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Jewish World Review Oct. 3, 2000 / 4 Tishrei, 5760

Nat Hentoff

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Why Clinton was not convicted -- THE MOST ACCURATE account of the congressional role in the Clinton impeachment has been written -- from the inside -- by David Schippers. A lifelong Chicago Democrat, Schippers was appointed by Republican Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, as chief investigative counsel during the proceedings that led to the impeachment -- but not the conviction -- of the president, who now says that he "saved the Constitution of the United States" by fighting for his acquittal.

Schippers has voted twice for Clinton. "I'm going to spend some time in purgatory for that," says Schippers, a practicing Catholic.

Although Schippers had led the Justice Department's Organized Crime and Racketeering Unit under Attorney General Robert Kennedy, he had been away from Washington a long time -- working as a skilled trial attorney in Chicago -- before returning to the Orwellian morality of a capital in which leaders of both parties are mesmerized by polls and chronically accustomed to lying as a way of survival.

His new book, "Sellout" , written with Alan Henry, a widely experienced investigative journalist, has not received anywhere near the attention it merits in the media. That's not surprising, since the press, in all its forms, failed -- with very few exceptions -- to cover the fundamental story of why Clinton was impeached.

In "Sellout," Schippers specifically exposes the mainstream press's shallow downplaying of Clinton's rampant violations of the Constitution; obstruction of justice, including tampering with witnesses; serial perjury; and abuse of power. His pervasive contempt for the Constitution has also been detailed in "An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of President Clinton" , by Richard Posner, chief judge of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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The citizenry depended on the media, not Judge Posner, to find out what was going on. But because most reporters and editors let themselves become entangled by the White House's expert spinners, the constant popularity polls showed that most Americans believed that Ken Starr and the Republican impeachment managers -- not the president -- had defiled the Constitution. They thought that the president had only lied about a private sex misstep.

Accordingly, as Schippers shows in appalling detail, the Republican leadership in the Senate -- as frightened by the polls as Dracula confronted by a cross -- forbade an authentic trial of the president. The intimidated leaders prevented the House managers from calling live witnesses. They insisted that the managers present only a portion of the evidence that Schippers and his team of investigators had gathered using their extensive federal and police experience.

While Senate Republicans, led by the pompously ineffective Trent Lott, rescued the president from conviction (but not from history), congressional Democrats were determined to hide the evidence, not only from the public, but also from themselves.

As the House was deciding whether to impeach the president, Schippers set up a secure evidence room stocked with videos, tapes, transcripts, statements and reports. Not a single House Democrat went into that room to examine the evidence, but 65 Republicans did.

When the Senate was deciding whether to convict the president, the evidence room was still open. But as Schippers notes in "Sellout," "not one senator" of either party "took the time to review the evidence my staff had gathered."

There is one other book that is essential to understanding why Clinton should have been convicted. "Truth at Any Cost," is by two reporters who were not thrown off course by the president's janizaries both in and out of the White House. Susan Schmidt of the Washington Post and Michael Weisskopf have, like Schippers, provided valuable source material for future historians; their book, too, has also been ignored or trashed by most of the press.

The New York Times Book Review even assigned a mystery writer -- a person without even second-hand reporting knowledge of the Washington minefields -- to make fun of "Truth at Any Cost."

I hope that Brian Lamb will bring some sunlight to the shadow play of the impeachment by inviting David Schippers to be on C-Span's "Book Notes." He's already been on C-Span in a less-focused context. And I hope people around the country who never get invited to Washington parties will get Schippers' defiantly honest -- and accurately titled -- "Sellout."

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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