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Jewish World Review June 6, 2000 / 3 Sivan, 5760

Nat Hentoff

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The Liar's legacy and America's delusions -- AS FUNDS CONTINUE to be raised for Bill Clinton's presidential library, I would be eager to see whether there'll be a room opened only by special and very limited permission.

Where, for example, will there be the contempt-of-court ruling against him by U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright for "undermining the integrity of the judicial system?" No other president had one.

And in what room will there be another unprecedented part of his legacy the recommendation by the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct that William Jefferson Clinton be the first sitting president to be disbarred? He will likely be out of office before his appeals are concluded, but in this, too, he is as Duke Ellington used to say of certain musicians "beyond category."

Mr. Clinton's supporters, a horde of energized Uriah Heeps, criticized the disbarment recommendation. But they understandably ignore what the Arkansas State Supreme Court said in 1998, when it disbarred another attorney: "There is simply no place in the law for a man or woman who will not tell the truth even when his interest is involved."

This further unraveling of the president's contention that he has been the victim of relentless persecution for an essentially private sexual relationship leads me to predict which books about this modern Job will be of most value to historians of the American presidency a century from now.

Barely meriting a footnote, I expect, will be Jeffrey Toobin's widely publicized "A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President" (Random House). This New Yorker magazine reporter and ABC-TV legal analyst concludes that the brouhaha was all about "a menopausal man having an affair with a young woman from the office."

"The Hunting of the President: The Ten Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton" (St. Martin's Press) delivers its message right on the cover. The authors, Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, devote many pages and extensive source notes to demonstrate that the president who is only human like the rest of us was done in by an intricate conspiracy of his insatiable enemies.

But there is no substantive analysis in their book of how Mr. Clinton violated the Constitution as he and his janizaries these two authors among them tried to stave off his conviction on the articles of impeachment. Historians to come will find an extensive record of Mr. Clinton's serial contempt for the Constitution in Richard Posner's "An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment and Trial of President Clinton" (Harvard University Press). Judge Posner chief judge of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, and the author of remarkably penetrating books on the law goes far deeper than Messrs. Toobin, Conason and Lyons:

"Clinton engaged in a pattern of criminal behavior and obsessive public lying, the tendency of which was to disparage, undermine, and even subvert the judicial system of the United States, the American ideology of the rule of law, and the role and office of the president." To do all of that he engaged in "obstruction of justice, including perjury when committed in either a civil or a criminal proceeding" and "tampering with, or intimidating witnesses."

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The best journalism is a rough draft of history, and future historians will spend considerable time with "Truth at Any Cost: Ken Starr and the Unmaking of Bill Clinton" by Susan Schmidt of The Washington Post and Michael Weisskopf of Time magazine.

After interviewing more than 150 of those directly involved including Ken Starr and 25 members of his staff, along with 14 of Mr. Clinton's lawyers, advisers and aides, 13 officials of the Justice Department and the Secret Service, and many others in the cast of this constitutional drama they have produced the factual narrative, including abundant source material, to illuminate Judge Posner's constitutional and other conclusions.

Ken Starr himself is not spared for his failures as a bumbling prosecutor, and Mr. Clinton could be played in a movie by W.C. Fields if this were a comedy. Mr. Clinton, of course, would be Micawber in "David Copperfield."

As Henry Hyde said before the full House Dec. 18, 1998: "Impeachable offenses are those which demonstrate a fundamental betrayal of public trust. They suggest the federal official has deliberately failed in his duty to uphold the Constitution and laws he was sworn to uphold."

Future historians will be puzzled as to why so many Americans and writers of books allowed themselves to be gulled by this song-and-dance man.

JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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© 2000, NEA