to frame the Social Security debate. Republicans were already pushing a new exorbitant tax cut that would swallow the surplus. In his 1998 State of the Union address, Clinton had declared, "Save Social Security first." Rather than siphoning the surplus to a regressive tax cut, he wanted to make Social Security solvent for decades to come, and he had held public forums across the country on the subject. Now we debated whether to recommend investing a portion of Social Security in the stock market, then in its most bullish phase. Privatizing Social Security by transforming the system into one of private accounts invested in the stock market was a pet Republican scheme. How could it be countered? "Our mission," Gore said, "must be to defeat individual accounts. They would undermine Social Security."

Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, laid out various options. Working with the Treasury Department he had devised an ingenious plan for individual accounts that was the diametric opposite of the Republican one: in addition to Social Security, which would remain sacrosanct, every worker would be vested with a private pension, subsidized by tax credits and matching government funds on a highly progressive basis based on income; this plan obviously especially benefited the working poor. On January 6, at another meeting, the president agreed to this plan, "conceptually," he said. He demanded more work on the specifics.

On January 7, 1999, the trial opened with the entrance onto the Senate floor of the House Managers (having first prayed together). Chief Justice Rehnquist was escorted to the podium by an honor guard of senators. He took an oath and swore in the senators in turn, and the House Managers read aloud the articles of impeachment. Watching the ceremonies on television in my office, I talked on the phone with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. "The whole thing lacks legitimacy," he said. "Two-thirds of the people are against it. The comparative strength of the parties has driven the whole thing." That evening, Clinton's political staff and key cabinet secretaries met with him for a political strategy session. The president concentrated solely on the issues he would talk about in the State of the Union, conducting a long discussion of Social Security.

During these very difficult months, I saw President Clinton in numerous briefings, speech preparations, and meetings. Almost every day we exchanged newspaper and magazine articles we'd marked up about politics, various policy proposals, the political state of play in important foreign countries, and the impeachment -- he did this with a number of us on the senior staff. His comments were practical and precise, though sometimes, when he encountered the bizarre charges made by the Clinton-haters, even he could be astonished. On one article, reporting a particularly fantastic claim, he simply wrote, "Amazing."

Two mutually exclusive theories about him gained currency with the media at this time. Either Bill Clinton was too distracted by his impeachment to focus on governing, or he was able to compartmentalize these subjects and live in eerily separate mental worlds. Both were untrue, and there was no actual evidence to support either. If anything, his formidable powers of concentration were sharper than ever. Above all, he understood that the war against him was really a war against his ability to govern. Clinton knew that his strength depended upon his doing his job for the public, and he neglected no area of policy. But he also devoted his attention to the impeachment and the Senate trial, occasionally expressing anger and wonder but always handling the situation as a political crisis, which it was. He didn't make public remarks about how he felt about Starr or DeLay and kept his views private. Throughout the days of the trial, his focus on his public agenda was unwavering and his discipline unvarying.

Senators, being members of the upper body of the legislative branch, consider themselves far above the rabble of the House of Representatives. While there are 435 members of the House, there are only 100 senators, elected for six-year terms, with only one-third standing in any given election. The Senate is far more intimate, clublike, and devoted to its arcane protocol. A month earlier, on December 8, the full Senate had convened purposefully in the Old Senate Chamber for the first time since 1859. Enveloped by their tradition and setting themselves off from the riffraff banging at the door, they discussed how the trial would proceed.

Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, the second oldest member, who filled his floor speeches with references to Roman history and Shakespeare, denounced the House of Representatives as "the black pit of partisan self-indulgence" trading in "salacious muck which has already soiled the gowns of too many." His sentiment that the senators' togas should remain unsoiled was widely shared. A proposal by Senator Slade Gorton, Republican of Washington state, and Senator Joseph Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, well expressed that view. They suggested that the senators simply hear opening statements and vote. If the articles of impeachment failed to receive a two-thirds vote in favor, there would be no trial. But the House Managers had become folk heroes to the Republican minions in the country, and Senate majority leader Trent Lott could not dismiss them so easily.

Many Republican senators regarded the Republican House members as asylum seekers: if the senators could have deported them without anyone noticing, they would have. Tom DeLay, meanwhile, attempted to intimidate senators into removing the president on the same basis that the House had impeached him: the loose material in the House "the evidence room," the raw FBI reports and witness interviews that constituted the leftovers from numerous dead-end investigations into the president's private life. DeLay was unabashed in using this tactic. "The reason the House adopted articles of impeachment was due to the overwhelming evidence against the president," he said. "Before people look to cut a deal with the White House or their surrogates who will seek to influence the process, it is my hope that one would spend plenty of time in the evidence room. If this were to happen, you may realize that 67 votes may appear out of thin air. If you don't, you may wish you had before rushing to judgment." His remark was a thinly disguised threat: You may wish you had.

Half a dozen Republican senators agreed to have the House Managers present "the evidence" to them. But the offer was not made to the Democrats, nor was Chief Justice Rehnquist aware of this egregious irregularity. "We had a nine-page presentation," Rogan told me. "It mutated into a private show for senators. I just wanted them to sit down, shut the door, and listen to the evidence." But more than anything else, these shows frightened the senators about the spectacle that the House Managers might make in the Senate. "The senators wanted us to go away and not be there," said Rogan.

The Managers had a frantic, far-fetched strategy: call live witnesses onto the Senate floor before a national television audience, especially Monica Lewinsky; have this show turn public opinion against the president; force him to defend himself by coming onto the Senate floor; and somehow have the roof collapse on him. "The only threat to the Clinton presidency," Rogan told me, "was if we could try the case in a way that changed public opinion. If public opinion changed, I don't think Clinton could have avoided going to the Senate." The strategy had several flaws, not least that every time Clinton appeared in public his poll ratings improved. Rogan, in the event, was charged with being the president's interrogator: "I'd sit up all night preparing to cross-examine President Clinton. But did I think we were going to get witnesses? No."

Hyde, too, demanded live witnesses from the start, having importuned Senator Lott in a December 30 letter claiming that the House of Representatives had such a "constitutional duty" as "the accusatory body." The Managers drew up a plan for calling 16 witnesses, including Judge Susan Webber Wright in the Jones case, FBI Director Louis Freeh, Dick Morris, Revlon CEO Ronald Perelman, and Kathleen Willey and her lawyer. ("Lindsey Graham was hot on Willey," said Rogan.) On January 6, 1999, Hyde and his committee counsel and old Chicago crony, David Schippers, had met with Senator Lott, who refused to commit to their elaborate presentation. When Hyde told him the Managers wanted the loose cannon, Schippers, to address the Senate, Lott said, "We can't do that."

When they learned on January 7 that they would not get their way, the Managers almost decided to walk out. "I took the position we should not proceed in the trial," Rogan told me. "It's a sham trial. It wouldn't be a trial. They were making it impossible for me to make my case. What I wanted us to do was to announce that we were not able to present on behalf of the House. Without live witnesses, they'd vote overwhelmingly not to convict and we'd look like a bunch of assholes. But most of us felt if we walked out we'd look like crybaby schoolboys. It ended up being just three of us -- me, [Chris] Cannon, and [Bob] Barr. But I think if we'd done it, they would have had to reverse themselves. I don't think Lott would have withstood the demands of Republicans. Lott's base would have burned him down."

The Senate Democrats, for their part, were hostile to the very idea of witnesses. During the impeachment in the House, the Republicans had claimed they needed none. Why did they need witnesses now? Paul Sarbanes, Democrat of Maryland, reflected Democratic sentiment about the Senate as a forum for sexual storytelling: "They didn't call witnesses in the House because they didn't want to be embarrassed with that kind of testimony. But now they say that we have to call witnesses? That's outrageous."

On January 8, Republican senators met in Lott's conference room with Hyde, Schippers, and the House Managers. Hyde pressed them to review "the evidence." When Senator Ted Stevens, Republican of Alaska, told them, "We'll look goofy," the Managers exploded in anger. Rogan told them they had to do exactly as the House Republicans had in coming to impeachment. "We did -- why don't you?" said Rogan. "How else can you reach a rational decision on guilt or innocence?" Hyde kept referring to "the evidence." The senators repeatedly said they would not allow "sex" into the Senate. "Henry," said Stevens, "I don't care if you prove he raped a woman and then stood up and shot her dead -- you are not going to get 67 votes." "The system doesn't work," Schippers muttered loudly.

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On January 26, as the Senate trial got underway, I was watching the proceedings on television with White House deputy chief of staff Steve Richetti in his office when the names of the witnesses were flashed on the screen: Monica Lewinsky, Vernon Jordan, and Sidney Blumenthal. Betty Currie boogied down the hall from the Oval Office with a wide smile on her face. "Free at last! Free at last!" She pointed at me. "Congratulations," I said. "Congratulations," she replied. She gave me a big kiss. On a split screen suddenly appeared pictures of the three witnesses to be called alongside a shot of the Pope, landing that day in St. Louis, Missouri. Hillary, who was on her way to see the Pope, called me to say, "It's an honorable feat [being subpoenaed]. I'm seeing the Pope. He has a different agenda."

I telephoned a Republican friend of mine who was well connected to the House Managers and who, from time to time, discreetly gave me information. He underscored the Managers' strategy: "They want to shove it onto the Senate floor. They think they can do it with you. That's all they've got." The plan was to force Lewinsky into the well of the Senate, using my grand-jury testimony as the foil to upset her, and hoping against hope that then they could get her to cry over her treatment at the hands of the president, which would arouse hatred toward Clinton.

That morning, the Wall Street Journal had run a lead editorial headlined "The 'Stalker,'" demanding that I be called as a witness. It laid out what my Republican friend had confirmed:

"For a jobless 25-year-old, Monica Lewinsky sure is terrifying. She's so scary she has managed to unite President Clinton and some Senate Republicans in trying to short-circuit their trial to keep her off the impeachment stage ... The value of her testimony has nothing to do with sex ... They [House Republicans] want to talk about obstruction of justice, among other things what she thought when she learned that the president she loved had told aide Sidney Blumenthal she was a 'stalker' who had 'threatened him.'

"This line, we now know, was vital to the Clinton cover-up ... And we know that not long after the President's "stalker" remarks to Mr. Blumenthal on Jan. 21, 1998, media reports began to appear that attacked Ms. Lewinsky ... This is ugly stuff, turning consensual sex into a predatory cover-up. Monica is lucky she saved that dress; without Bill Clinton's DNA this would be the White House line today ...

"All of this is directly relevant to the obstruction case, and is why witnesses including Mr. Blumenthal should be called. Monica's testimony in particular would be an O.J. verdict moment, the one time when just about everyone in America would be watching TV. It is the one event that could change public opinion. Democrats -- especially Senate women who make an issue of sex harassment -- want these facts swept away before that happens."

The Managers of course had to have Lewinsky and Jordan as witnesses. Betty Currie would have been the natural third witness, if three were all they were to be allowed. But, Jim Rogan told me later, "The senators told us that it'd look like you're beating up on black people." So they named me as the third and final witness. To the House Managers, I was the devil at Satan's right hand. Just as they believed in their fantasy identity as warriors, they believed in their fantasy of the evil Bill Clinton in his evil White House. They had lost the midterm elections, watched two Speakers resign in ignominy, and listened to an immensely popular president deliver an acclaimed State of the Union address. But they still wanted Americans to believe that Clinton was a merciless godfather who preyed upon women and then ordered his consigliere to do the dirty work of shutting the women up -- or else.

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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