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It's Not Easy Being Bill By: Chris Weinkopf
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, November 15, 1999


NEVER HAS A PERJURIOUS, philandering, obstructer of justice ever been such a victim as Bill Clinton. During the early days of the Lewinsky scandal, when the tsunami of shame and embarrassment would have washed lesser cads out to sea, the President found dry ground on an island of self pity. In the drawer of his Oval Office desk—only feet from the very spot where, months earlier, he and Miss Lewinsky had shared a cigar—he kept various news clippings that brought him comfort. He called them "The Richard Jewell File."

In the November 15 issue of The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin reports on the collection, "named for the former Atlanta security guard who was wrongly suspected of planting a bomb at the Olympics in 1996." The President "identified with Jewell, and kept in the file newspaper articles about what he regarded as unfair attacks on him."

It's unclear as to what Mr. Jewell and Mr. Clinton have in common. Jewell, a quiet man who lived with his mother, suffered a personal tragedy when overzealous FBI agents and reporters descended on his home, subjecting him to an undue inquisition and destroying his reputation. Clinton's story is just the opposite: a man who has long sought and craved media attention, and who, through gall and wit, consistently evades responsibility for very real transgressions. So accustomed has he grown to a life free of consequences, that the mere threat of accountability seems to him like persecution.

In his own mind, however, Bill Clinton is more than just a victim—he is a martyr. "I think that history will view this much differently," he recently told ABC News. "They will say I made a bad personal mistake, I paid a serious price for it, but that I was right to stand and fight for my country and my Constitution and its principles, and—and that the American people were very good to stand with me." During those bitter days, when TV networks repeatedly broadcast the footage of his finger-wagging denial, others might have surrendered—but not our hero. "When historians get a little space," he reflected, in a moment of self-congratulation, "they will say, 'I don't know how those people stood up to that, but, boy, I'm glad they did because it preserved the Constitution.' "

Perverting the English language, bullying and smearing potential witnesses, stonewalling investigations with bogus legal challenges (executive privilege, attorney–client privilege, Secret Service privilege)—these were the burdens the President and his supporters had to bear to protect the nation's founding document. They never gave pride or self-preservation a second's thought. All that mattered to them was defending the U.S. Constitution—specifically the right of presidents to commit perjury and obstruct judicial proceedings. For this, the President says confidently, history will remember him kindly.

Maybe, but indicators more reliable than Clinton's narcissistic musings suggest otherwise. Last week, a federal appeals court rejected impeachment-era charges that then-Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's office had illegally leaked grand-jury testimony to the New York Times. During the Senate trial, "illegal leaks," had been the rallying cry in the Administration's attack on Judge Starr's integrity. In its same-day rebuttal to the Starr Report, the White House complained about such tactics twelve separate times. The strategy worked long enough; it distracted attention from the question of the President's guilt, and it undermined Ken Starr's credibility. But as courts consider the charges against the Independent Counsel—and there are still some two dozen under review—they are finding them baseless.

It is quite possible that the White House itself leaked embarrassing tidbits of grand-jury testimony to the press—thereby spacing inevitable revelations so as to minimize their political fallout—and then condemned the Independent Counsel for its own misdeeds. After all, the Administration had previously released secret information from Linda Tripp's Pentagon file. White House aide Sidney Blumenthal similarly helped to besmirch Starr by lying to the press about the nature of his grand-jury examination—Starr could only refute the charge months later, after Blumenthal's testimony became public domain.

If anyone deserves to have a Richard Jewell File in his desk, it's Ken Starr. That reality, of course, is lost on Bill Clinton, who can observe the world only through the distorted lens of his persecution complex. But as neutral observers sift through the facts and weed out the lies, the gulf that separates the President's perceptions from reality grows ever wider. History will have many words for Bill Clinton, but "right" will not be one of them.


Chris Weinkopf is an editorial writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News. To read his weekly Daily News column, click here. E-mail him at chris.weinkopf@dailynews.com.


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