- January: On a quail hunting trip, Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney discusses the idea of merging his company with Dresser Industries's CEO, Bill Bradford. Cheney had already presided over the merger and acquisition of several smaller companies, most notably Landmark Graphics, a software company that produces computer models of hydrocarbon reserves. Cheney wants Halliburton to become the world's largest -- perhaps the only -- oil services corporation, envisioning a company that can do everything from locate oil reserves to building the offshore platforms that will drain the crude from the subsurface. He has already centralized control within Halliburton to the point that Fortune magazine compares the company's bureaucracy to "the Soviet navy."
- Bradford is amenable. After a series of secret meetings with Cheney at a Dallas hotel, Halliburton purchases Dresser for $7.7 billion. On paper, the merger is a good idea. The companies' divisions have little overlap, and Cheney says he doesn't expect serious layoffs of employees. But by the time the paperwork is signed in September, oil prices have plummeted. To compensate for Halliburton's premium buyout price, Cheney slashes 10,000 jobs.
- Worse (for those not already on the bread lines) is yet to come. The two hunting buddies, Cheney and Bradford, had not bothered to conduct the usual investigations that constitute normal due diligence in such a merger. Lying in wait for Halliburton are the huge asbestos liability lawsuits; however, Cheney would be long gone to Washington by the time Halliburton publicly announced that it had to assume $4 billion in asbestos liability claims.
- Cheney, like other Halliburton executives, knows about the asbestos liabilities. But Cheney may have remembered how another Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), dodged its own asbestos liability through a corporate shell game. In 1996, KBR will spin off a wholly owned subsidary called Highland Insurance Group, and stick Highland with the 30,000 asbestos claims laid upon it by the courts. It will take until 2002 for a Delaware court to force Halliburton and KBR to pay out $80 million to settle the claims. As for Halliburton and Dresser, Cheney apologists claim that Cheney had no way of knowing just how bad the Dresser liabilities were. In December 2001, as Cheney is overseeing the decoration of his new offices in the White House, Halliburton publicly admits that it will have to pay out on three huge asbestos claims. Its stock plummets over 42% in value, and claims against Halliburton and its subsidiaries will swell to over 274,000 by the end of 2001. After another subsidiary of Halliburton, Harbison-Walker, files for bankruptcy in early 2002, Halliburton's stock takes another tumble, and the company is forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy "reorganization." The proceedings allow the firm to duck its liabilities, though it is forced to pay out almost $4 billion to settle the claims.
- Cheney receives, in December 1998, a $1.5 million bonus for "bringing the Dresser merger to a successful conclusion." And Vice President Cheney will ensure that Halliburton gets all the government contracts it needs after the US invades Iraq in March 2003. Quid pro quo. (Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein)
- January 7: Monica Lewinsky signs an affidavit in regards to the Paula Jones lawsuit denying any sexual relationship with Clinton. Her own lawyer, Frank Carter, and Clinton's legal team are unaware that Lewinsky is not being truthful. In her own mind, as is evidenced by her biography, Lewinsky has convinced herself that oral sex isn't the same as sexual intercourse, and by that definition she has indeed not had sex with Clinton. She also affirms, falsely, that her only encounters with Clinton were in conjunction with her job and always in the presence of others. (Executive Intelligence Review, Joe Conason and Gene Lyons)
- January 9: Monica Lewinsky lands a job with the public relations department of McAndrews & Forbes in New York City. The job interview was secured by Clinton's advisor Vernon Jordan, though, according to McAndrews executive Ronald Perelman, she did well enough in the interviews to have landed the job without further help from Jordan. Lewinsky calls her friend Linda Tripp later that evening. According to Lewinsky, she no longer trusts Tripp, who is once again taping the conversation without Lewinsky's knowledge, and lies to Tripp, saying that she hasn't yet found a job and that Vernon Jordan has been no help in her job search. She also tells Tripp that she hasn't yet signed the affidavit for her testimony in the Paula Jones case. Tripp, who has decided to turn over her tapes and documents to Kenneth Starr if she can win immunity from prosecution for her felonious taping of Lewinsky, counsels Lewinsky not to sign the affidavit until Jordan finds her a job. Tripp's concern is, of course, not for Lewinsky, but for her own agenda of helping to bring down Clinton. (Joe Conason and Gene Lyons)
- January 12: Iraq allows UN inspection teams to return, then withdraws cooperation on the grounds that too many of the inspectors are Americans and British. The pattern of Iraqi deception and recalcitrance continues over the course of the year. (UN/Electric Venom)
Note: The following rather exhaustive material spanning the days from January 12 - 25, 1998 is sourced from Marvin Kalb's excellent book One Scandalous Story: Clinton, Lewinsky, and 13 Days That Tarnished American Journalism, augmented by material from the equally excellent book by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, The Hunting of the President. Both books use a tremendous number of sources from print, Web, and broadcast media, along with a number of individual interviews; I have not attempted to attribute every piece of information I've gleaned from the two books to their individual sources; instead, I have just credited Kalb, or Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, as the general source with the understanding that the authors put together his information from a variety of sources of their own. I suggest you read both books and peruse their notes for yourself; despite the seemingly large amount of information gleaned from the books for this page, both contain far more information than I have included. Both One Scandalous Story and The Hunting of the President are excellently researched and eminently readable books, Kalb making a powerful, if understated, plea for the press to right itself from the course it has embarked upon beginning in January 1998 and continues to pursue to this day. I am greatly indebted to all three authors and their work.
- January 12: Linda Tripp testifies for Kenneth Starr's OIC, after helping to provide the OIC, Paula Jones legal team, and other anti-Clinton bashers with reams of information and speculation about the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. Tripp eagerly provides the OIC with the tapes she has secretly made of her conversations with Monica Lewinsky, and OIC lawyers spend hours poring over the tapes. The tapes document the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, and indicate that Clinton and Vernon Jordan may have asked Lewinsky to lie about the affair. OIC deputy Jackie Bennett assures Tripp, who belatedly worries that she might have broken the law in making the tapes, that she did the right thing; Bennett, without checking with Starr, then authorizes the use of a body wire by Tripp for her meeting with Lewinsky the next day.
- The story of Tripp's testimony from the OIC is misleading at best. According to the Starr Report eventually submitted to Congress, the entire Tripp testimony went precisely according to legal protocol: On January 12, the OIC received information that Lewinsky is attempting to influence the testimony of one of the witnesses in the Jones case, and that Lewinsky herself intends to lie under oath about her affair with Clinton. Lewinsky is also misrepresenting the undue and possibly illegal influence of Vernon Jordan in Jordan's attempts to help her find a job in New York. The OIC presented this evidence to Attorney General Janet Reno and Reno concluded that further investigation by the OIC of these matters is warranted.
- The OIC is lying. Even the date is wrong; the OIC received the news about Lewinsky days before, and from sources whose complicity with Starr would not stand exposing. Reporter Michael Isikoff lists a number of possible sources for the Lewinsky information: Lucianne Goldberg, Linda Tripp, Richard Porter, and Jerome Marcus; two other "elves," George Conway and Ann Coulter, are also possibilities. All of these people are both intimately involved with the Jones legal case and, in violation of the law, have been funnelling information to Starr since at least September 1997. Goldberg, Tripp, Coulter, and Conway have also been in touch with Isikoff, whose own involvement in the case has gone far beyond any notion of journalistic objectivity. Isikoff denies ever realizing that he was being used as a cats-paw in the conspiracy to bring down Bill Clinton, and claims not to have known that there was a cabal of lawyers, reporters, Republican activists, and bitter enemies of Bill Clinton working together to destroy the president. "I had relied on the elves for information at critical junctures," Isikoff later writes, "even while they concealed from me their role in bringing the Lewinsky allegations to the Jones lawyers and later to Ken Starr." Isikoff writes of a dinner party on January 8 attended by Jones "elves" Porter and Marcus, and newly hired OIC lawyer Paul Rosenzweig. Porter is Kenneth Starr's former law partner and Lucianne Goldberg's conduit to the Jones lawyers, while Rosenzweig was involved with the Jones case before his hiring by Starr. Marcus calls the dinner "pure serendipity" -- a coincidence augmented by Porter flying in to Philadelphia from Chicago, and Conway taking the train from New York. During the dinner, Marcus informs Rosenzweig about the Lewinsky allegations and Vernon Jordan's attempt to help Lewinsky find a job. He asks, "[D]o you think this is something that your office would be interested in?" he asks. After phone calls between Rosenzweig, Marcus, Porter, Goldberg, and Tripp, the decision is made for Tripp to "come in on her own" to discuss what she knows with the OIC's Jackie Bennett. Nothing regarding the January 8 dinner meeting or the discussions thereafter is mentioned in the Starr Report -- because doing so would violate not only lawyer ethics, but the Independent Counsel Act. Regardless of the legal niceties, Bennett briefs Starr on Rosenzweig's meeting with the "elves" on January 12, and Starr gives permission for Bennett, two assistant prosecutors, and FBI agent Steve Irons to meet with Tripp that evening.
- According to Irons's 302 report, Tripp portrays herself as an innocent "victim of circumstance," blaming Isikoff for hounding her into revealing her knowledge of Kathleen Willey and Monica Lewinsky, and saying that she doesn't believe Willey was sexually assaulted by Clinton, but went willingly into the lion's den. She claims to have been subpoenaed against her will by the Jones team, and claims that all she wants to do is protect Lewinsky. She also misrepresents the contents of the tapes she has made of her conversations with Lewinsky, portraying Lewinsky as more than willing to lie under oath, and even says that she made the tapes merely for her own protection. She fails to mention the book deal she and Goldberg are arranging. Jones reports that the OIC prosecutors guarantee that she won't face federal prosecution over her illegal taping of Lewinsky, though they can't promise her immunity from the state of Maryland. She agrees to meet with Lewinsky the next day while wearing a wire.
- Joe Conason and Gene Lyons write, "If the Starr Report is accurate, the independent counsel's decision to wire Tripp was a bold gamble. Acting on no legal authority but his own, Starr had set out to investigate a crime potentially involving the president that not only hadn't happened yet, but might never happen." Tripp, who has already testified in four different investigations -- the FBI files, "Travelgate," the Vince Foster suicide, and Whitewater -- is known to be actively hostile towards Clinton. The legal ramifications of Starr's decision to wire Tripp are breathtaking in their range of unconstitutionality. Even the OIC's own notes, used as source material for the Starr Report, contain the lie, "No contacts w Paula Jones lawyers." (Marvin Kalb, Executive Intelligence Review, Joe Conason and Gene Lyons)
- January 12: According to Linda Tripp, she phones Lucianne Goldberg in hysterics over her apprehensions about her new lawyer, James Moody, complaining of his ideological zeal and saying that he seems "nutty." Moody has offered to take Tripp as a client pro bono, through the auspices of Goldberg and the "elves." Tripp's qualms are hard to fathom, considering how willing and eager she has been to consort with other right-wing ideologues. In any case, she keeps Moody, who works out a deal with the Jones lawyers so Tripp can merely give a deposition and not testify -- thereby ducking out of cross-examination by the feared Robert Bennett. Tripp's former lawyer, Kirby Behre, warns Tripp that Moody is not a criminal lawyer, and says that for her own sake, she should warn Clinton's lawyers about the tapes she made of her phone conversations with Lewinsky. Behre believes that once the Clinton team finds out about the tapes, they will be far more willing to settle the lawsuit, not realizing that the Jones team has no intention of settling on any terms. Instead, Moody takes possesion of the tapes, copies them, and gives the copies to Jones "elf" Ann Coulter.
(Joe Conason and Gene Lyons)
- January 13 - 14: Linda Tripp, wearing a wire monitored by FBI agents requisitioned by Kenneth Starr, meets with Monica Lewinsky for lunch in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Arlington, Virginia and illegally records their conversation. Tripp is under orders by Starr's investigators to get Lewinsky to admit to an affair with Clinton. (At this point Starr still has no legal authorization to investigate allegations of Clinton's sexual improprieties.) Investigative reporter Michael Isikoff receives a phone call from a source which he refuses to reveal, who tells him about the meeting. Isikoff is astounded, realizing that Starr is attempting to "nail" Clinton via Lewinsky, and quickly calls his favorite source, right-wing literary agent Lucianne Goldberg. Goldberg is aware of the meeting, having already heard from Tripp. Isikoff later recalls, "Everything that had happened up until this moment -- my conversations with Tripp and Goldberg, the courier slips, the dress, all of it -- always had a playacting quality. ...I had felt at times as if I had wandered into one of those murder mystery weekends in which I was acting out the role of a reporter in a written-for-modern-day-Washington Agatha Christie play. Having the chance to peer into Linda Tripp's world was seductive, there was no question about that. It offered an eerie and fascinating, if tinted and very blurry view of what purported to be seedy conduct inside the White House. But it had been hard to connect it with any kind of objective reality, no way to be sure the whole thing wasn't some gigantic, psychotically induced mirage." But once Starr was involved, playtime was over. Starr's entrance gives Isikoff what he has been lacking, proof that the story is relevant -- Starr's involvement "proves" it. "This was [no longer] about sex, or even about the Paula Jones case," Isikoff later writes. "This was about the special prosecutor launching a secret criminal investigation of the president -- and targeting his supposed girlfriend in an effort to nail him. It was breathtaking news." Isikoff's editors instruct him to drop everything else and focus on this story. Starr's involvement, recalls bureau chief Ann McDaniel, "completely changed the way Newsweek dealt with the story." Former deputy director of the Pentagon's public affairs office Willie Blacklow confirms that he, at least, was puzzled about the access to the president that Lewinsky seemed to enjoy.
- The conversation between Tripp and Lewinsky is strained. Tripp doesn't reveal the fact that she is wired, but nevertheless Lewinsky suspects it. For her part, Lewinsky still hasn't revealed that she has taken the job that Jordan helped her get, with a New York firm that owns Revlon, nor that she has already signed an affidavit for Clinton's lawyers denying that she and Clinton had any sort of sexual relationship. Both women spend the conversation bobbing and weaving, with Tripp trying to get Lewinsky to make incriminating statements and Lewinsky trying to keep Tripp at arm's length. The radio transmitter in Tripp's bra doesn't work properly, and the OIC and FBI agents monitoring the conversation in an upstairs suite are becoming more and more frustrated. (When Tripp goes to the restroom, Lewinsky rifles her purse, searching for a bug.) But even with Lewinsky's caution and the poor transmission quality, Starr's team believes that they have enough to threaten Lewinsky with prison.
- Meanwhile, Goldberg sends Isikoff into a panic by telling him that Tripp's new lawyer, right-wing ideologue James Moody, intends to turn over Tripp's tapes to Starr immediately; Isikoff insists on hearing the tapes before they are turned over. (Moody has already given copies of the tape to Jones "elf" Ann Coulter.) Isikoff contacts the OIC's deputy, Jackie Bennett, who is fighting many on his own staff in his desire to have Starr broaden -- in essence, redirect -- the Whitewater investigation to begin digging into Clinton's sex life. Bennett refuses to speak to Isikoff for fear that Isikoff will break the Lewinsky story before the OIC can set up a "sting" to ensnare Clinton. Bennett successfully argues that the impending report of the Lewinsky story impels the OIC to set up a meeting with the Justice Department to get permission to investigate the Tripp allegations. (Marvin Kalb, Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, Executive Intelligence Review, Newsweek/James Carville)
- January 12: Lewinsky's lawyer, Frank Carter, faxes a copy of her affidavit denying any sexual affair with Clinton to the Paula Jones lawyers, and warns them that unless he hears from them by January 15, he will file the affidavit in support of his motion to quash the Lewinsky subpoena. The Jones lawyers, like every other lawyer involved in the case, are under strict gag orders not to discuss the case with anyone else; any such contacts would require a court order. Yet, by January 15, Kenneth Starr has a copy of Lewinsky's affidavit in his possession. He will admit in testimony before the Senate in November 1998 that Linda Tripp's lawyer, James Moody, faxed him a copy of the affidavit. Starr claims ignorance of how Moody may have gotten the affidavit, but Moody has always been in close contact with the Jones "elves."
(Joe Conason and Gene Lyons)
- January 13: Iraq suspends all cooperation with UN inspectors. Though UN Secretary General Kofi Annan will broker a peaceful solution to the impasse, Iraq will continue to impede the inspectors' task until the UN lifts economic sanctions. On October 31, Hussein will stop all activities by weapons inspectors inside Iraqi borders. (Electric Venom)
- January 14: Starr's staff listens again and again to the tape Tripp has illicitly made of her conversation with Lewinsky on January 13, and argues whether or not they need to seek permission from the attorney general and from David Sentelle's three-judge supervisory panel to investigate Clinton's sex life. Some make the rash argument that they can tie this investigation into Whitewater through Vernon Jordan, though Jordan has no connection to Whitewater at all, but that idea is scotched as too risky.
- That afternoon, Lewinsky gives Tripp a three-page document written by Lewinsky titled "Points to make in affidavit." Tripp immediately turns it over to an FBI agent working with Starr; this document will later be a key item in Starr's accusation of a White House plot to commit perjury, though no one in the White House had ever seen the document. Very soon after, the document is leaked to the press, most likely by the OIC. It causes a firestorm of controversy, especially with the argument over the document's authorship. Lewinsky was too stupid and too legally ignorant to have written it, goes the argument, so it must have been prepared by a lawyer, or a group of lawyers, on Clinton's legal team -- perhaps even Clinton himself. Vernon Jordan is one speculated source; former Clinton lawyer Bruce Lindsey is another, that speculation bolstered by Tripp. (New York Times columnist William Safire writes a scathing editorial with Lindsey named as the chief culprit.) It is later proven, of course, that Lewinsky herself wrote the document. So why did Lewinsky give Tripp a copy? In large part because Lewinsky, even though she suspects Tripp's motives, still believes Tripp's assertions that she is a reluctant witness in the Jones case, and that, with the document in hand, Tripp can contact Clinton's legal team, fire her lawyer, and tell her account of the Kathleen Willey allegations. When Jones's legal team realizes how damaging Tripp's testimony will be towards Willey, they will drop her from their witness lineup and thereby never call Lewinsky to the stand. Lewinsky's naivete is apparent, as is her ignorance of just how badly Tripp has manipulated and betrayed her. For herself, Tripp, who has been in close contact with Newsweek's Michael Isikoff for six months, keeps insisting that she is afraid she will be smeared in the media, another lie that Lewinsky accepts. Still being recorded by Tripp's OIC wire, she attempts to talk Tripp into hedging her story about Willey and emphasizing her doubts about Willey's veracity and her lack of first-hand knowledge about Willey's story. Tripp lies again to Lewinsky, telling her she wants to go along with the plan to undermine Willey's story. (Joe Conason and Gene Lyons)
- January 15: A report from the Technical Evaluation Meeting (TEM) states Iraq has acknowledged producing 3.9 tons of VX and having 758 tons of the VX precursor choline. Iraq claims the VX was destroyed and that the majority of the precursor was degraded and thus disposed of. The TEM concluds that Iraq still has the ability and materials to produce VX despite Iraq's claims. The TEM also determines that Iraq has the ability to weaponize VX using weapons qualified for conventional use. The TEM was unwilling to state that Iraq no longer possessed or was no longer manufacturing VX. (UN/Electric Venom)
- January 15: Tripp calls Lewinsky and tells her, falsely, that she has decided to go along with Lewinsky's plan to swear out an affidavit with the Clinton lawyers that will damage Kathleen Willey's credibility and, indirectly, remove any chance of the Paula Jones legal team of calling Lewinsky as a witness. Tripp tells Lewinsky that she is meeting with her lawyer Kirby Behre (who no longer represents Tripp) and they need Lewinsky's help in composing an affidavit. Based on what Lewinsky writes, Tripp would testify that she seriously doubts Willey's veracity, to the point where she believes Willey might have never had any sexual contact with Clinton whatsoever, and smeared her own lipstick and disarranged her own clothing. Reporter Michael Isikoff later writes in his book, Uncovering Clinton, that the putative affidavit closely resembles the angry letter Tripp wrote to Newsweek in August 1997, a letter Lewinsky helped Tripp write. In his January 21 article for Newsweek, he will claim that he had forgotten about Tripp's letter, thus avoiding the legitimate accusation that Isikoff is partly responsible for igniting the media firestorm surrounding the Tripp and Lewinsky revelations. Although the Lewinsky "talking points" do not "suborn perjury," as the Starr prosecutors will later claim, the press, even as late as June 1998, will continue its insistence that the document was written by Bruce Lindsey, Clinton's former lawyer, and therefore constitutes proof of perjury -- speculation fed by OIC sources. (Joe Conason and Gene Lyons)
- January 15: On this date, "journalism, at least as practiced by Newsweek, entered treacherous terrain," writes eminent journalist Marvin Kalb. The Lewinsky story was threatening to boil over after months of assiduous, perhaps obsessive, investigation by Newsweek's Michael Isikoff and relentless pressure behind the scenes from anti-Clinton operatives like Lucianne Goldberg. Newsweek's leadership was wanting, with legendary editor Maynard Parker hospitalized with leukemia and editorial decisions being made by committee. The committee was both intrigued and nervous about Isikoff's story; as committee member Mark Whitaker recalls, "the credibility of the magazine was at stake." The dilemma was stark: on the one hand, journalistic standards questioned the basic validity of the story. Was Lewinsky being truthful? Was Tripp a reliable source? Wasn't Goldberg little more than, in Kalb's words, a "Clinton-hating zealot" and therefore unreliable? What if they chose to run the story, and found that, by the time the next issue hit the stands, the accusations were already disproven? On the other hand, what if Newsweek failed to report the story and got scooped by someone else -- the leaks to the Internet-based Drudge Report proved that Tripp and the anti-Clinton crowd had no loyalty to Newsweek and would get the story out any way they could. The editorial committee decided that one of its members should hear the Tripp tapes of her conversations with Lewinsky and decide whether or not the story was valid. Isikoff's story was more than a bombshell -- "[w]hat he knew," Kalb writes, "had the potential to destroy a president." The committee splits the difference, ordering the preparation of two cover stories for the next issue, one with and one without Lewinsky, and directs Isikoff to get more information.
- At this point, writes Kalb, Isikoff, who for months has dithered Hamlet-like over how deep his involvement has gotten in the story and how far he can go without losing his journalistic objectivity, "crosse[s] the line and bec[omes] a player, an actor, a negotiator." Isikoff calls Goldberg's former lawyer, Kirby Behre; although Behre refuses to comment on any of Isikoff's questions, citing lawyer-client privilege, Isikoff takes his refusal to answer as a silent confirmation. He then calls Betty Currie, Clinton's personal secretary; she sidesteps his questions and after he hangs up, calls Lewinsky and then Jordan to discuss the matter. The third call strikes paydirt. The OIC's Jackie Bennett, Ken Starr's deputy, agrees to meet with Isikoff. The meeting, witnessed by OIC prosecutors Michael Emmick and Stephen Bates, is, in Kalb's words, "exceptional." He writes, "A reporter could work energetically at his or her craft for a lifetime and never experience anything remotely like it. Isikoff went beynd generally accepted rules governing a reporter's conduct with a source. He not only dug for information -- he cajoled, threatened, blackmailed, and taunted Bennett. He played every card in his hand." Isikoff's pressure results in Bennett offering Isikoff "hard evidence" -- evidence he did not have -- of a conspiracy to cover up the Lewinsky story. Isikoff again takes Bennett's jousting as silent confirmation of Isikoff's conspiracy theory. Isikoff then abandons all journalistic standards and reveals virtually everything he knows to the prosecutor, including confidential information entrusted to Isikoff by reliable sources who believe Isikoff will keep his knowledge to himself. He tells Bennett more information in a few minutes than he has shared with his own editors for months. He claims both Behre and Currie as background sources for his tale. He threatens to smear Bennett and the OIC throughout the pages of Newsweek if Bennett doesn't cooperate. "We bargained," Isikoff recalls. The OIC wants time to make its case; Isikoff's publication of his story will throw the OIC's plans into the wringer. Eventually, Isikoff, on his own, accepts a temporary hold on the story to let the OIC implement its strategy -- "meaning that Newsweek -- a news organization -- had just struck a deal with the OIC -- an arm of the government," writes Kalb. Isikoff calls his complete abandonment of the most fundamental of journalism's codes of conduct "a modest concession." Kalb writes, "In this case, both sides cooperated, in part because both sides, for different reasons, were intent on 'getting' the president. They needed each other." Isikoff's editor Ann McDaniel accepts his deal with the OIC with little comment.
- Isikoff then begins a barrage of phone calls, trying to get the Tripp-Lewinsky tapes. He is "occasionally hysterical," recalls Goldberg. Isikoff says his hysteria with Goldberg was an act to get her to at least reveal the location of the tapes (her lawyer, James Moody, has them), like most other reporters would do. Kalb disagrees: "Once again, as he had on a number of other occasions, Isikoff argued that his frenetic, theatrical, at times deceitful and free-wheeling style was typical of the craft -- it's what most other journalists did. Not so. Most journalists operate according to different standards of engagement. For his part, Isikoff was so deeply enmeshed in his story, so determined to get the tapes, that he was prepared to say and do just about anything." (Marvin Kalb)
Starr illegally redirects Whitewater investigation to encompass Lewinsky investigation
- January 16: In part by misrepresenting and withholding evidence, and in part impelled to action by the threatened publication of a revealing story by Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth Starr asks for and is granted an extension of his investigation by Attorney General Janet Reno, and is now empowered to investigate the Monica Lewinsky affair. Starr deputy Jackie Bennett lies to Reno's deputy Eric Holder, claiming he has "explicit" evidence of perjury involving Lewinsky, Clinton, and Jordan. He also assures Holder that the OIC has had no contact with the Paula Jones legal team, another critical lie. Starr himself fails to tell Holder or Reno about his own contacts with the Jones legal team, and that he billed former Jones lawyer Gilbert Davis $975 for six different consultations regarding legal strategies. The OIC also withholds evidence from Holder that Vernon Jordan's assistance in helping Monica Lewinsky get a job preceded her subpoena in the Jones case by two weeks, torpedoing their argument that Jordan helped Lewinsky get a job in return for Lewinsky's agreement to lie about her affair with Clinton. By withholding that evidence, Starr hopes to implicate Jordan in this so-called perjury conspiracy, and use Jordan to tie the Lewinsky investigation into his investigation of Whitewater. Bennett also uses the threat of Isikoff's impending story to ask for an immediate decision, arguing, successfully, that the publication of the Isikoff story would destroy any chance Starr had of surprising Lewinsky into turning evidence against Clinton by threatening her with charges of filing a false affidavit. Further, Starr withholds the fact that he already has a copy of Lewinsky's affidavit, which was illegally provided to him by the Jones "elves" through Linda Tripp's attorney James Moody. Had he told Reno that he already had the affidavit, Reno would have raised questions about collusion, and the Jones lawyers would face contempt of court charges. Holder passes along his recommendation, based on Bennett's lies, to Reno, who recommends that the three-judge panel overseeing Starr's OIC (a panel controlled by right-wing judge David Sentelle) grant the extension. Sentelle's panel immediately grants the extension, using a court order drafted by Starr's own lawyers. (Had Reno known about the evidence that Starr and Bennett chose to withhold, she may have still been interested in investigating the Lewinsky affair and its possible ramifications, but it is doubtful she would have allowed Starr's OIC to do the investigating. And in fact, the Justice Department later opens an investigation of the collusion between Starr's OIC and the Jones legal representatives.) As an interesting sidelight, Starr later interviews Hillary Clinton, and falsely characterizes her testimony as full of lies. (Executive Intelligence Review, H.R. Clinton, Marvin Kalb, Joe Conason and Gene Lyons)
OIC illegally grills Lewinsky for 11 hours
- January 16: Hours after Starr's officials lie their way into gaining approval for their expanded investigation into Clinton's sex life, Linda Tripp meets Monica Lewinsky at the food court of the Pentagon City Mall, supposedly for lunch. At 12:30 pm, an unsuspecting Lewinsky is forced to accompany six FBI agents working with Starr to a suite in the Ritz-Carlton hotel, where they try to compel her to take immunity and grill her for eleven hours, all without the presence of a lawyer or any legal charges and in direct violation of Lewinsky's Constitutional rights. (Justice Department regulations forbid any questioning of a witness who has already retained counsel in a particular manner without the lawyer being present. Even though Lewinsky is represented by lawyer Frank Carter, the OIC will insist that she is not legally a "represented party" in that she is involved in a case that is civil, not criminal. This is ridiculous hair-splitting, especially since no one can reasonably charge Lewinsky with a crime.) Lewinsky is grilled by, among others, OIC prosecutors Jackie Bennett and Michael Emmick, in the presence of at least four other OIC prosecutors and private investigator Coy Copeland, who had worked for deputy independent counsel Hickman Ewing in Arkansas. Tripp is also staying at the hotel, in a room rented for her by the OIC to better enable her to tell lawyers for Jones, who would depose Clinton the next day, what happened during the Lewinsky interrogation. Lewinsky immediately (and finally) realizes that Tripp has set her up, and she tells prosecutors, "Make her stay and watch. I want that treacherous b*tch to see what she has done to me."
- Prosecutor Michael Emmick immediately threatens Lewinsky with criminal charges of obstruction of justice, perjury, and witness tampering, charges that could give her 27 years in jail. Emmick even threatens to prosecute Lewinsky's mother, Marcia Lewis. (Emmick doesn't bother to inform Lewinsky that none of the charges have any basis in reality, and that the OIC has no intention of filing charges. Emmick and the OIC are using tactics of intimidation and fear worthy of the KGB. In legal fact, the only charge that could possibly be filed would be for filing a false affidavit in a civil case, an affidavit that has not yet been delivered to the Little Rock courthouse. Lewinsky's lawyer, Frank Carter, could have called Federal Express and halted the delivery of the affidavit, if the OIC had allowed her to call Carter; also, if Carter had withdrawn the affidavit, Lewinsky would have not committed the crime of filing a false affidavit, thus eliminating any leverage the OIC has. The OIC does not. They want the affidavit on file as part of their "perjury trap" they were laying for Clinton. As for the threat against her mother, Justice Department policy strictly forbids pressuring a witness by threatening family members, and they, of course, have no evidence whatsoever of any crimes committed by Lewis.) Emmick, who fancies himself a ladies' man, not only bullies Lewinsky, but tries to use his supposed sex appeal on Lewinsky, who recalls him as "a revolting specimen of humanity." Emmick even threatens her mother with criminal charges. This particular threat brings fresh tears and a request to call her mother; Bennett tells Lewinsky, "You're twenty-four years old, you're smart, you don't need to call your mommy." Lewinsky replies coldly, "Well, I'm letting you know I'm leaning towards not cooperating." She recalls that at that point she was emotionally "shut down.... Like a rape victim who screams for the first five minutes and then just stops, I had just closed down." The OIC prosecutors did not anticipate Lewinsky having so much backbone. Emmick says no charges will be filed if Lewinsky agrees to cooperate, wear a body wire, and attempt to draw Bill Clinton, Betty Currie, and Vernon Jordan into making admissions of criminal conduct. Such a wiretap effort was almost certainly illegal. Legal expert Stephen Hess later says of the attempted taping, "I find [the taping] very sleazy and close to entrapment.... [Starr's investigation] is a long way from what he was asked to do...and it strikes me that it gets more and more partisan." Asked if it was proper to wire Tripp, former independent counsel Lawrence Walsh replied, "I think it's very doubtful that it was. I think that it was ill-advised that after thirty-odd million dollars spent investigating Whitewater, he ends up policing the Paula Jones private litigation. I think it was bad judgment if he was the one who initiated it.... It's beyond his jurisdiction. He had no duty.... Many prosecutors would think this is a risky area of investigation.... I don't understand the relevance of it."
- A sobbing and shaking Lewinsky asks to call Carter; Emmick demurs, saying that Carter is a civil, not a criminal, lawyer. (Carter has been a public defender for six years. Later in the session, prosecutors say they will allow her to call Carter, but if she does so, the knowledge of her interrogation would leak, and her value as a witness for the OIC would diminish. Again, DOJ policy requires the OIC to have contacted Carter instead of Lewinsky and do their negotiating with him. They even offer to provide her with a defense lawyer of their choosing, an offer Lewinsky finds laughable.) The OIC is more than willing to deny Lewinsky her Constitutional rights in order to increase their leverage over her, along with keeping their interrogation of her secret as long as possible. If Clinton finds out about the interrogation, it is likely that he will realize the nature of the "perjury trap" in his testimony, scheduled for the next day, and admit to his affair with Lewinsky. (The perjury trap has been criticized even by a respected federal judge, Reagan appointee Richard Posner. In his book, An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of President Clinton, Posner writes: "To conduct a sting operation against the President of the United States, in concert with the President's partisan enemies, is certainly questionable as a matter of sound enforcement policy. It is also a potent argument against the independent counsel law, without which such a scheme would be unthinkable.") The OIC will not allow Lewinsky to call Carter until almost 5:30 pm, after Carter's office had closed for the holiday weekend.
- For eleven hours Emmick and five other OIC prosecutors, including Starr's deputy Jackie Bennett, grill Lewinsky, threatening, cajoling, and intimidating, all to get her to cooperate and wear the wire. Although Lewinsky's emotional state veers from tears and hysterics to anger and silence (she later writes that she even contemplated suicide), she is resolute in refusing to cooperate. After several hours, she is permitted to call her mother in New York, though an OIC prosecutor has his finger on the button to cut off the call if Lewinsky says anything they don't like. She tells her mother about the deal the OIC is offering; her family immediately retains the services of medical malpractice lawyer William Ginsburg, a family friend, to represent her, and her mother sets off for Washington. (Joe Conason and Gene Lyons write that the idea to retain Ginsburg is a tremendous mistake; had they kept Carter as Lewinsky's lawyer, the OIC's attempt to make a deal would have crashed.) Lewinsky insists that she cannot go through with such a sleazy and potentially destructive deal to incriminate Clinton, Currie, and Jordan.
- Starr lawyers tell the press a far different story from the facts, saying that Lewinsky insisted that her mother be present during her testimony, and that most of the eight hours that Lewinsky spent with the investigators without counsel was merely time spent waiting for Lewinsky's mother to arrive. Lewinsky's mother arrives in Washington after 10 pm, when Lewinsky has been under interrogation for nine hours. The six OIC prosecutors spend as much time as they can browbeating and harassing Lewinsky, a fact not reflected in their own transcript of the proceedings. Towards midnight, Emmick offers Ginsburg a limited immunity agreement for Lewinsky, but refuses to fax Ginsburg a copy of the agreement; Ginsburg refuses to accept any agreement he can't see beforehand, and at 12:23 am, the OIC officials reluctantly agree to let Lewinsky leave with her mother. Kalb writes, "In ten hours, Clinton was going to be deposed by the Jones lawyers -- he was walking into a trap, and Lewinsky couldn't help him."
- OIC prosecutor Solomon Wisenberg says later that allowing Lewinsky to go home with her mother was a huge error. "she wasn't strong, like Susan McDougal," he later says. "We could have gotten her to break within a day. It was our biggest mistake." Wisenberg denies stories of the OIC's illegal harassment of Lewinsky: "stories about Starr using Gestapo tactics -- they weren't true." From all the information available, Lewinsky's morality, naivete, and judgment can certainly be questioned, but her strength of character seems stronger than Wisenberg admits. Joe Conason and Gene Lyons write, "Whatever else can be said about Monica Lewinsky, her courage that night -- bolstered partly by personal loyalty, partly by her strong belief that government agents had no business investigating her intimate life -- may have save her duplicitous and inconstant lover's presidency." Starr himself testifies in November 1998 that his colleagues had not pressured Lewinsky in any way to stay in the interrogation session, that she was treated gently and with sensitivity. He continues to lie when he denies that his prosecutors ever asked her to wear a wire to try to lure Clinton into making incriminating statements, a request verified not only by Lewinsky's own grand jury testimony, but by her father, Bernard Lewinsky and the FBI, who verify that her father was told by Emmick that "telephone calls [and] body wires" were a condition of any immunity deal.
- As threatened, the OIC's attempts to pressure Lewinsky into testifying will later reach into Lewinsky's family; though Justice Department guidelines recommend that close relatives not be forced into testifying against family members, Starr's investigators will bring in Lewinsky's mother, Marcia Lewis, into court where she will be grilled for hours on end. After two days of the investigators' badgering and threatening her in court, Lewis will collapse and will not testify for yet a third day. Ginsburg says of the interrogations, "It's ugly. And all Americans should take note of how far they are going." Lewis, of course, knows nothing about her daughter's liason with Bill Clinton, nor does she know anything of interest to the investigation whatsoever. To add to the family pile-on, Starr investigators soon surprise Lewinsky's younger brother at his Carnegie Mellon fraternity house and, while interrogating him (the brother knows nothing), brandish their sidearms.
- While the harassment of Monica Lewinsky progresses, other negotiations with Linda Tripp and her lawyer James Moody have been progressing. Moody is in the possession of the tapes Tripp made of her phone calls with Lewinsky; his negotiations revolve around giving the tapes to the OIC in return for prosecutorial immunity for Tripp. Moody insists on beiong provided copies of the tapes, as his agenda is not just to represent Tripp, but to provide ammunition for his anti-Clinton colleagues. Moody provides the tapes to OIC prosecutor Stephen Bates in the Ritz-Carlton, in a room near where their colleagues are grilling Lewinsky. Later that evening, Bates will turn the tapes over to FBI agent Steve Irons, one of the six working with the OIC on Lewinsky. The OIC knows of Tripp's plans to brief Jones team lawyer Wesley Holmes that evening; legally, Tripp is now an agent of the OIC, having continued to record phone calls between herself and Lewinsky; such contact between the Jones lawyers and the OIC is a violation of Judge Wright's gag order, and constitutes illegal prosecutorial conduct on the part of both sets of attorneys. Although Moody refuses to give Holmes a copy of the tape, "elf" George Conway is present when Moody turns over the tapes to Bates. And early in the morning of January 17, Moody journeys to Newsweek's Washington bureau to play a copy of the most "incriminating" of the audio tapes for Michael Isikoff. Tripp later testifies that she wasn't aware at the time that Moody still had copies of the tapes -- and the Baltimore Sun later verifies that Moody did not have copies until they were given to him by OIC deputies Del Quentin Wilber and Johathan Weisman at a Washington-area Howard Johnson's around midnight. "At the time he said that the independent counsel wanted him to do that because -- to pre-empt Mike Isikoff from going forward with the story. So I thought this was a help to the investigation." (Executive Intelligence Review, Clinton Impeachment Timeline, UMKC Law, Marvin Kalb, Los Angeles Times/AP/New York Daily News/James Carville, Washington Post/James Carville, New York Daily News/James Carville, Newsday/James Carville, MSNBC/James Carville, Joe Conason and Gene Lyons)
Lewinsky at the time of the interrogation
"I think the office of independent counsel has made [Starr] nutty and I don't understand it. This kind of fishing expedition makes him not a Whitewater special prosecutor, but a general persecutor of the President." -- former Justice Department advisor Cass Sunstein (CNN/James Carville)
"There's so many other lawyers in this country. Why in the world did we have to select someone [Starr] to investigate the president of the United States who has such a strong Republican agenda? Huge mistake to pick Ken Starr, so it certainly has the appearance that, indeed, it is political. You know, the Court of Appeals should have been smart enough to pick someone else.... [I]t appears that Ken Starr and Paula Jones's lawyers have been working together. ...[Starr] did get tape recordings of Monica Lewinsky before he went to the US Court of Appeals for an expansion of authority. That's unusual." -- former lawyer and CNN legal analyst Greta van Susteren (CNN/James Carville)
"A lot of people will find [Starr's behavior] distasteful -- the President will gain strength over these aggressive, dirty-pool tactics." -- Fox News anchor and commentator Brit Hume (Fox News/James Carville)
- January 16: Clinton, preparing for his deposition in the Paula Jones trial, is readying his statements about his alleged relationships with nine different women, including Gennifer Flowers, Kathleen Willey, and Lewinsky. Clinton is told by his lawyer Robert Bennett that Bennett finds Clinton's explanation of his relationship with one of the women (not Lewinsky) "frankly unbelievable." Bennett warns, "This is what impeachment is made of. Your political enemies will eat you alive if there's anything in that deposition that isn't truthful." Clinton responds, "I hear you." Bennett, who has not been told the truth about the Lewinsky affair, finds the idea of Clinton having any improper relationship with such a young intern improbable at best. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 16: In an apparent attempt to pressure Newsweek to publish Isikoff's story about Lewinsky, Lucianne Goldberg contacts the tabloid New York Post, wherer she is on retainer, and tells them of Isikoff's story. The Post regularly publishes stories from its competition, with full credit given. On the heels of Isikoff's call from the Post, he receives another call from OIC lawyer Bruce Udolf, who wants to change their deal -- now Udolf wants Isikoff to hold off publishing his story for another day. Udolf does not tell Isikoff that the OIC had tried and failed to break Lewinsky down. Still without the Tripp tapes, Isikoff reluctantly agrees. (Michael Isikoff/Marvin Kalb)
- January 17: Starr investigators leak details of the investigation into the alleged sexual encounter between Clinton and Kathleen Willey to the press, including details of Willey's testimony in the Jones case. Much of the information had been under seal by a federal court in Richmond, Virginia. The information is provided by the OIC's Jackie Bennett to ABC reporter Jackie Judd, as well as to Judd's right-wing producer Chris Vlasto, who receives word from the Paula Jones legal team. ABC's Peter Jennings reports that Willey testified under oath that Clinton had made unwelcome sexual advances towards her in the White House, a charge that would later be proven false. Journalist Marvin Kalb writes, "A pattern was set for television news: over the next year, with few exceptions, the president's sex life was to be the opening story, and news about the rest of the nation and the world would follow at a respectful distance." (Marvin Kalb, Washington Times/James Carville)
- January 17: Shortly after midnight, Tripp's lawyer James Moody delivers the December 22, 1997 tape of her conversation with Monica Lewinsky to Michael Isikoff. Isikoff and his Newsweek editors stay up until dawn listening to the tape. They are astounded by the"compelling" nature of the conversation, though the editors are not convinced of Lewinsky's veracity. Ann McDaniel wonders if Lewinsky, who never directly mentions a sexual liason between her and Clinton, isn't making the entire thing up -- "an elaborate fictional world" where, in her mind, she and Clinton were lovers. They also note that while Tripp pushed Lewinsky to confirm that Clinton asked her to lie under oath, Lewinsky "wouldn't bite." The tape contains no evidence of any criminality whatsoever, and the editors leave without making a decision. Isikoff has consistently refused to confirm who allowed Moody to have the tape, but anyone in the OIC who released the tape to a reporter is breaking the law. Journalist Marvin Kalb believes that deputy prosecutor Jackie Bennett made the final, illegal decision to let Isikoff have the tape. Moody, a lawyer and officer of the court, was extremely reluctant to participate in such an illegal dealing, but eventually succumbed to pressure from Lucianne Goldberg and George Conway, one of Paula Jones's "elves," to take the step as part of their ongoing efforts to cripple the Clinton presidency. "I had to fight with Moody until the last minute to let Newsweek hear the tapes," Goldberg recalls. "He just didn't get it." (Marvin Kalb)
- January 17: Arkansas judge Susan Webber Wright, overseeing the Paula Jones case, flies to Washington to take Clinton's deposition. She imposes a gag order on the proceedings, which works for a short time to keep Clinton's statements out of the press. Jones is represented by one of her official lawyers, James Fisher, who has been well prepped by Jones's "elves." Fisher starts by trying, unsuccessfully, to paint Clinton's behavior as criminal under the Violence Against Women Act; he then begins grilling Clinton about his relationship with Kathleen Willey. Clinton "emphatically" denies any improper behavior. Fisher then opens a line of questioning about Lewinsky. Clinton acknowledges that he knows Lewinsky, and that Vernon Jordan had tried to help her with her planned move to New York City, but denies that he has had any sexual relationship with her. Asked if he had had "sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky as that term is defined" in a legal definition accepted by the court, Clinton reads the definition, then says, "I have never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. I have never had an affair with her." Clinton is relying on a narrow legal definition of the term "sexual relations" that specifically includes intercourse; in the general sense of the term, Clinton is lying (see below). He confirms Lewinsky's deposition that states they did not have a sexual relationship. Clinton also reluctantly confirms that he had had a one-night affair with Gennifer Flowers in 1977, an affirmation that contradicts his earlier denials. Mistakenly, Clinton and his legal team believe that the deposition takes care of the "Lewinsky problem." He denies that he had helped Lewinsky get a job in the White House, which is technically true if somewhat misleading, since he had asked Vernon Jordan to help her find a job in New York.
- Clinton, with reason, seems to be a bit irate about Fisher's questioning him over whether he had brought Lewinsky into the White House's private kitchen (which he may have done for a quick session of groping). "[L]et me try to describe the facts first, because you keep talking about this private kitchen," he responds. "The private kitchen is staffed by two naval aides. They have total, unrestricted access to my dining room, to that hallway, to coming into the Oval Office. The people who are in the outer office of the Oval Office can also enter at any time.... After I went through a presidential campaign in which the far right tried to convince the American people I had committed murder, run drugs, slept in my mother's bed with four prostitutes, and done numerous other things, I had a high level of paranoia. There are no curtains on the Oval Office, there are no curtains on my private office.... I have done everything I could to avoid the kind of questions you are asking me here today." Clinton's words would resound more strongly if he had not actually had an affair with Lewinsky. He parries and dodges questions about exchanging gifts with Lewinsky, about whether he had ever been alone with her, and whether he had spoken with her about the Jones lawsuit. He finesses Jordan's efforts to help Lewinsky find a job by saying, "Vernon liked to help people. He was always trying to help people." Clinton denies, truthfully, that he had helped Lewinsky pay off her debts.
- The Jones legal team is ecstatic because they have managed to force Clinton into acknowledging that he had once slept with Flowers, though nothing near the 12-year affair Flowers says happened. Jones, however, is emotionally distraught over Clinton's "lies," and agrees to have dinner with ABC producer Chris Vlasto, a dinner meeting arranged by Jones's publicist, Susan Carpenter-McMillan. Vlasto has already crossed the journalistic line by facilitating contact between convicted financier Jim McDougal and Starr's OIC; according to Kalb, Vlasto feels it is his duty to "get" the president any way he can. Vlasto is met at the restaurant by Jones, McMillan, Jones's husband Steve, her hairdresser, and her lawyers. Though photos of the dinner appear on a number of news sites, including ABC, and information from the dinner will appear in Vlasto and reporter Jackie Judd's stories for weeks thereafter, Vlasto refuses to divulge what he was told. Kalb writes, "When questioned about the dinner, Vlasto sounded like a 'senior official' who had been found with his hand in the cookie jar. 'Yes, I took Paula Jones's lawyers to dinner. That's public, and that's all I'm going to say.'"
- Clinton's denials of having a sexual encounter with Lewinsky are, aside from being untruthful, legalistic in the most convoluted sense. A good deal of legal tussling over the exact definition of what does and does not constitute sexual activity takes place before Clinton testifies; Wright disallows two definitions proposed by Jones's team that were so broad that, in Conason's and Lyons's terms, would have included contact as minimal as brushing against someone in an elevator. The court defines "sexual relations" for the purposes of the case as "contact with the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person with an intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person." Clinton believes that under this definition, he can legally deny that he and Lewinsky had had "sexual relations." Using the dictionary definition of "sexual relations" as "coitus" or "intercourse," Clinton can legitimately deny having any such contact with Lewinsky, though, as Joe Conason and Gene Lyons writes, "it did put him in the preposterous position of arguing that he was not having sex with Lewinsky at the very moment that she was having sex with him." Of course, the denial is specious. (Marvin Kalb. Joe Conason and Gene Lyons)
- January 17: Newsweek's "Gang of Four" -- senior editor Ann McDaniel, her deputy Evan Thomas, chief investigative reporter Michael Isikoff, and reporter and legal consultant Daniel Klaidman -- are joined on a conference call by three other senior editors to decide what to do with Isikoff's Lewinsky story. McDaniel points out that they know three key elements: that Starr's OIC is investigating Clinton's sex life, that the OIC conducted a "sting" of Lewinsky, and that Linda Tripp has months of taped phone conversations with her and Lewinsky, one of which seems to confirm the Lewinsky-Clinton affair. McDaniel reluctantly acknowledges that her previous assertion that they had evidence showing Vernon Jordan was criminally involved in the "cover-up" does not, in fact, exist. Editor in chief Richard Smith asks, "Can we really accuse Clinton of committing an impeachable offense?" The question floors the gathering, though within a week reporters and talk show pundits around the country will be openly flogging the question. Isikoff insists that the story centers on Starr's investigation of Clinton; Smith responds, "You can talk all you want to about Starr and obstruction of justice. But at the end of the day, people are going to look at this as a sex story. That's what they are going to think this is -- a story about Clinton having sex with a young woman." McDaniel raises the issue of their story possibly interfering with the OIC's investigation. Seven hours into the conversation, Isikoff is at his wits' end. "You know this is not the Bay of Pigs," he snaps. "Human lives are not at stake here. The national security isn't hanging in the balance. Why the hell shouldn't we publish this?" Thomas agrees, saying Starr's investigation has been "pretty dipsh*t...." Starr has been trying and failing to nail Clinton on Whitewater for years, Thomas says, now he's trying to nail him on sex. "so what if we blew this investigation? It wasn't if they were about to catch a terrorist or something." Klaidman agrees, pointing out that they are already players in the story and their role is now to report what they know, regardless of the effect it will have on Clinton or the investigation. Finally, Smith decides not to publish, leaving Isikoff drained. Isikoff goes home and calls three people -- James Moody, Lucianne Goldberg, and White House senior official John Podesta -- to tell them that the story won't be published. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 17: Late that afternoon, Lewinsky's new lawyer, William Ginsburg, arrives from Los Angeles. He is shocked at Lewinsky's frail condition, and believes she is hysterical to the point of suicide. While she asks to be taken to a psychiatric hospital, Ginsburg convinces her to rest for the evening with her mother in their apartment at the Watergate hotel. Ginsburg is angry both at the OIC interrogators and at Clinton, who he believes seduced Lewinsky unwillingly. He meets with OIC prosecutors Jackie Bennett, Michael Emmick, and Bob Bittman, who insist that they still want Lewinsky to serve as their agent in their investigation; he is appalled by their insistance that they will prosecute Lewinsky for perjury if she does not comply. Who ever heard of prosecuting a 23-year old for lying about an affair? he wonders. Ginsburg later drives Lewinsky to the home of his friend, lawyer Nathaniel Speights, for his advice. Speights says to forget about any plea bargain with the OIC, that he believes they are bluffing. Speights, with Ginsburg's approval, calls Emmick and tells him that if they want Lewinsky's cooperation in any way they will immediately withdraw any ideas of prosecuting her. Speights says he wants immunity before he will allow his new client to open her mouth. Emmick says it's a possibility, but he and his colleagues will have to hear Lewinsky's entire story before they decide. (Marvin Kalb)
Drudge breaks Lewinsky story to public
- January 18: Internet gossip columnist and right-wing mouthpiece Matt Drudge reports on his Web site that Newsweek had killed Isikoff's story, "the story of his career." He also reports that the story revolves around a sexual relationship between Clinton and a "23-year old former White House intern," and reveals that tapes of "intimate phone conversations" (implying salacious recordings between Lewinsky and Clinton, though he actually means the tapes made by Linda Tripp of her conversations with Lewinsky). Drudge receives his information from George Conway, one of Jones's "elves," who e-mails Drudge the essence of what he knows about the Newsweek decision. Conway in turn was contacted by Lucianne Goldberg after Isikoff called both her and Tripp's lawyer James Moody as a "courtesy" to let them know that the story would not run. Marvin Kalb writes, "If the elves couldn't get their story out by way of the mainstream press, they didn't mind getting it out by way of Drudge. In this way, Isikoff and Newsweek lost control of their story, the Drudge Report achieved new prominence, many members of the Washington press corps awakened to the prospect of a hot presidential scandal -- and American journalism was forever changed." The media is quick to pick up the story, though many of their reactions are reflected by the acid comment of the Los Angeles Times's Doyle McManus, who says, "If that's the kind of story Isikoff is writing, then he's welcome to it." Clinton quickly issues a denial. Hillary Clinton states, "There has been a concerted effort to undermine his legitimacy as President, to undo much of what he has been able to accomplish, to attack him personally when he could not be defeated politically," a statement that at the time seems politically motivated and self-serving, but in hindsight is quite accurate and prescient.
- Like other "blockbuster" reports that could trigger lawsuits, Drudge, coached by Jones's secret legal advisors, frames his report as a story on the media. He writes, "reporter Michael Isikoff developed the story of his career, only to have it spiked by top Newsweek suits hours before publication." Drudge adds racy, unsubstantiated tidbits about the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, including the late-night visits, the encounters in "a small study just off the Oval Office where she claims to have indulged the president's sexual preference," allegations of "secretary Betty Curry [sic]"'s involvement in keeping the affair quiet, and "tapes of intimate phone conversations" -- referring to the Tripp tapes, but worded to appear as if Drudge knows of spicy taped conversations between Clinton and Lewinsky. Drudge does not report Lewinsky's name because Conway did not tell him; neither is Drudge aware of Starr's expanded investigation.
- Isikoff is astounded by the news, and angered that the right-wing Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol is going to use the story on his Sunday appearance on ABC's This Week. Isikoff quickly realizes that either Moody or Goldberg told George Conway, one of Jones's "elves," of the decision not to publish, and Conway informed Drudge. Isikoff, trying to salvage the situation for his own story, tells the Standard's David Tell that "if Kristol wants to go with something based on Drudge, that's his problem. How could he rely on anything that guy writes?" Kristol not only bases his information on Drudge, but on a call from Conway and fellow "elf" Richard Porter. Kalb writes, "Kristol did not mind being used, as long as the leak made news and he and his own relatively new magazine were quoted." (Clinton Impeachment Timeline, H.R. Clinton, Marvin Kalb)
- January 18: Clinton holds an extraordinary "memory session" with secretary Betty Currie, going through one statement after another: "You were always there when Monica was there." "I was never alone with Monica, right?" "Monica came on to me and I never touched her, right?" "Monica wanted to have sex with me and I cannot do that." Currie answers each statement with the same word: "Right." Clinton will insist that he is not coaching Currie, merely refreshing both of their memories, but that explanation is dubious at best. Afterwards, Currie frantically tries to contact Lewinsky without success, until five hours later, when Lewinsky calls; she makes a cryptic reference to "Hoover," hoping that Currie will catch on that the FBI is tailing her. Weeks later, when this story breaks in the New York Times, that newspaper goes to great lengths not to use the word "coach" in its descriptions of the session, trying not to imply that Clinton might be engaged in anything that could be construed as obstructing justice; within an hour, both the Associated Press and Nightline rewrite the story and explicitly state that Clinton "coached" Currie in an effort to obstruct justice. Though probably correct in their assessment, neither the AP nor Nightline have any way to know what Clinton was trying to do; they merely presume that Clinton's session with Currie was an attempt to "coach" Currie's responses. When Currie later testifies in front of a grand jury, she says she does not believe Clinton was trying to coach her. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 18: Drudge once again scoops the competition: with information supplied to him by Jones's "elves" and Lucianne Goldberg, Drudge publishes an Internet report at midnight Washington time that names Lewinsky and informs the world she has been subpoenaed by the Jones defense team. He mixes fact and fiction in his biography, asserting falsely that Lewinsky had had access to "top secret and sensitive information" while at the White House. As planned, the story sets off a firestorm of public and media speculation. Neither Drudge nor the "elves" seem concerned that by letting Drudge print this information, the Jones defense lawyers are breaking the law. During the day, Drudge continues to release updates, many of them flat lies, and all provided by Lucianne Goldberg. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 19: Monica Lewinsky, her lawyer William Ginsburg, and Ginsburg's colleague Nathaniel Speights spend most of the day at the OIC offices; most of the day is spent with the lawyers negotiating in one room and Lewinsky crying in another. The lawyers stress that they will not allow the prosecutors to exchange a word with Lewinsky until an immunity agreement is accepted. During the meeting, word of Drudge's report hits the office and changes the dynamic. No longer can the OIC hope to use Lewinsky to entrap Clinton, Currie, or Jordan. She is now, in Jackie Bennett's words, "radioactive." The two sides can come to no agreement. Bennett hands a subpoena to Ginsburg for Lewinsky's mother, Marcia Lewis, and threatens to subpoena Lewinsky's father as well. Ginsburg reacts with a stream of profanities, storms out of the conference room, grabs Lewinsky, and leaves. "I fell to the floor in a delirium of despair," Lewinsky later recalls. "It was this feeling of never-ending torture. What were they doing to my family? I couldn't handle it anymore." But Lewinsky has no idea of what is about to come for both her and Clinton. Marvin Kalb writes, "Washington was only a day away from the most intrusive press invasion of presidential privacy in the history of the nation. If fragile boundaries did one exist around a president's 'right to be let alone,' they were about to be shattered." (Marvin Kalb)
- January 19: A glum Michael Isikoff, seeing the story he worked so hard (and so unethically) to compile breaking in every media outlet except his own Newsweek, tries to contact other sources to find out more about the Lewinsky-Clinton relationship. He particularly worries that the Washington Post's Susan Schmidt will break every element of the story he has compiled before Newsweek can hit the stands on January 26 with his tale. Not only Schmidt, but ABC's Jackie Judd and Chris Vlasto are working hard to unearth more details. The Drudge story is inflaming journalists all over Washington. At noon, Rush Limbaugh enthralls his "dittohead" audience with news that a new sex scandal is about to envelop the White House. Limbaugh uses the Drudge story to base his commentary on, not waiting to see if Drudge can be verified by someone more reliable. Limbaugh will chew on the Lewinsky story every day for the next year, mixing fact, speculation, and rampant falsehoods for his audience. In contrast, none of the nightly news shows mention Lewinsky's name; Drudge is not considered reliable enough to base a story on for any of the four major networks. Ann Coulter, one of Jones's "elves," appears on CNBC's Equal Time pundit show; although she knows far more than she is willing to tell on the air, she ensures that her listeners know to read Drudge's report. (Marvin Kalb)
"We wanted to be first, but we were also afraid of being first." -- Lisa Myers of NBC News, quoted by Marvin Kalb
- January 20: As predicted, this Monday touches off a barrage of media attention centered around Monica Lewinsky, her affair with Clinton, and whether or not Clinton asked her to lie under oath. Press secretary Mike McCurry is forced to deny that the White House has forbidden staffers to log onto the Drudge Report. ABC contacts William Ginsburg, who provides the first of many fiery and eminently printable quotes about his client and the situation: "If the allegations are true that there was a sexual relationship with the president, then he was a misogynist and I have to question his ability to lead. If they are not true, then why is the independent counsel ravaging the life of a twenty-three year old girl?" ABC runs the Ginsburg quote, lighting up the news media and sending the OIC into a frenzy. ABC's Chris Vlasto realizes that Lewinsky, Jones, and Clinton are all connected by a single thread -- the OIC's investigation into Clinton's sex life. Vlasto and colleague Jackie Judd put together a devastating piece detailing the links for the late-night news program Nightline; the Nightline producers chose not to run the segment on Lewinsky, because, in the words of executive producer Tom Bettag, "we didn't have it yet." Judd is "furious," though she has already written several sensational pieces for the late-night news and ABC's Web site. The Washington Post's Susan Schmidt is busily writing her own story, fed to her by the OIC's Jackie Bennett. Her story comes together when the publicity-friendly Ginsburg, who is all too willing to speak to the press on the record, reiterates his earlier quote, slamming both the president and the OIC and adding that someone like Lewinsky could be devastated "if you're not terribly sophisticated and you're misled by the people at the center of the political system, and that includes the president and his staff and the special prosecutor." Red meat, indeed. Ginsburg is also confirming to anyone who will listen that Starr is a central figure in the Clinton-Lewinsky saga. "That quote," later recalls Schmidt, "opened the floodgates." Like Vlasto before her, Schmidt suddenly realizes the scope of the story she has been working. At the Los Angeles Times, a source who reporter David Willman refuses to name drops virtually the entire story in his lap. Willman tells his editor, Doyle McManus, that the paper is suddenly "in uncharted waters." He says the story will take months to play out and the salacious content is not going to sit well with the senior editors. To McManus, a sex scandal is beneath contempt, but a story about obstruction of justice and an independent counsel investigation is front-page material. "Firewalls were smashing," he later recalls.
- While Clinton is shuttling between meetings concerning the Middle East peace process, his press secretary, McCurry, fends off inquiries from reporters. The reporters also hammer the OIC prosecutors for information. Jackie Bennett responds by confirming Ginsburg's quote and, as has been standard procedure before, providing carefully chosen leaks designed to bolster their case and harm Clinton's. His information gives ABC, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times the information they need for their Tuesday headline stories. (Marvin Kalb, Joe Conason and Gene Lyons)
Mainstream media breaks Lewinsky story; media "feeding frenzy" ensues
- January 21: The full frenzy of the Lewinsky media coverage hits. ABC Radio starts the ball rolling shortly after midnight by broadcasting Jackie Judd's report, originally slated for the previous evening's Nightline. By 7 am Eastern time, when ABC's Good Morning America opens its broadcast with the news of "explosive new allegations [that] strike at the very heart of the presidency," Lucianne Goldberg is screaming in ecstasy over the phone to her son, Jonah Goldberg, "It's breaking! It's breaking! We've done it!" Judd will lead an array of star reporters on ABC's broadcast who report, comment upon, and speculate about the breaking sex scandal, which Marvin Kalb characterizes as "punditry at its least responsible." For example, without bothering to discuss the potential charges with a lawyer, Sam Donaldson authoritatively tells the world that "if Kenneth Starr can mount sufficient evidence that the president of the United States told this young lady to lie, that's a federal crime, that's suborning perjury. And, clearly, a serious impeachment investigation would begin on Capitol Hill." Donaldson refers to Judd's often-badly sourced report as chock full of "shocking evidence," and warns that "from the standpoint of the president," Lewinsky had "to be destroyed. While much of Donaldson's punditry will later turn out to be prophetic, from what is known on this date, Donaldson is going well past speculation into uncharted and most likely irresponsible commentary. Is Donaldson alone in his excesses? Is he the worst of the lot? Not hardly.
- The Washington Post leads the press charge with a front-page headline reading, "Clinton Accused of Urging Aide to Lie." The subhead tells its readers that Kenneth Starr is busily probing the accusation. In more ways than one, the Lewinsky story revitalized the Washington press corps. According to Michael Oreskes, the New York Times's bureau chief, for months the press corps "felt themselves adrift, their editors putting Washington news alongside foreign news as ignorable stuff. ...Monica gave them a new lease on life." Like so many other stories surrounding the Lewinsky accusations, the Post story is based on a raft of anonymous, often unconfirmed "sources," as in "sources say...." In almost every case these "sources" are either Lucianne Goldberg, Paula Jones's legal advisors, or leakers from the Starr investigation. All three sources have their own personal and professional axes to grind, and none are interested in ensuring that their facts are straight or that Clinton (or Lewinsky or anyone else) is getting a fair shake. (The Post's managing editor Robert Kaiser feels it necessary in the following days to run a column explaining the paper's decision to run stories based almost entirely on anonymous sources. Kaiser essentially tells the readership that, while the Post isn't happy running such stories, the readers will just have to trust that the stories are accurate. And CNN's Wolf Blitzer recalls thinking as soon as he read the story that the content came straight from Starr and the OIC.) The Post also abandons its famous "two-source rule," implemented by former editor Ben Bradlee during the Watergate years, which mandates that if a story element isn't verified by two separate sources, the element doesn't appear in the story. That rule, which proved so critical to getting the truth out during the Watergate scandal, is tossed aside for Lewinsky.
- The New York Times's senior staff is humiliated about being so flagrantly scooped. The so-called "paper of record" had run virtually nothing about the Lewinsky scandal. The choice was made by the paper's senior editors, who maintained that until the story was more than a "sex scandal," the Times would keep its distance. The involvement of Starr's OIC changed the situation. Oreskes recalls, "I explained that we were in this now, and if we were going to do it, we were going to do it to our standards." Unfortunately, as the Times joins the feeding frenzy that is the Lewinsky story, the venerable "Gray Lady" of journalism will get down and roll about in the journalistic muck along with the rest of the mainstream media. USA Today, like the Times caught without any Lewinsky coverage, also determines to cover the story, but editor David Mazzarella says he is determined to ensure that the coverage is "extra careful. ...I wanted our coverage to be clear, unbiased, and not sensational." For a periodical often dismissed as "the McPaper," USA Today actually avoids a good bit of the journalistic excesses perpetrated by its competitors. At NBC, the producer of the Nightly News is howling, "We just got creamed by ABC!" Other press outlets, such as the Chicago Tribune, determine that they won't get scooped again, though bureau chief Jim Warren makes the immediate decision that the Tribune won't report a word unless its own reporters can independently confirm the information, even if that meant the Tribune would at times be behind the curve. And at ABC, Nightline begins a 15-part series on the Lewinsky allegations, prompting Clinton advisor Ann Davis to wonder why Nightline was determined to "attack us relentlessly, to get us." Host Ted Koppel will rely on Jackie Judd to steer the series's course. During the first part of the series, Lewinsky's lawyer William Ginsburg says that Lewinsky is being "victimized" and that she deserves blanket immunity. Pundit David Gergen sums up the segment by intoning, "We are either facing the worst act of self-destruction or the worst smear of amy president in the twentieth century," not guessing that he is right on both counts.
- By mid-morning, Clinton's lawyers and press spokesmen have drafted a response to the story, which says that Clinton is "outraged by these allegations" and that "he never had a sexual relationship with this woman." Clinton agrees to the drafting. A key change is when the word "sexual" is changed to "improper," a change that the team feels necessary even though they know the press will jump on the wording. The discussion completely lacks the usual energy and argumentativeness. One official, Lanny Davis, will describe the meeting as "almost surreal.... The atmosphere of intellectual and political paralysis was palpable."
- From his spider hole in Hollywood, Matt Drudge releases another bombshell on his Web site around noon, reporting that UN ambassador Bill Richardson had offered Lewinsky a job and, more intriguingly, that DNA evidence is being investigated. The only journalist in Washington who knows anything about DNA evidence of Clinton's affair with Lewinsky is Michael Isikoff, and he is far from ready to report that particular detail. Where Drudge got his information is unsure, though his source is most likely Lucianne Goldberg.
- Of course, political pundits line up to predict impeachment. This time, they will be right.
- Kalb later writes, "Goldberg, Tripp, Jones, and their lawyers, both official and unofficial, felt a deep sense of satisfaction. They had got what they wanted. They had shepherded the Lewinsky scandal through Tripp's tape recordings into Isikoff's notebooks and through their legal cabal of elves onto Starr's agenda. Then, by way of a Drudge detour on the Internet, they had planted leaks with key journalists until the story exploded on the front page of the Washington Post on January 21, 1998. Suddenly, all of journalism resembled an unchecked and uncheckable maelstrom of facts and hearsay, rumors and buzz that ricocheted from Drudge's Internet into the newsrooms of the Los Angeles Times and ABC News, from Limbaugh to Koppel." In the words of New York Times editor Joseph Lelyveld, it was "a totally new phenomenon. It felt like the whole world had changed." Jonah Goldberg adds the cogent comment, "My mother [Lucianne] was the only one who was absolutely truthful. She never made any secret of the fact that she really disliked Clinton."
- For the record, Lewinsky has steadfastly maintained that Clinton never asked her to lie about their affair. While it seems indisputable that she did lie, she did so on her own. Many lawyers have later noted that she never should have been asked about the affair by any court or investigation. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 21: During an interview with PBS's Jim Lehrer, Bill Clinton carefully denies the charges of his having an affair with Lewinsky. Among other denials, he says, "There is no improper relationship," and, "There is no sexual relationship." In a strictly legalistic sense, Clinton's denials are true -- there is no relationship, though there certainly was one -- though the vast majority of his listeners would agree that his relations with Lewinsky did, in fact, constitute an improper sexual relationship. (Previously that morning, Clinton has denied the accusations -- has lied -- to his own lawyers.) Reporters used to parsing what Marvin Kalb calls Clinton's "rubbery language" instantly leap on his choice of the present tense. "We went wild," recalls NPR's Mara Liasson, "it was, like, Aaaaagghh!" Even press secretary Mike McCurry thinks Clinton's denials look transparently evasive. In a phone interview that afternoon, Morton Kondracke picks up on the use of the present tense and asks emphatically, Was it in any way sexual?" Clinton replies, "The relationship was not sexual." A third interview with NPR's Liasson and Robert Siegel gives Clinton a second chance to quash the budding "is/was" controversy. He is less than successful. (This is the source of the waggish observation, much repeated in the press, that "everything depends on what the definition of "is" is.) Probably more successful was First Lady Hillary Clinton's response, "I have also now lived with this for more than six years. And I have seen how these charges evaporate and disappear when they're given the light of day." One of the most irresponsible acts of journalistic punditry is committed by NBC's Tim Russert, who flatly predicts that Clinton will resign the presidency "within days."
- The interview with Lehrer is one of three long since scheduled by the White House to introduce several economic and foreign policy initiatives to be featured in next week's State of the Union address, most notably a long-planned military buildup in Iraq that will later be characterized, falsely, as a "wag the dog" effort to distract the media's attention from the Lewinsky story. Of course, Clinton is forced to defend himself against the Lewinsky allegations instead, not only in the Lehrer interview but with Kondracke and NPR also. (PBS/Paul Waldman, Marvin Kalb)
- January 21: Repeatedly scooped by Internet gossipmongers and respected news outlets, Isikoff and Newsweek decide to break Isikoff's story on the Newsweek Web site -- a revolutionary idea for these older-school journalists. Isikoff and Evan Thomas rewrite and revamp the story, to be titled "Diary of a Scandal, including far more detail, particularly about the content of Tripp's audio tapes. They include what Starr's team considers quite damaging evidence, the "talking points" that Lewinsky had given to Tripp the week before with suggestions for her affidavit to the Jones lawyers regarding her former friend Kathleen Willey. According to the Newsweek story, the talking points urged Tripp to "modify" comments she had made to Isikoff back in July that said she had seen Willey leaving the Oval Office with her makeup smudged. Lewinsky's memo urges Tripp to say that she believes Willey may have smeared her makeup and disarranged her clothing herself. Starr's belief, which turns out to be wrong, is that Lewinsky did not write the so-called talking points herself, but must have had legal advice -- advice that Starr believes must have come from the White House. (ABC's Jackie Judd also believes that Lewinsky must have had a lawyer draft the memo, and says so repeatedly. It is not until Starr's final report that it is finally confirmed that Lewinsky herself wrote the memo with no help from anyone.) Isikoff and Thomas also add a fresh piece of news, that Revlon had offered Lewinsky a position with their public relations staff at the behest of Vernon Jordan but were now withdrawing it in light of the publicity about Lewinsky and Clinton. The story, headlined "Clinton Accused," posts at 7 pm, becoming the first story of this magnitude to be published first on the Web by a reputable news provider. Within minutes, the Associated Press plucks the "Diary" whole for its wire service. Late-night talk shows feast on the story. Isikoff and Thomas will eventually win a National Magazine Award for their work. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 21: Clinton calls former political advisor Dick Morris for advice on handling the breaking scandal. "You poor son of a b*tch," Morris snaps. Clinton retorts, "I didn't do what they said I did. I've tried to shut myself down, sexually, I mean. But sometimes I slipped up, and with this girl I just slipped up." Morris's private polling shows that the American people will be far more willing to forgive Clinton an adulterous affair than they will his lying about it. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 21: Republican senator Lindsay Graham tells an interviewer, "If [Clinton] is indicted, it is time for us to have an inquiry into an impeachment." Graham will become an outspoken critic of Clinton and a relentless voice for impeachment. Graham is aided by the press, which, according to a study by the Committee of Concerned Journalists, originate 68% of the public speculation about impeachment -- only 32% of the mentions of impeachment in the media come from congressional or legislative sources. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 22: Kenneth Starr issues what Kalb calls "a blizzard of subpoenas" to, among others, Betty Currie, Vernon Jordan, and Lucianne Goldberg. Meanwhile, Judge Wright indefinitely postpones Lewinsky's scheduled deposition by the Paula Jones legal team, apparently in order to give Lewinsky's lawyer William Ginsburg another chance to secure an immunity agreement with the OIC. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 22: Matt Drudge gives a remarkable interview to Today's Matt Lauer. Lauer introduces Drudge as "a media gossip...known for below-the-Beltway reporting," and labels him a right-wing kook who has made his career out of partisan politics and Clinton-chasing. Drudge unashamedly admits that he doesn't follow journalistic mores such as checking sources and verifying the content of what he publishes. He reiterates the story of a possible DNA trail, telling of rumors that Lewinsky has a dress with Clinton's semen on it. Neither Drudge nor second guest Michael Isikoff will confirm the story of the infamous dress, but the Lauer interview brings it to the attention of the nation. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 22: The New York Times will run a breathtaking 96 stories on the Lewinsky scandal between today and January 27, an average of 16 per day. Most are badly sourced, relying on few "on the record" sources and heavily on anonymous "deep background" and off-the-record sources. "There was no way of knowing the name or judging the reliability of these sources," writes Marvin Kalb. "The reader was left to fly blind." Associate managing editor Martin Baron orders a review of the Times's Lewinsky coverage in the following days, and notes that the stories are marred by, among other problems, bad sourcing and sloppy editing. Phrases like "[t]he subpoenas were said to be seeking," "[t]hese reportedly were to be crosschecked," and "[t]here were reports that" offends and disturbs Baron, who complains about "problems of attribution," focusing on the Tripp tapes in particular -- a central source of the Times's stories, but posing a problem in that no Times reporter has ever heard or even seen any of the tapes. Unattributed quotes, the repetition of sensationalistic reports without confirmation, rampant speculation, and even apparent "mind-reading" all combine to produce what Baron feels is nakedly substandard reporting. (USA Today will grapple with the same problem, and on January 23 will run a column revealing many of the paper's own sources.)
- As for the Washington Post, its reporting is, if anything, worse. Its reporting, according to Kalb, sinks to the level of a Jay Leno quip: "After five years of investigating and $35 million, Kenneth Starr has found the smoking gun, and it's apparently in President Clinton's pants." The Post, intent on breaking another Watergate-style scandal, gives its readers "saturation coverage," much of which is, at best, unfounded. From January 22 to January 27, the Post will print an astonishing 120 stories about the Lewinsky scandal. Even more than the Times, the Post will base its coverage heavily on the OIC's biased and unreliable information. Post reporter Peter Baker tries repeatedly to get Jonah Goldberg to provide him with the tapes, even suggesting that Goldberg leave the tapes in the stereo in his apartment, leave, and let Baker sneak in and "find" them. Goldberg, whose mother has a copy of the tapes but probably doesn't have them himself, refuses. (Two other reporters, the Post's Susan Schmidt and Time's Michael Weisskopf, write a book published in April 2000, Truth at Any Cost, a love-letter paean to Starr's investigation packed with unsubstantiated quotes and questionable information provided by Starr and the OIC. Eminent New York Daily News columnist Lars-Erik Nelson, who holds Starr in contempt, later says Schmidt is "a central figure in this sordid story," and notes that Schmidt's Post stories often feature material directly from OIC sources that appears uncited and uncorroborated in her reports. Editor Robert Kaiser later acknowledges that Schmidt and other Post journalists produced reports with "only the vaguest sourcing" but says it was the only way they could preserve their contacts in the OIC. Schmidt is heavily responsible for perpetuating the OIC-based lie that Clinton and Jordan urged Lewinsky to lie under oath, a central basis of their get-Clinton strategy. In a callous disregard of basic journalistic practice, Schmidt's editor Len Downie cavalierly admits, "Yes, it's true, the story didn't hold up completely, but it's what Sue's sources told her.")
- And then there's the Wall Street Journal. It has long led a schizophrenic existence, with scrupulously non-partisan and carefully sourced reporting on the front pages, and a wild, almost monomaniacal obsession with smearing Clinton on its editorial pages. While the news section shows an admirable restraint in dealing with the story, the editorial page, the fiefdom of fiery conservative Robert Bartley, shows none. The more partisan and scandalous the allegation or the quote, the faster Bartleby is to give it print. Worse, the editorial section begins featuring an advertisement for "Clinton Scandals Collected," a highly colored and rankly unreliable set of publications designed for the most virulent Clinton conspiracy theorist.
- The New York Post is a small, struggling tabloid fighting for the same audience as the larger New York Daily News. Owned by conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch, the Post has an advantage in the Lewinsky media wars -- Lucianne Goldberg. Over the next week, Goldberg will feed the Post a consistent diet of juicy, often erroneous tidbits, which the paper is quick to publish in reports that uniformly fail to identify Goldberg as their source. Goldberg's connection at the paper, managing editor Mickey Kalech, later acknowledges that though he preferred to stick to the "two sources" rule of reporting information, in Goldberg's case that principle was more often honored in the breach than in reality. One of the most memorable stories, by Andrea Peyser, is known as "the Zip piece," and begins, "This woman hears a presidency sinking under the weight of an uncontrollable zipper. Zzzzzzzzzzip."
- ABC's Ted Koppel will make his own contribution to the lower end of the story, openly bringing the concept of "oral sex" as opposed to the previously preferred euphemisms into America's living rooms. Koppel says quite bluntly, "It may...ultimately come down to the question of whether oral sex does or does not constitute adultery. ...[B]e forewarned, we will be dealing with it later on." Never in American history has the sordid details of any public figure's sex life been so openly discussed, but Koppel will pave the way: as Today's Matt Lauer says the next day, "Hey, Koppel talked about it, why can't I?" Koppel's Nightline will also mine the old ground of Clinton's previous sexual transgressions, reminding its viewers at every turn about the Gennifer Flowers, Kathleen Willey, and other allegations. Nightline will, among other presentations, play excerpts of old audiotapes of Clinton's conversations with Flowers which seem to prove that Clinton has repeatedly lied about his sexual history; the fact that Flowers heavily, and clumsily, edited those tapes to make them far more damning than they actually are does not come out until much later. Nightline plays the tapes without bothering to check to see if they are accurate and unedited. (Koppel's show is the same that, in 1992, chose to air a story about the Flowers allegations drawn straight from the sensational tale published by the Star tabloid when other mainstream news outlets refused to touch it.)
- It's worth noting that the Clinton administration will try desperately over the next few weeks to focus not only its own attention but the attention of the media and the American people onto the Middle East peace process, which, largely due to the yeoman efforts of Clinton, looks as if it is about to bear fruit with history-making accords between Israel and Palestine. Instead, the mainstream media, fueled by insistent Republicans and Clinton-hating conservatives, virtually ignore the delicate negotiations in their thirst for "all Lewinsky coverage all the time." Middle Eastern and European leaders are shocked that what they see as a garden-variety sex story is becoming such a national obsession, and the distracting effect it has on Clinton and his officials impedes the peace negotiations. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 22: Vernon Jordan, the Clinton confidante, business magnate, and respected civil rights leader, gives an eloquent press conference in which he states absolutely that Lewinsky has denied any stories of an affair to him. He promises to cooperate fully with Starr's grand jury, and notes that he did try to find Lewinsky a job; to explain why such a powerful figure would spend so much time on the behalf of a lowly intern, he invokes the Bible: "To whom much is given, much is required. ...I was pleased to be helpful to Ms. Lewinsky, whose drive, ambition, and personality were impressive." Jordan's stature in Washington and his straightforward statement to the press not only rehabilitates Clinton in the public's eye for a brief period, but renders Jordan virtually untouchable by the Starr investigation. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 22: Presidential advisor Lanny Davis advises Clinton to "do what you do best, better perhaps than amy president in modern history: take your case to the American people, tell them everything, everything there is to tell. Let them judge." Clinton's political advisors, including Paul Begala, Rahm Emanuel, and Douglas Sosnik advocate much the same thing -- "total transparency." Clinton's lawyers -- Charles Ruff, David Kendall, and Robert Bennett -- advise instead a clampdown on information. Clinton decides to take his lawyers' advice. Davis is "stunned" by the decision, and knows that the information, accompanied by rumors and baseless speculation, will get out anyway and fill the newspapers, to the president's detriment. Unfortunately, Davis's prediction is accurate. Davis notes that often he would be called by a reporter who has heard a rumor, another reporter will "confirm" that the first reporter has heard the same rumor, and the next day the rumor will be reported as fact, without any sourcing whatsoever. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 23: On the Good Morning America show, Ginsburg tells Lisa McRae that he finds Starr's persecution of Lewinsky reprehensible: "I don't like the way the investigation has been conducted. Right off the bat, you talk about stings and wires and taps. I'm not happy with that at all, and especially when you are dealing with a 24-year old girl. It's not nice." He says that Starr's team "lured" Lewinsky into the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, "and with the help of four or five FBI agents and three or four US attorneys, managed to detain her, although she was technically free to go, for eight or nine hours without an attorney. That should frighten anyone who is involved in the process here in America. ...They've even made threats to involve her parents." He also questions the fact that while members of the press have copies of the Tripp tapes, he, as Lewinsky's defense attorney, does not. "Would you believe it? I haven't heard those tapes. I don't have the information that the press has. I've been fortunate enough to be invited onto shows like yours. I have heard quotes from the tapes. And I have had to ask the press if they would send me transcripts of the tapes. I wonder why the Office of the Independent Counsel won't let me listen to the tapes and comment on them." Later in the broadcast, Jackie Judd reports, falsely, that voice mail tapes of Clinton exist on Lewinsky's phone, and Starr's OIC is trying to acquire them. The broadcast finishes with more doomsaying, this time from Sam Donaldson, who says somberly, "If the truth doesn't save [Clinton], then I guess he's out of here." (Marvin Kalb)
- January 23: At noon, Clinton meets with members of his cabinet. He tells them flatly that he did not have any sort of affair with an intern. After Clinton's departure, the cabinet members break up into two groups, both of whom address waiting journalists, and both groups repeat Clinton's denials. As Kalb writes, "Clinton had lied to his cabinet, the cabinet had carried his lie to the journalists, and they reported it to the public." (Marvin Kalb)
- January 23: Washington Post reporters John Harris and Josh Goshko discover that Clinton is planning on bombing Iraq unless Saddam Hussein stops interfering with the UN inspection teams searching his country for illicit weapons. The plan, the two discover, is for the US, with the assistance of Great Britain, to bomb a number of suspected weapons sites, and then extend the "no-fly" zone to cover all of Iraq. The reporters consider and reject the "wag the dog" scenario; both are veteran foreign policy reporters, and both consider Clinton too cautious and responsible in matters of foreign policy to pull such a stunt. They post a straightforward report. Others, however, are not so restrained, including Post columnist Richard Cohen, who opens his column with a reference to the movie and openly speculates that the Lewinsky scandal will grow to rival Watergate. The comparison inflames both Washington journalists and Republican opponents of Clinton. Press secretary Mike McCurry, who has been considering resigning his post for months, finds himself having to deny the scenario as well as deny that Clinton himself is considering resigning the presidency. Brookings Institute scholar Stephen Hess, bombarded with requests for interviews concerning the Lewinsky scandal, later says that he believes most American and European journalists believe Clinton's resignation is imminent. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 23: Responding to criticism from Lewinsky's lawyer William Ginsburg, Kenneth Starr provides the Washington Post with a private and highly colored account of his agents' conduct during their apprehension and interrogation of Lewinsky at the Ritz-Carlton. Reporters Susan Schmidt and Richard Baker write a story based uncritically on Starr's version of events, which, if Starr is to be believed, writes Marvin Kalb, "you might have thought Starr's agents were behaving, for the most part, like Boy Scouts serving milk and cookies to Lewinsky." The story focuses on the agents and Lewinsky watching parts of an Ethel Merman movie, making small talk, and window shopping in the Pentagon City Mall, and makes no mention of the tremendous pressures put on Lewinsky by the agents. The story appears on January 24. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 23: The New York Times later reports on some of the outright lies spread about the Clinton-Lewinsky affair that have been repeated throughout the media. Two of the most egregrious:
Much more about the media's misrepresentations of Whitewater can be found throughout this site. (New York Times/James Carville)
- ABC and the Dallas Morning News reported that Clinton and Lewinsky were seen "in the act" by a Secret Service agent. No agent has ever reported any such incident. The Morning News later retracted the story. Journalist Stephen Brill, who was instrumental in revealing the leaks from Kenneth Starr's office, says he believes Starr spread the story in an attempt to pressure Monica Lewinsky to cooperate.
- The Wall Street Journal reported that White House steward Bayard Nelvis testified that he had seen Clinton and Lewinsky "in the act," and had even found semen-stained tissues in the trash. Nelvis's lawyer angrily denies the story, calling it "absolutely false and irresponsible." The Journal retracted the story within hours, but its editorial department used the story to continue its attacks on Clinton.
- January 23: Well before the testimony of Monica Lewinsky to Starr investigators is provided to the press, the investigators leak details of her story -- their version of her story -- to the press, in order to "prime" the press for reports of her upcoming statements. One such detail is about the story that Clinton intervened with his confidante Vernon Jordan to secure Lewinsky a job; the Starr investigators tell the press that "Monica says...that she dealt directly with the President, who set the assistance in motion, one lawyer said, speaking on condition of anonymity." More interestingly, and in equal violation of the law, the commission also leaks the details of the deal the commission would offer Lewinsky for immunity from prosecution. The commission later reports that Lewinsky had accepted an offer of immunity from prosecution in return for her testimony that contradicted her sworn statement in the Paula Jones trial that Lewinsky and Clinton never had an affair. (Washington Times/James Carville)
- January 23: The Los Angeles Times, which has been exhaustively covering the Lewinsky story with the additional focus on Lewinsky as a "hometown girl" (Lewinsky grew up in Southern California), first floats the "Wag the Dog" comparison, citing the movie that portrays an American president creating a fake war with Albania to distract attention from a sex scandal. The metaphor immediately catches fire, and Republicans use the comparison to criticize Clinton's attempts to contain Saddam Hussein by escalating American military interventions in Iraq. Ironically, the book that the movie Wag the Dog was based on, Larry Beinhart's American Hero, portrays George H.W. Bush as perpetuating a fake threat from Iraq to start 1991's Persian Gulf War as an attempt to rescue his flagging presidency and ensure his 1992 re-election. Beinhart has always hinted there is more truth than fiction in his story. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 23: ABC's Jackie Judd "breaks" the story of the semen-stained navy blue dress on the nightly news broadcast. Though first reported by Drudge, this is the first mention of the dress in the mainstream media. Judd herself wasn't going to report on the dress yet, because of its unsourced and unverified provenance, but her producers insist on its inclusion. She later admits that the producers were right, that the dress provides critical forensic evidence of Clinton's affair with Lewinsky. Judd claims that she knew nothing of the Drudge report, nor of the dress's mention in The Hotline, a major source of news for Washington journalists. The New York Post had previously published an incorrect story featuring a "multicolored" party dress and a gift of a collection of poems by Walt Whitman from Clinton to Lewinsky. At the moment, no one knew if there was one dress or two, and if one, both, or neither were semen-stained. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 23: Right-wing lawyer and talk-show pundit Ann Coulter, a member of Paula Jones's secret team of legal advisors, claims on Geraldo Rivera's CNBC talk show that not only does the hotly-discussed blue dress exist, but she knows for a fact that Clinton is guilty of perjury, suborning perjury, obstructing justice, and "using [Lewinsky] to service him along with four other interns or staff workers there." Coulter, as usual, provides no evidence of her amazing claims except to cite the Drudge Report as a source of her information. Rivera piles on to the lies by interviewing Gennifer Flowers, who now claims to have had a 14-year affair with Clinton and tells sordid stories of her and Clinton having sex in improbable places, at times which later are proven to have been impossible. She even claims to have aborted Clinton's love child in 1977, paid for in cash by Clinton, another story which is later proven false. Flowers says she is considering filing a lawsuit against Clinton similar to the Paula Jones suit. Remarkably, even in the "anything goes" atmosphere of current reporting on the Lewinsky scandal, neither Coulter's nor Flowers's allegations get any real press coverage, partially because of the unsavory reputation of Rivera Live. (Marvin Kalb)
- At this point, the story seems more of an inside-the-Beltway fracas than a story greatly impinging on the American people. Nearly 80% of Americans say they favor Clinton's economic agenda, and Clinton still enjoys wide popularity among most citizens. Most Americans say they do not favor impeaching Clinton even if he lied about having an affair, though a majority does favor impeachment if Clinton can be proven to have had others lie for him under oath. But Washington journalists are elbowing one another to pile on predictions of Clinton's imminent political demise, predictions that will become prime examples of the concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy. One effect that the scandal has is to dramatically raise the profile, and the audiences, of cable talk shows, and to give the struggling Fox News a great deal of play; Fox radically heightens its profile with relentless, 24/7 attacks on Clinton and a constant stream of reports on the Lewinsky scandal, many of which are factually inaccurate. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 24: The semen-stained blue dress is the headline-grabber in newspapers, broadcast news, and talk shows around the country, best highlighted by the New York Post's headline, "Monica's Love Dress." Though the story blazes around the country, details and proof are lacking. On January 29, CBS will report that the FBI will find no "forensic evidence" on any of Lewinsky's clothing at her Watergate Hotel apartment. ABC's Jackie Judd will also report that Starr's own investigation has "come up empty" on the dress. It is only much later (July 29) that investigators, and the press, will learn that the dress does indeed exist, and that Lewinsky's mother has kept it hidden in her New York apartment. For the next several weeks, the story of "the dress" will be used as Exhibit #1 in criticism of the press's baseless and unfounded allegations against Clinton and Lewinsky. It is ironic that the prime instrument of the well-founded criticism of the press's excessive and credulous coverage is an item that turns out to have been correctly reported upon. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 24: An interview with an unusually candid Leon Panetta, Clinton's former chief of staff and a possible candidate for governor of California, adds fuel to the fire of speculation surrounding the rumors of an impending resignation. Panetta seems to imply that he feels there is "something there" behind the firestorm of allegations; he also directly addresses his belief that if the allegations are real, then it would be better for the Democrats and the country if Gore assumed the presidency as quickly as possible "and you had a new message and new individual up there." Panetta's comments are slanted by his own feeling that, if he were to run for governor, he would have a better chance with Gore as president instead of the "tainted" and coattail-less Clinton, but regardless of his own agenda, journalists around the country feast upon Panetta's words, parsing and re-parsing until many are convinced that Clinton's own party is ready to abandon him. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 24: At 6 pm, CNN broadcasts a video of Clinton and Lewinsky hugging during a reception at the White House in November 1996. The image enters the American consciousness, and for many constitutes "proof" of at least some kind of relationship between the two. Meanwhile, stories about Clinton's impending resignation, many of them fueled by comments from White House officials, run rampant throughout the media, all hotly denied by senior White House advisors Paul Begala, Rahm Emanuel, Bruce Lindsey, and Sidney Blumenthal. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 25: Sunday newspapers are often stuffed with news analyses and observations about the week's news, and this Sunday, the papers are brimming with analyses about the Lewinsky story. The two questions most chewed over are, when will Clinton resign, and when will he be impeached? ABC's Jackie Judd goes on This Week with a badly sourced story of an eyewitness account of Clinton and Lewinsky making out in a private area of the White House, a story that Peter Jennings had refused to allow to be broadcast the night before because he "was just not comfortable with the sourcing." The story is never confirmed to be true, and two years later, Judd will be reduced to saying that there "probably" was a "potential witness." The story is never confirmed by either a journalist or the Starr investigation. The story does cause the Chicago Tribune, which had previously refused to print scandal stories that it could not independently verify, to renege on its stand and print the allegation, a decision that its editorial staff will later come to regret. Laudably, the New York Times decides not to print the story, partially because their own investigative reporters working the angle found that their supposed "sources" were merely echoing the story spread by Judd. It is later found that former independent counsel Joseph diGenova, a fixture on the talk show circuit who had led the 1992 investigation into the Clinton passport matter and a well-known Clinton critic, is most likely the source of the unfounded rumor.
- White House advisors Begala and others make the circuit of the Sunday talk shows, trying to redirect the media's attention to Starr's "witch hunt" and complaining about the "campaign of leaks and lies coming from somewhere," implicitly Starr and the OIC. They are heavily outnumbered by Republicans and other presidential critics. George Will pontificates about Clinton's moral "depravity," and presses guest Henry Hyde, the Republican head of the House Judiciary Committee, to tell when (not if) he will begin impeachment proceedings. Hyde refuses to commit himself. Will insists that Clinton's presidency is "deader than Woodrow Wilson's after he had a stroke" and says Clinton will resign "when he acquires the moral sense to understand." The consensus among the punditry is that Clinton will resign before allowing himself to be impeached, and that impeachment proceedings are not only mandatory, but a conviction in the Senate is simply a matter of course. One of the outgunned and outnumbered defenders of Clinton on the talk show circuit is a palpably angry James Carville, who says on Meet the Press, "I tell you what there's going to be. There's going to be war. Friends of the president are disgusted by these kind of tactics. And we're going to fight, and we're going to fight very hard, to defend this president." On the same program, Matt Drudge states thunderously, and wrongly, that a senior White House official will come forward next week to confirm the entire story and torpedo the Clinton presidency.
- One of the most telling moments comes when Face the Nation's Bob Schieffer waves a document given to him by Kenneth Starr, the infamous "talking points" from Lewinsky to Tripp; Starr refused to provide Lewinsky's lawyer with a copy of the document, even though Starr was legally mandated to do so, but Starr did not hesitate to provide a copy to members of the press in order to pile on the accusations and imprecations against Clinton (journalists at the Washington Post and the New York Times are also given copies). Schieffer concludes with a pious editorial rejoinder about the difficulties Americans would have explaining Clinton's conduct to their children, and blaming Clinton for making "American culture...coaser and more cynical." (Marvin Kalb)
- January 25: Starr lets certain members of the press know that he is preparing to take the extraordinary step of subpoenaing members of the Secret Service detail guarding the president, mostly because he wants to confirm the Jackie Judd report of an eyewitness to Clinton and Lewinsky being "intimate." Previously, Secret Service members working closely with the president have been immune from subpoenas because of their relationship to the president and their duties as guardians and minders. Starr's decision will spark a tremendous outcry from the legal community. (Marvin Kalb)
- January 25: In an unprecendented move that illustrates just what a stranglehold the Lewinsky scandal has on the American media, NBC breaks into its coverage of the Super Bowl, one of the most sacrosanct and highly structured media events of the year, with a "breaking story" that reiterates ABC's claim of an eyewitness to an "intimate moment" between Clinton and Lewinsky, along with a few sound bites from the morning's talk shows. The break-in was pointless and provided the audience with no new information, but shows how firmly the story has hold of the media. NBC's Tom Brokaw later acknowledges that "competitive pressures" led the news department to make the break-in to air what Marvin Kalb calls "a newsless bulletin." (Marvin Kalb)
An image from the "notorious" Clinton-Lewinsky video broadcast by CNN
- January 26: Members of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a neo-conservative think tank, send a letter to Clinton advocating the overthrow of the Hussein regime. Their reasoning includes the belief that Hussein endangers a significant amount of the world's oil. The letter advocates that the US "go it alone" against Iraq without waiting for UN approval. The 18 signatories include Richard Perle, who wrote most of the letter, Donald Rumsfeld, Elliot Abrams, Paul Wolfowitz, Lewis Libby, Richard Armitage, Zalmay Khalilzad, John Bolton, and 12 others, many of whom later ascend to positions of power and influence in the Bush administration. (Clinton will heavily bomb Iraq in late 1998, but the bombing results in UN weapons inspection teams being thrown out of the country.) The PNAC letter is heavily influenced by Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi, who led an abortive attempt to overthrow Hussein in 1995 and has spent the last three years currying the favor of American conservatives. The letter asserts that Hussein has a large stockpile of biological and chemical weapons, that he lacks popular support, and that toppling him will be relatively easy and cheap. The letter recommends the installation of Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress as the new government. The Clinton administration refuses to act on the letter, but eight months later, Clinton will sign the Iraq Liberation Act, which allocates $97 million for training and military equipment for the Iraqi opposition. Skeptical administration officials will block the INC from receiving much over $1 million of the monies, but the State Department allocates $10 million to the INC for operating funds. State will review how the INC handles its US funding and find serious discrepancies in its record-keeping, and raise questions about over $2 million in undocumented expenses. Chalabi will find willing ears for his plans to overthrow Hussein when George W. Bush takes office in January 2001 and gives PNAC members high places in his administration. (Washington Monthly, Project for the New American Century, Seymour Hersh, Peter Singer, Michael Isikoff and David Corn)
Clinton denies affair with Lewinsky
- January 26: In a formal press conference, Clinton repeats his denial about his affair, saying, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." Lewinsky's lawyer William Ginsburg offers Starr a summary of what Lewinsky is prepared to say to the grand jury in exchange for a grant of immunity from the prosecution. The next day, Hillary Clinton says that a "vast right-wing conspiracy" is behind the Whitewater and Lewinsky investigations. As becomes clear in the Paula Jones lawsuit, Clinton is once again attempting to duck the charges via a legalistic interpretation of the term "sexual relations." Journalist Paul Waldman writes, "[Clinton] was not in a legal arena but talking to reporters, and through them to the country. If his intention was simply to deny the affair, he surely could have chosen a more persuasive verbal formulation here as in the Lehrer interview [of January 21]. Instead, he chose a formulation that would allow him later to claim that he did not 'lie.' Nonetheless, Clinton's statement is understood by most people as a lie, and properly so, since his intent was to deceive his listeners." (Clinton Impeachment Timeline, Paul Waldman)
- Journalist Paul Waldman gives an example of what Hillary Clinton terms the "right-wing conspiracy:" far-right billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife funds the "Arkansas Project" at the American Spectator magazine, a project overseen by Federalist Society lawyer Theodore Olson (who will become Bush's solicitor general) to dig up and manufacture dirt on the Clintons. The Project involves dozens of journalists and lawyers, many with close ties to the Washington Republican network. As part of the Project's work, the Spectator prints an article featuring a young woman named "Paula," who alleges sexual misconduct on Bill Clinton's part; she, of course, is Paula Jones. With the financial and legal assistance of conservative foundations funded by Scaife and others, Jones files a harassment lawsuit against Clinton. A team of lawyers known as the "elves" shuttles between Jones's legal team and Kenneth Starr's independent-counsel office working the Whitewater investigation; together they will concoct, devise, and implement the perjury trap used to bring Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp into the Whitewater investigation. The entire mess is flogged day in and day out by conservative talk radio and columnists in the media, who overtly coordinate their messages with the congressional Republicans pushing Clinton's impeachment through the House of Representatives. David Brock, the apostate right-wing journalist who wrote some of the key articles printed by the Spectator in its get-Clinton campaign, and who took some of Scaife's money to write the articles, says that among the participants at a 1997 meeting (well before Lewinsky) were the Wall Street Journal editorial board, senior staff from the Washington Times, the Spectator, and Regnery Publishing; numerous talk-show hosts; and others. The point of the meeting was to help GOP representative Bob Barr craft an impeachment resolution. Barr has no specifics for his resolution, just the term "systematic abuse of office." Journal editorial writer John Fund says that impeachment is a question "not of law, but of political will." (Paul Waldman)
- January 27: On the Today show, Hillary Clinton tells Matt Lauer, "[T]he great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for President." Starr responds that the charges of a conspiracy are "nonsense;" Clinton observes in her memoir, "As they say in Arkansas, 'it's the hit dog that howls.'" (H.R. Clinton)
- January 27: New York Post columnist Neal Travis reports that "sources in Starr's office told me yesterday" that the independent counsel plans on subpoenaing Ronald Perelman, the CEO of Revlon who chose Clinton confidante Vernon Jordan to join Revlon's board. Travis is one of the few reporters who explicitly acknowledge the leaks from Starr's commission. (New York Post/James Carville)
- January 29: The judge in the Paula Jones lawsuit rules that Monica Lewinsky is "not essential to the core issues" of the Jones case, and orders all evidence related to Lewinsky be excluded from the Jones proceedings. Kenneth Starr has filed an amicus brief in support of Jones's lawsuit, a clear breach of ethics, since Starr is leading the Whitewater investigation. It is later proven that Starr, in violation of legal ethics and probably criminal law, provided legal support for the Jones legal team. Asked about Kenneth Starr's amicus brief in the Paula Jones case, former Iran-Contra prosecutor John Douglass says, "what's...troubling is why he was representing [Jones] in that regard and doing it without pay.... If he or his law firm had an interest in promoting that point of view, the next question is 'Why?' Do they have an interest in presidential immunity, or is it because they are conservative Republicans and they like to see Clinton harassed?"
(Clinton Impeachment Timeline, AP/James Carville)
- January 29: Another leak from Starr's commission lets the New York Daily News know that Starr's strategy is to have Monica Lewinsky's grand-jury testimony contradict Clinton's sworn deposition in the Paula Jones sexual-harassment case. And the conservative Washington Times reports that "prosecutors were seeking information on Monica Lewinsky's role and that of others in an attempt to obstruct justice and to conspire to suborn perjury in her January 7 affidavit in the Jones case." The attempt was, of course, stymied by the judge in the Jones lawsuit ruling that all evidence about Lewinsky was inadmissable. (New York Daily News/Washington Times/James Carville)
- January 30: A powerful bomb destroys a Birmingham, Alabama abortion clinic, killing an off-duty policeman moonlighting as a security guard and seriously injuring a nurse. President Clinton swiftly condemns the bombing, calling it "an unforgivable act that strikes at the heart of the constitutional freedoms and individual liberties all Americans hold dear" and noting that recent legislation makes it a federal crime to interfere with a woman exercising her right to visit an abortion clinic. "We will continue to enforce that law to its fullest extent -- and to protect our nation's family planning clinics," Clinton adds. Randy Tate, executive director of the antiabortion Christian Coalition, calls the bombing a "reprehensible act of violence." Tensions are high in Alabama, where the state legislature is considering passing a bill prohibiting third-trimester or "partial birth" abortions. "This was a vicious, wicked and diabolical attack intended to kill anyone within close proximity," says James Cavanaugh of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. "It was not designed to damage property; it was designed to kill or injure." A number of anti-abortion protesters near the scene are questioned by police, but are released without charge. Eventually the bombing is determined to have been carried out by anti-abortion radical Eric Rudolph, who successfully hides from authorities for years in the mountain wilderness of western North Carolina. (Washington Post, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/abortviolence/stories/sniper.htm)