106 Sellout

  David Schippers, under Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early ’60s, led the Justice Department’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Unit, successfully prosecuting mobsters such as Sam Giancana. A lifelong Democrat, who twice voted for Bill Clinton, he was renowned for his skills as a prosecutor and trial attorney. Still more: he was known as a man of integrity. As The House of Representatives began its inquiries which led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, Congressman Henry Hyde brought Shippers to Washington to lead an oversight investigation of the Justice Department and to ultimately become Chief Counsel of the House Managers entrusted with pursuing the impeachment trial.

In Sellout: The Inside Story of President Clinton’s Impeachment (Washington: Regnery Publishing, Inc., c. 2000), Shippers provides us his “insider’s account” of what happened. Given the overwhelming evidence he found. President Clinton deserved to be impeached and removed from his office by the Senate for his “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Though Clinton claims to be “proud of what we did” during the impeachment process, actually claiming to have “saved the Constitution,” Schippers asserts that impeachment was the only suitable recourse to deal with “some of the most outrageous conduct ever engaged in by a president of the United States” (p. 3). Shippers is disgusted by the Senate’s refusal to seriously try the President, but he is even more outraged that “the President of the United States of America and his White House water boys sold out the American people–not just in a one-time spasm of political expedience, but in a deliberate snarl of sophistry and cynical manipulation of public opinion, the singular aim of which was political self-preservation. In the process, he soiled not just himself, but the Constitution, the public trust, and the Presidency itself” (p. 6). President Nixon resigned in 1974 rather than suffer impeachment. In Shippers’ judgment, however, “what Nixon did–and it was bad–did not remotely approach the abuses of office perpetrated by Clinton and his cronies. Nor did President Nixon attack the constitutional rights of private citizens the way Clinton did” (p. 175).

On first coming to Washington in 1998, Schippers supervised an investigation of the Immigration and Naturalization Service which, during the months prior to the 1996 election, had naturalized thousands of citizens in key election states (with 181 electoral votes), including California, New York, and Florida. Vice President Al Gore led the administration’s efforts to make sure 1,000,000 pro-Democratic “citizens” would be ready to vote in time to keep the Clinton-Gore team in office. Strong-arm tactics were used, laws regarding checking on criminal records were broken, and the goal was attained. Shippers and his staff poured over the documents and found reason to make criminal charges but had to turn to more urgent matters: the Starr Report.

As soon as the House began the impeachment procedures, Schippers discovered the Clinton modus operandi: do anything to avoid the truth. The most honorable of men, Henry Hyde, who bent over backwards to insure fairness in the procedure, received nothing but vilification from the Clinton crowd. When it was decided to make public the videotape of the President’s grand jury testimony, for example, the White House spinmasters “leaked” information to the press concerning Clinton’s angry behavior. When people saw the tape, they found him remarkably poised and thus wondered at all the hoopla. What they failed to see was his obvious lies, obvious to skilled lawyers but too subtle for ordinary folks. To the House Managers, and to Shippers, of course, the real “high crimes and misdemeanors” were perjury and obstruction of justice. “The President encouraged Lewinsky to lie,” Shippers asserts, “which is a felony” (p. 63). Clinton and his media accomplices, however, successfully reduced the whole inquiry to questions of “sex” with Monica Lewinsky. “The White House never ceased to astound and dismay me in the extent to which it demonstrated its utter contempt for the Judicial Branch, the Legislative Branch, and the American people” (p. 171).

As the House of Representatives began to consider the evidence (in 17 large boxes) against the President, Shippers found that the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee took their task quite seriously. They came to the room which contained the evidence, studied it, and asked good questions. As Jim Rogan said, “We have to be prepared to lose our seats if that results from doing our duty” (p. 108). The same was not true of the Democrats. Five of them, including Barney Frank of Massachusetts, didn’t even enter the room! Readers of Sellout, however, can read many pages of pertinent documents, detailing the data which Shippers finds so persuasive. The rape of Juanita Broaddrick, the harassment of Kathleen Willey and other women, the “obstruction, perjury, and witness tampering” in their cases, seem indubitable to Shippers.

When the Judiciary Committee brought its charges before the House of Representatives, once again it became clear to Shippers that Democrats cared little for the truth. During the four days when the evidence room was open for them, some 65 Republicans investigated the materials. “Not one Democrat saw fit to examine the evidence” (p. 254). The House did, of course, impeach Clinton on two counts, and the Senate was then entrusted to consider the charges. Here Shippers encountered perhaps his most disillusioning moments. Before the “trial” began, prominent Senators guaranteed it would be a sellout. “It was a flat-out rigged ball game, what we in Chicago would refer to as a First Ward election” (p. 7). Trent Lott, the Senate Majority Leader, was mainly interested in “bipartisanship” and popular opinion. Unlike the House Managers, Republican Senate leaders sought above all else to make sure they looked good and stayed in office!

Alaska’s Republican Senator Stevens actually told Henry Hyde: “Henry, 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 sixty-seven votes” (p. 23). Joe Biden, of Delaware, curtly informed them that Senators “make our own rules” and cared not for truth and justice. As the trial began, of course, all 100 Senators marched to the front and solemnly swore to conduct a fair trial. Sadly enough, Schippers says, for many “the oath had meant nothing to them, absolutely nothing” (p. 24). That not a single senator even bothered to look at the evidence assembled by Shippers and his staff reveals the disinterest which pervaded this august body! The alleged trial was anything but a trial. No witnesses! No cross-examination! No detailed presentation of evidence! It was all a show orchestrated by the Clinton clique. “Lies, cowardice, hypocrisy, cynicism, amorality, butt-covering–these were the squalid political body parts that, squeezed through the political processor, combined to make a mockery of the impeachment process” (pp. 1-2).

Fortunately Shippers reveres the law, and the truth which preserves it. That the highest officials of this nation have little concern for a “nation under law” or for leaders who tell the truth, distresses him. In a moving section, he writes:

  • “I do not care what you are lying about. If you’re the President of the United States and you lie under oath, you should be removed from office.

    “But my fellow Democrats voted unanimously to put the President above the law.

    “They affirmed that a Democratic president can get away with lying, obstructing justice, and doing anything necessary to stay in office, even if it means destroying the legal underpinning of our political system.

    “They treated the legal rights of a citizen–Paula Jones–as a trifle to be brushed aside.

    “They treated Lady Justice as though she were a harlot.

    “And they should be accountable where it hurts–at the ballot box–by Americans who believe that truth matters, that we live by the rule of law, and that justice should be done” (p. 97).

  • This is a powerful book, written in anger–the righteous anger which seeks to do good for others. Schippers wants us to know the truth because he really cares about this republic, a nation under law. He warns us that “the integrity of our public officers mirrors that of the citizens” (p. 283). How insiders of the Clinton administration, notably Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, fare in the coming election, Schippers says, will reveal much about this nation’s character and destiny.

    A closely related treatise, by Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf, Truth at Any Cost: Ken Starr and the Unmaking of Bill Clinton (New York: HarperCollins, c. 2000), provides a journalistic account of President Clinton’s impeachment. The authors were investigative reporters for the Washington Post before Weisskopf signed on with Time. They portray Starr as an honorable, disciplined lawyer who sought to do what he was assigned to do as special prosecutor (a position he ironically had long opposed as legally dubious). He and his staff–the Office of the Independent Counsel–successfully prosecuted numbers of folks associated with the Clintons and submitted to Congress a referral that they considered sufficient for impeaching the President. Though the same age as Clinton, in many ways Starr is his antithesis: they are the “tortoise and the hare,” according to Schmidt and Weisskopf. Starr almost religiously revered the law and lived uprightly, a model of temperance and marital fidelity. While Clinton “got through Yale Law School borrowing notes and cramming for exams, Starr never missed a class at Duke Law School, taking exquisitely organized notes and freely lending them to less dedicated students” (p. 113). Clinton dealt and played with the law, as with life, in a “pragmatic, compromising” way (p. 6).

    Clinton’s cronies, such as Webb Hubbell, were the same. Hubbell plea bargained and promised to provide the OIC important evidence, but he slickly “suckered” Starr and used his immunity to avoid revealing damaging information concerning the Clintons. Amazingly, for remaining silent he managed to make $600,000 during one year when he was largely unemployed! As a result of their investigations, “The OIC lawyers also came to believe that the Clintons were ruthless. They operated like a crime family, expecting friends and aides to protect them even against their own best interests” (p. 11). Still more: “By the end of 1997, Starr had arrived at the view that Clinton’s conduct was lawless, his presidency a colossal moral failure” (p. 11). When the Jones and Lewinsky cases intersected to detail the President’s misdeeds, the OIC decided to draft a referral to the House of Representatives justifying his impeachment.

    To counter Starr’s investigation, the Clintons orchestrated an all-out assault on Starr. Harold Ickes served as field marshall of the operations, and he promised to raise sufficient funds to equip his underlings with everything needed to relentlessly attack the OIC. “Everything is fair game,” he said, and anything which might harm Starr and his staff was encouraged. The Clintons almost always lost when dealing with evidence before a grand jury or in a court of law, where facts and logic and truth were prized. But in the media circus where they excelled, they could sway public opinion and make sure their leader stayed in power. Ridiculing Starr’s religious life, lying about his personal life, leaking misleading information to the press, manipulating opinion-makers such as the New York Times, distorting the data–anything to distract the public’s attention from the truth concerning the Royal Twosome! White House lawyers determined to attack Starr “with every weapon they could master. Starr had to be demonized. They had to make the investigation a referendum on Ken Starr instead of Bill Clinton” (p. 92). “Clinton’s team went after Starr with an intensity usually reserved for political enemies in a must-win election, not for government officials duly appointed by a panel of federal judges” (p. 96).

    In the midst of it all, the nation’s Attorney General, who should have supported the Office of the Independent Counsel, betrayed it. To Ken Starr, Janet Reno “was a modern-day Pontius Pilate, allowing the crucifixion of innocents. She had compromised the grand traditions of the Justice Department, he said. She had forsaken her fidelity to the rule of law and turned his beloved institution into a mouthpiece for the White House” (p. 131). She supported the Secret Service’s refusal to cooperate with the OIC, leading to a highly-successful media-blitz by the Clintons, portraying the agents as loyal men forced by Starr to spy on the President. Private sessions with Reno’s staff, it now seems, were conduits alerting the White House to the OIC’s plans, enabling them to dissemble and manipulate and defuse any public outcry. One of the appellate judges who heard some of the legal arguments, Laurence Silberman, a Reagan appointee, overturned some of the White House staff’s claims for “executive privilege” and rebuked Reno and her staff, excoriating her for “the terrible political pressures and strains of conscience that bear upon senior political appointees of the Justice Department.” He solemnly asserted “that ‘The president’s agents literally and figuratively “declared war” on the independent counsel,’ and that Reno had been ‘acting as the president’s counsel under the false guise of representing the United States'” (p. 197).

    Step-by-step, blow-by-blow, Truth at Any Cost details the developments which led to the President’s impeachment. We follow the events, the phone calls, the memos, which made Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp and William Bennett and James Carville so center-stage for so many months. We learn that Paula Jones’ lawyers subpoenaed Clinton for all documents in his possession concerning Kathleen Willey, who had accused him of improper behavior in the Oval Office. He replied, through his lawyers, that he had none. Then, the morning after she appeared on “60 Minutes,” they suddenly found and (illegally) published some of her personal papers, hoarded in the White house for just such a moment. The convolutions of Clinton’s denials, and admissions, concerning his affair with Lewinsky, are clearly covered in the book, and no one can doubt the President’s devious duplicity throughout.

    Despite difficulties, however, the Starr inquiry went reasonably well until he made a monumental mistake. He actually trusted a journalist, Steven Brill, a legal writer who had 20 years earlier done a balanced report on the judge in The American Lawyer. This time, however, Brill manipulated the interview with Starr to make it appear (in the inaugural edition of Brill’s Content) that he had leaked information which should be known only to the grand jury. Doing so, Brill said, Starr had used the press and abused the power of his office as Special Prosecutor. “‘There is a lot more evidence of Starr and some of his deputies committing this felony,” Brill wrote, ‘than there is of the president or Vernon Jordan committing a felony'” (p. 173). Forget the fact that Brill’s charges were groundless, utterly untrue. Almost immediately Clinton allies in the New York Times and the Sunday TV talk shows repeated Brill’s accusations.

    Once the story broke, Starr took all the blame. “I have no excuses,” he said. On cue, Clinton’s lawyers flamboyantly charged to Judge Norma Johnson’s courtroom, determined to make the most of Brill’s charges. Johnson, a Democrat named by President Jimmy Carter, had generally supported Starr in the many legal disputes he’d waged with the White House lawyers. But she responded favorably to the Clintons on this charge, insisting that the OIC prove its innocence or be cited for contempt. It was a serious accusation, a pivotal moment in the investigation. Starr’s lawyers were quite devastated. Suddenly attention which had been devoted to the investigation itself had to be diverted to defending themselves. “The controversy highlighted what many of Starr’s aides considered his greatest weakness: his lack of street smarts” (p. 184). In a court room, dealing with legal briefs, he was peerless. But he was so old-fashioned that he trusted people; he expected them to be as honorable as himself. In time the issue was resolved and the investigation recovered some its momentum, but it was an almost crippling blow, apparently lending credence to the rabid rhetoric of James Carville and other Clintonistas.

    The crescendo of events moved ever onward, however, and Starr’s legal skills, using indisputable data, such as stains on Lewinsky’s blue dress, led toward a showdown between himself and the President. Clinton’s lawyers finessed an agreement whereby he could avoid a subpoena, with all its legal entailments, and provide a “voluntary statement” which promised to provide the information Starr wanted. Going the subpoena route, he knew, would drag on endlessly as Clinton’s legal machine utilized every delaying tactic imaginable. Believing that the President would have to speak honestly in such a deposition, Starr risked it. On August 17, 1999, Clinton appeared (by video) before the grand jury. “At last, the president and his accuser would confront each other over the issue of truth. Starr saw it as black or white; Clinton perceived a spectrum of grays. It was the central question, the fundamentally different way of seeing the world that had always divided them” (p. 235). However, Clinton insisted that he need not respond to certain questions! In fact, he came into the room and read a prepared statement, admitting to “inappropriate intimate contact” with Lewinsky. He admitted sexual improprieties but not to lying under oath, the truly serious charge.

    After dealing with Monica Lewinsky’s false statements in her affidavit, denying sexual contact with the President, to which Clinton had earlier asserted was “absolutely true,” one of the OIC lawyers asked him why he had allowed his lawyer, Bob Bennett, to tell a federal judge that “there is absolutely no sex of any kind.” Responding, in what David Schippers says (in Sellout) is probably the penultimate clue to his character, Clinton hedged: “Well, in the present tense that is an accurate statement.” Dancing with semantics, he later responded to a direct question concerning the “completely false” nature of his statement: “It depends on what the meaning of the word is is” (p. 238). To his way of thinking, “If is means is and never has been, that is not–that is one thing. If means there is none, that is a completely true statement” (p. 238).

    Ever able to play to the camera, even Clinton’s interrogation seemed to help him! He played to the folks in the grand jury. And he played with the sympathies of the American people, turning his “mea culpa” admission on TV into an attack on his evil enemies. Wife Hillary joined in the chorus, as did the full force of his loyal Party. Ken Starr and his staff, dogged as usual, persevered and delivered the evidence they’d compiled to the House of Representatives. At this point, Truth at Any Cost concludes. The book makes clear, however, that Starr is an admirable man, deeply committed to the truth. He lost the battle for public opinion, in part because he never knew how to massage and manipulate it. But in the ultimate scales of justice, he may well be vindicated and a shining example of all that Bill Clinton is not.