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Jewish World Review / Nov. 26, 1998 /7 Kislev, 5759


Mugger Starrís Magnificent Moment

FRIDAY MORNING, with the Starr testimony in full swing, I was speaking with David Tell, one of the countryís most accomplished intellectuals, and I ventured that perhaps Starrís levelheaded and cool testimony would buck up wimpy Republicans to at least vote for impeachment that would then go to a doomed Senate trial.

Tell was not optimistic. He, like myself, canít understand why the nation is so sanguine about a president whoís perjured himself and clearly obstructed justice. But thatís what passes for political culture today: As long as a voterís pocket bulges itís okay for the president -- the president! -- to lie, but not a prosecutor to bring him to justice.

Starr's moment of truth
The night before, watching Clinton lawyer David Kendall, a dyspeptic barrister who deserves to be disbarred, spar with Starr and not scoring one solid hit, I thought at least this was a moment to remember. When Kendall asked Starr if his team had ever hired private investigators, the independent counsel replied, "No, we have never hired Terry Lenzner, David," referring to the gumshoe who dug up so much dirt for Clinton and his "war room" on the Presidentís enemies.

But the crowning moment of the night came at the conclusion of GOP majority counsel David Schippers' questioning of Starr. Schippers, whoís clearly disgusted with the unfair tarring of Starr as a sex-crazed second coming of Joseph McCarthy, began this exchange:

Schippers: "You have been given a duty that you did not seek and youíve performed that duty to the best of your ability. Is that correct, sir?"

Starr: "Ive certainly tried, and I did not -- to do it to the best of my ability, and Iím proud of what we have been able to accomplish. As I indicated earlier, the records of convictions obtained but also the decisions not to seek an indictment, the decision to issue thorough reports, all that is part of what we have co-labored together, with Mr. Kendall pointing to the number of persons involved in the investigation. Iím proud of those persons. Theyíre my colleagues and they have become my friends, and theyíve worked very long and very hard under very difficult circumstances, and recognizing --- and weíre big, big boys, and I mean that in a gender-neutral way." Schippers: "And that has" ---

Starr: "So when we were accused in Arkansas of a political witch hunt, we took it and we did our arguing in court and proved to the satisfaction of a fair-minded jury with a very distinguished judge that the sitting governor and the president of the first ladyís business partners were guilty of serious felonies. And we had been listening month after month to ĎItís a political witch hunt.í And that was unfair, but we learned that goes with this territory."

Schippers: "And Judge, for all that, doing your duty, youíve been pilloried and attacked from all sides. Is that right?"

Starr: "I would hope not all sides, but I guess thatís" ---

Schippers: "Sometimes it seems like all sides."

Starr: (Laughs.)

Schippers: "How long have you been an attorney, Judge Starr?"

Starr: "Twenty-five years."

Schippers: "Well, Iíve been an attorney for almost 40 years. I want to say that Iím proud to be in the same room with you and your staff."

Whereupon Starr got a standing ovation from the Republicans, and perhaps for the first time in his 12-hour appearance, flashed a well-deserved grin. It was a happy moment for me and supporters of the maligned prosecutor. A good person, a devoted family man, Starr finally had the chance to briefly bask in a bit of the adulation that Clinton craves on an hourly basis.

I wasnít dewy-eyed, but I went to bed thinking this was a minor victory. Schippers' comments were a display of common sense; that no matter the outcome of the impeachment inquiry, in fact, Starrís entire investigation, this exchange should go down in history as one shining moment in the whole depressing affair.

On Saturday, Pat Buchanan and Frank Rich gave their opinions of Starrís testimony. Not surprisingly, Buchanan made a lot more sense than the screwy Rich, an imbecile who should be fired from the Times for his crummy writing and made to do penance, under Sidney Blumenthalís tutelage, at the Clinton White House. Maybe he could be the concessionaire at the First Liarís frequent movie screenings.

Buchanan was succinct: "Under Starrís relentless recital of facts and the law, Clinton defenders were beaten back into their last ditch: Even if Bill Clinton committed perjury, obstructed justice and lied to a grand jury, his felonies do not rise to the level of impeachable offenses.

"Though a college president would be fired in disgrace for Clintonís crimes, a trial lawyer would be disbarred, and a general in the armed forces would be court-martialed and sent to Leavenworth, Clinton must be given a pass and allowed to serve out his term."

The smarmy Rich, ebullient that most tv stations decided not to air Starrís testimony, tried and failed to employ a technique thatís heís never been able to muster, maybe even define: irony.

He wrote: "But none of the Three Big networks aired so much as a minute of [the hearings] live. By this point, as the Times' Jill Abramson observed, Mr. Starr had failed to match the star power of John Dean, Oliver North or Clarence Thomas."

Rich mustíve broken out in a rash just keystroking "Clarence Thomas," another upstanding man whoís been trashed by the likes of Broadway Frank.

"Among other miscalculations, the independent counsel didnít realize that the very words 'Morgan Guaranty' put the nation (and visibly yawning Congressmen) to sleep. Or that his own report had hit the best-seller list not because of its constitutional arguments but because of its vivid descriptions of oral sex that, as he so painstakingly noted, did not reach 'completion.' If Mr. Starr was going to abstain from sex at this late date, then of course America [and Rich] was going to change the channel to 'The Young and the Restless.' New sex, even old sex, was the only hope of propping up a hearing with no new information, no new rhetoric, no changes of heart in any camp and no compelling new characters."

Fine. Rich was bored by Starr's testimony. He was more concerned about the testimony as performance, instead of a calm recitation of the crimes that the President of the United States had committed, sullying the Constitution in the process. What a sad sack and embarrassment to what was once considered the countryís Paper of Record. As for Starrís report hitting the bestseller list, thatís laughable, as Rich knows. Starr didnít release it to make money, you partisan loser. It says something that a columnist for The New York Times thinks itís okay for the President to lie, under oath, because itís "just about sex."

What a lesson to todayís youth; what an indictment of Rich's warped values.

Travel north, to Boston, and read what Globe subscribers got from columnist David Nyhan on Nov. 20. Nyhan, whose faded bumpersticker, "Donít Blame Me, Iím from Massachusetts," has probably been transferred to each car he buys, tells readers that "Starr is no match for Clinton as a TV performer."

Pure poetry, Mr. Nyhan, and a fact that even first-graders in this jaded country already know. He also spins the line so popular with the mainstream press that because the public is against impeachment, then the Constitution has no relevance. I canít wait: In four years, say, when George W. Bush assassinates Saddam Hussein, without Congress' approval, it'll be Nyhan whoíll lead the charge for impeachment.

But the silliest part of Nyhanís defense of Clinton was his introduction: "If the Republicans had put Kenneth Starr on national TV for two hours before the last election, the Democrats could have carried Canada."

Donít know about you, but Iím still howling.

"Earth to Ken: Life is not a bar exam. Abstruse asides about ethereal concepts such as Ďinchoate criminalityí were sprinkled throughout the case Starr presented. Is Starr the only man in America who doesnít understand why a shifty gent with a roving eye would prefer not to be unmasked as a horny hubbie groping a more-than-willing female subordinate?"

If a conservative columnist had written those last words heíd be running from a vigilante squad comprised of Gloria Steinem, Eric Boehlert, Barbra Streisand, Maxine Waters and Katha Pollitt, ready to cut his nuts off for such sexist remarks.

I prefer the comments of Wesley Pruden, editor of the Washington Times, enlightening us about the conduct of virtuous Democrats: "Barney Frank, the great moral exemplar from the precincts of the Massachusetts witch burners and slave traders, was beside himself most of the day, spluttering contrived rage and spraying real spittle on his papers (and his neighbors) with objections, excuses and points of order beyond number. John Conyers, obsessed with the subject as only a man haunted by memories of used-to-be and surrounded by nubile young women can be, wanted to talk only about sex. Jerrold Nadler, the thousand-pound balloon from the Macyís Christmas parade, looked about to burst, pumped up with unction and self-righteousness."

Finally, The Weekly Standardís Andrew Ferguson, chatting with Massachusetts Democrat Marty Meehan at a break, found out from the Congressman that the minority party really wants a punishment meted out to Clinton, but if the Republicans insist on pursuing the impeachment hearings, that wonít happen. As Ferguson notes, itíll be the GOPís fault if Clinton gets off without even a spanking.

JWR contributor "Mugger" is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


11/18/98: Who could have imagined!?
11/11/98: Send Dowd Down to the Minors
11/05/98: Feeding Gore to a shark named Bush
10/30/98: "Pope" Jann and his rappers speak ---it's time for fun again
10/28/98: Lowered expectations, but the GOP holds the cards
10/23/98: Speaking from Zabarís: Michael Moore!
10/21/98: Bubba redux? His uptick won't last
10/16/98: Gore for President: The Bread Lines Are Starting to Form

©1998, Russ Smith