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A ‘Reckoning’ For Bill Clinton? Don’t Forget Starr’s $70 Million Probe

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A ‘Reckoning’ For Bill Clinton? Don’t Forget Starr’s $70 Million Probe

bill clinton

Suddenly it has become fashionable again in liberal circles to flay Bill Clinton for his sexual misconduct, whether real, alleged, or imagined. Amid the national frenzy swirling around the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore, prominent journalists and politicians are competing to display their dudgeon over the former president and things he is said to have done long ago.

On the New York Times op-ed page, a forum for Clinton-bashing from the late William Safire to the eternal Maureen Dowd, new columnist Michelle Goldberg writes that the former president ought to be expelled from “decent society” because of Juanita Broaddrick’s allegation that he raped her in 1978, under the headline “I Believe Juanita.” In Politico, former ABC correspondent Jeff Greenfield pillories Democrats who supported Clinton for supposedly “brushing aside the serious questions not of philandering but of predatory sexual behavior” toward Broaddrick, Paula Jones, and Kathleen Willey.

And in The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan — eager to defame feminists and especially Hillary Clinton as somehow culpable for her husband’s alleged predations — demands “a reckoning” of the way that “the Democratic Party protected Bill Clinton.”

All these commentators, and a few more, seem to recollect a moment when Clinton blithely escaped accountability for awful sex offenses because the feckless liberals let him skip. But that isn’t how I remember the record of the Clinton years, because that is precisely the opposite of what happened.

Unlike Weinstein, Moore, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, or any of the dozens of powerful men whose misdeeds have provoked a wave of justified fury, Clinton endured a long, painful, and very costly series of official investigations of his alleged sexual misdeeds. Various accounts of his private behavior, whether invented or truthful, filled thousands of hours of national airtime, millions of inches of newsprint, and dozens of books (including The Hunting of the President by Gene Lyons and me, published in 2000,).

Unlike the Fox News criminals and many other creeps who quietly reached settlements that kept the most lurid details of their behavior under court seal, Clinton’s alleged acts were litigated publicly all the way to the Supreme Court — with attendant coverage that included, among other embarrassments, a debate about the appearance of his penis.

And most important, unlike any of those now in the dock, Clinton underwent a $70-million investigation by a zealous federal inquisitor who had all the powers of the Justice Department, a team of relentless and experienced prosecutors, and the forensic services of the FBI, which he employed in a wide-ranging sex probe that went back decades. That special prosecutor’s name was Kenneth W. Starr. He would be dismayed to learn that his dogged efforts to destroy Clinton have so soon been forgotten.

What Clinton’s freshly enraged critics also seem to have forgotten is how the Starr investigation actually unfolded after the independent counsel and his staff abandoned “Whitewater,” a small-time land swindle whose principal victims turned out to be the Clintons themselves. Approached with a tip by lawyers for Paula Jones, the former Arkansas state employee who claimed then Governor Clinton had dropped his trousers and exposed his genitalia to her in a Little Rock hotel room, Starr opened a new case that was designed to ensnare President Clinton in a perjury trap over his illicit consensual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Not only was he not shielded, but his appointee, Attorney General Janet Reno, secretly gave a stamp of approval to Starr’s new prosecutorial direction.

While Clinton certainly prevaricated about Lewinsky, partly in order to avoid telling his wife, his affair was not exactly a predatory attack on an unwilling victim, despite the glaring difference in their age and station. Indeed, she forthrightly portrayed herself as the aggressor and continued to pursue him long after she was transferred from the White House to a job in the Pentagon.

The Lewinsky opening provided Starr with a license to intensify the scrutiny of Clinton’s personal life that his deputies had already begun in Arkansas as an adjunct of Whitewater, which was going nowhere. During the months leading up to Clinton’s impeachment in 1999, the Office of Independent Counsel deployed its full forensic authority to investigate every salacious claim or rumor about him. Included in that expansion of Starr’s probe were the cases of Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick.

Keen as Starr was to compile a thoroughly damning impeachment dossier against Clinton, both of those cases presented factual and legal problems that proved impossible for him to overcome. (Oddly, the New York Times noted this week that the Broaddrick and Willey cases were omitted from Starr’s impeachment referral, but neglects to reveal that he investigated them thoroughly.) Two of Willey’s closest friends directly contradicted her version of how Clinton aggressively “groped” her in the Oval Office despite her protestations. One was Linda Tripp, a fellow White House employee and, inconveniently, a key witness for Starr in the Lewinsky case. The other was Julie Hiatt Steele, whom Starr cruelly and unsuccessfully prosecuted in an effort to force her to change her testimony.

During his investigation, Starr learned that Willey had lied to FBI agents after receiving a grant of transactional immunity from his office. He immunized her again, but by then Willey was bereft of believability. She went on to publicly concoct bizarre fantasies of plots against her life, the assassination of her cat, and so on. Immortalized as a Clinton victim in a gripping CBS “60 Minutes” interview, she was lucky not to be prosecuted for lying to federal agents. In the Final Report of the Office of Independent Counsel, Willey was singled out as a figure lacking in credibility.

Starr also confronted vexing problems with Broaddrick’s charge that Clinton had assaulted her in a hotel room in 1978, biting her lip until it was swollen. Before the independent counsel brought her in, she had sworn an affidavit in the Paula Jones case denying any sexual contact with Clinton, and then repeated that denial in a deposition under oath.

The FBI found five witnesses who insisted that Broaddrick had told them about the rape at the time. Two of those witnesses were sisters and close friends of Broaddrick who hated Clinton for commuting the death sentence of their father’s convicted killer. A third was Broaddrick’s husband David, with whom she had been conducting an illicit affair when the alleged incident occurred. Broaddrick said she told her then-husband Gary Hickey that she had hurt her lip in an accident, but Hickey could recall neither the injury nor her explanation. Republican operatives who had pursued the rape rumors when Clinton first ran for president also cast doubt on her story and her motives. Later she made an accusation against Hillary Clinton that directly contradicted her own prior comments about whether anyone had sought to “intimidate” her.

Whether Clinton assaulted Broaddrick was impossible to know — or to prove — from the available evidence. That was why, in a footnote to his report, Starr described his findings about the woman called “Jane Doe #5” as “inconclusive.”

As for Paula Jones, it was she who had described the famous “distinguishing characteristic” of Clinton’s penis in a sealed affidavit, which Jones attorney George Conway (now better known as the husband of Trump aide Kellyanne Conway) leaked to the Drudge Report. Urologists eventually determined that Clinton had normal male equipment with no marks or misshapenness. But that was only the most notorious of several contradictions marring Jones’ testimony, which led more than one observer to doubt the validity of her harrowing story, including her sister. Finally, Clinton agreed to pay her a settlement of $850,000 without any admission to end the litigation.

In many ways, the payment to Jones was the least of the indignities and injuries that befell Clinton. The independent counsel probe and impeachment proceedings cost him tens of millions of dollars, a five-year suspension of his license to practice law, a searing scar upon his family, a continuous series of public humiliations, and a future obituary that will feature his status as the only president ever impeached over a sex lie.

So he may well think that there has been some public reckoning, at least, with the accusations against him – and that Starr’s exhaustive investigation, completed almost 20 years ago, served as an adjudication of those charges.

Yet those who still feel an urge to flog Clinton, for whatever motive, should pursue that stern impulse with all the seriousness it deserves. A just reckoning requires grappling with all the evidence – the depositions, the testimony, the recordings, the exhibits, the affidavits, the books, and even the journalism, dreadful as much of it was. This case isn’t a current legal proceeding. It’s history—and the facts, not fitting an easy storyline or moral fable, are available to those willing to deal with them.

Having been there and done that, I can assure the would-be judges that this is no small project. What they’ve written and said so far indicates a need to stop posturing and start reading.


Joe Conason

A highly experienced journalist, author and editor, Joe Conason is the editor-in-chief of The National Memo, founded in July 2011. He was formerly the executive editor of the New York Observer, where he wrote a popular political column for many years. His columns are distributed by Creators Syndicate and his reporting and writing have appeared in many publications around the world, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, and Harpers.

Since November 2006, he has served as editor of The Investigative Fund, a nonprofit journalism center, where he has assigned and edited dozens of award-winning articles and broadcasts. He is also the author of two New York Times bestselling books, The Hunting of the President (St. Martins Press, 2000) and Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (St. Martins Press, 2003).

Currently he is working on a new book about former President Bill Clinton's life and work since leaving the White House in 2001. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, including MSNBC's Morning Joe, and lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

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  1. idamag November 17, 2017

    I should think any person who has critical thinking skills would have noticed the harassment of the Clintons from day one. First, they were in the anti-war movement of Viet Nam. Then. as governor, he signed Civil Rights into being for Arkansas. The Whitewater investigations and the other allegations stemmed from the same source. This, and any aspersions on either of them is harassment. Monica Lewinski probably got paid very well in for her part in the seduction. Of course, Bill Clinton should have been smart enough to not allowed himself to be seduced. I wouldn’t have wanted him for a son-in-law, but I would want him for a president. That is what is galling the right wing, is that he was a better president than they can produce. If we keep looking at the Clintons, we might not see how awful they are.

    1. dbtheonly November 17, 2017

      Good Morning Ms. ida,

      Presidents Clinton and Obama certainly make recent Republican Presidents look weak in comparison.

      The key issue for me is Lewinsky’s stained dress. I can think of no other reason for keeping the dress uncleaned other than what was used in a different setting, “Bitch Him up”.

      It strikes me as odd that the Clinton & Franken accusers seem to use the “buzz words du jour”. That is the Accusers use whatever accusations are currently en vogue. Almost as if they are fitting the accusations to whatever is most likely to get media attention. Do you see it the same way, or am I making something out of nothing?

      1. idamag November 17, 2017

        Smelled set-up from the onset. First, women do not usually call a co-worker and give her a play-by-play of their dalliances. Second, on the tape, tells where to find the semen stained dress. It tells exactly where it is in the closet.

    2. Marilyn November 17, 2017

      I agree about Monica Lewinski. I have never believed that she was anything other than a paid plant to seduce Clinton so that he could be accused and removed. She admitted later that she had had an affair with one of her teachers when she was in high school so she was hardly virginal and innocent. And as I recall, she gave her stained dress to her mother to keep. What kind of person does that and what kind of mother would receive and keep such a dress for her?

      1. notafoxfan November 17, 2017

        marilyn..i might add as well, that ms. lewinski was not an innoccent,sweet little girl intern..she was a college graduate,24 years of age, and she actually gave testimony to giving bill Clinton her underwear to get his attention…….

  2. FireBaron November 17, 2017

    Like I have repeatedly said – the most investigated family in the history of the United States. Even Julius and Ethel Rosenberg weren’t as thoroughly investigated!

    1. Theodora30 November 17, 2017

      .Not just investigated, but lied about. I love (and clearly remember) that Kathleen Willey accused the Clintons of having her cat assassinated. Why in the world would the mainstream media still be willing to treat this woman as if she is a credible witness? The public deserves to be told when an accuser has serious credibility issues the way Willey, Jones and Broadbent all have.
      This tendency to believe any accuser is ridiculous. I say this as someone who has had a couple of experiences with men attempting to force themselves on me. But I also had a childhood friend who made a false accusation when she was in her twenties. Because she claimed to have been kidnapped and taken across state lines the FBI was brought in. It was really shocking because she was a sweet person, never in trouble, etc. She eventually admitted she lied and got psychiatric help.

      1. Eleanore Whitaker November 17, 2017

        Not to worry. The more these good ole boys of the GOP continue their crucifixion of Hillary and Bill Clinton, both now American citizens, the more opportunity there is for the Clintons to sue them for libel and slander.

        As for Hillary bashing and hating, how stupid are these men that they don’t see the end result is MORE, not less women entering politics?

        What will they do when women outnumber men in the House and Senate? Run for a corner like they always do when they are outnumbered?

      2. FireBaron November 19, 2017

        Based on Paula Jones history, which was not allowed to be presented in the trial, apparently William Jefferson Clinton was the only male drawing an Arkansas paycheck that she ever said “no” to.

  3. Theodora30 November 17, 2017

    Because I remember all of these incidents very clearly I am very skeptical of the accusation against Franken. The accuser is a right wing talk radio personality, Trump supporter and frequent guest on Hannity so she is very comfortable in that world of disinformation and outright lies. Her coming forward will only boost her career. Even more suspicious the granddaddy of smear campaigns, Roger Stone announced that Franken was in trouble before she made her statement. Color me skeptical – very skeptical. If other women with nothing to gain speak out then I revise my opinion.

    1. Theodora30 November 17, 2017

      The link to the Daily Beast article “Meet Donald Trump’s Top FBI Fanboy”.


    2. marriea November 17, 2017

      I agree with your assessment of the Clinton era.
      I also find that the story about Franken to be on the reaching side.
      There was nothing, in my mind, sexual about the picture in question.
      At best it can be referred to as lecherous humor.
      Also, as with this ‘tongue in the throat’ kiss, somehow, it has the ring of great exaggeration about it.
      Franken at least didn’t give her the denial she was seemingly seeking.
      He offered to her his greatest apology for having offended her.

    3. Eleanore Whitaker November 17, 2017

      First off, is a kiss really sexual molestation as all women define it? And just why is it MEN and not women are the only ones deciding another man’s innocence or guilt? Should molesting women be ONLY the judgment of WOMEN? Or, is that too much womanhood for the Good Ole Boys?

      The very idea that the Republicans went after Al Franken has more to do with Franken taking down Sessions this week. How dare a non Good Ole Boy ask pointed questions of a weasel so called “southern gentleman?”

      This is more of the same little boy spite tactics women are getting so fed up with. Do we have grown MEN in government? Or spiteful little boys who always need to get even?

    4. smartalek November 24, 2017

      The MSM has not yet learned their the lesson

      Sorry, but this presumes that the interest of the MSM, and of the MSM’s “news” departments, is the pursuit of truth.
      That has not been the case for decades now.
      They are now, without exception (yes, this includes the august NYTimes, which gave the general Judicial Watch / Publican lies about made-up Hillary “scandals,” and the Peter Schweitzer (“Clinton Cash”) lies in particular, a credibility they utterly failed to warrant on the merits, even as they refused to shine any light on the many very real scandals — including the Russian backers — then roiling about the man who now occupies (every sense of the term) our Oval Office) working directly against us.
      They are all now functioning as the propaganda arm of the plutocracy, and of the party that works for and advances their interests over those of 99% of us.
      Failure to recognize — and, more important, to do something about — this will ensure many more losses of what should be highly winnable elections.

  4. marriea November 17, 2017

    What they’ve written and said so far indicates a need to stop posturing and start reading.
    OH NO…
    And I guess thinking for one’s self is out of the question also.
    I do remember a funny joke, it might of had some truth to it, ..
    It seems that on the day the final report was rendered and given to congressional member, they adjoined early for the day.
    The joke said the sounds of congressional bathroom doors could be heard all over Washington DC shutting as the congressional members went inside the stalls to read the latest legal X rated report.

  5. Eleanore Whitaker November 17, 2017

    Here is comes…the Republican and Right Wing Spite Boys ACT. Let’s all pretend that for decades the Republican men didn’t know former Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, was preying on little boys. Not even the Pope could make that one look innocent.

    So now it’s “Go for the Clintons” card for the GOP when their asses are in a sling over Moore. Moore knows all he has to do is continue his BS denial ACT and hope the public will forgive and forget.

    Sorry not this time. Not when the minute a Republican man goes around flapping his dick in the wind and gets caught, they go for the “Lock her UP” BS.

    Women in the US need to face up to the fact that there are only really two kinds of men in our country: Those who are intelligent and wear their masculinity with confidence, never needing to prove it and those who never really got past their teen raging hormones and must always prove their manhood by molesting and degrading women at every possible chance.

    The point here is that women in Alabama are being made to look like sluts and pieces of meat any man can enjoy for a meal.

    1. FireBaron November 19, 2017

      And don’t forget, while Newt was persecuting Clinton for his flings, Mistah Speakah was in flagrante delicto with his aide, who would become wife number three, before he had legally separated from Wife number 2. As a reminder, Wife number 3 just won appointment as Ambassador to the Vatican. Such a good Catholic girl.

      1. Eleanore Whitaker November 20, 2017

        Isn’t that always the way with the guilty? Deflect? Deflect…deflect. The guiltier they make the innocent appear, they hope their deflections will allow them to continue their lies and fake smears.

        Most of us here in NJ laughed and laughed at Trump when he sidled up to Gingrich and Guiliani. Between these 3 men they’ve had a grand total of 9 wives. Bill Clinton has only ONE. Says a lot about Hillary and not much about the women who are common denominators in these 3 men’s choices.

  6. Aaron_of_Portsmouth November 17, 2017

    This circus environment created by phony little men and women with axes to grind distracts from the core issue of gender inequality, maintenance of the perpetual myth of men being superior to women, etc.

    And for no other reason than to play power games, give free rein to unbridled licentiousness, and to just be like wild beasts. Naturally there’s blame aplenty to go around for all involved in this extensive 3-Ring Circus.

    What is galling is the rank hypocrisy and double-standards applied based on Party affiliation. And often leading the charge of hypocrisy are those who shout “Fire!” the loudest. Ken Starr, FOX and Friends, Ray Moore, the GOP and Trump, have shouted the loudest and therefore need to have the brightest lights shone on themselves. Then, we’ll lay all the evidence on the table for all to see, and place bets on whether Donald will be the first to accuse someone else when his dirty drawers are laid out alongside other’s underwear.

  7. dpaano November 17, 2017

    Personally, I’ve always thought that Gingrich had something to do with the Lewinsky affair….I think she was bought and paid for by Gingrich and his cronies to seduce President Clinton in an effort to get him out of the Oval Office. After all, why would any woman keep a dress with a stain on it unless she planned on using it against him because she was paid to do so? It just makes NO sense. As far as I’m concerned, she was a paid prostitute for the Republican party! But, as far as that is concerned, what about our current sex offender in chief, President Trump? Will we see him get thrown into the court system for all his sexual proclivities when he’s no longer in office? One can only hope! He’s more guilty that Clinton EVER was or could be!

    1. stcroixcarp November 18, 2017

      I always suspected the motives of Linda Tripp.

  8. Aaron_of_Portsmouth November 17, 2017

    There is always a danger of “victims” creating myths in order to settle a grudge, or to hide something they instigated to divert attention to their own shortcoming of having committed a taboo, etc. The tactic of blaming convenient scapegoats was a general tactic employed by women in the South to cover up an illicit affair with black men.

    The Scottsboro incident in the eponymous city in Alabama in 1931, involving 3 black men wrongly accused of rape by a woman who later admitted she made up the story to hide an affair she had with someone else comes to mind; the young black youth, Emmitt Till in Money, Mississippi, accused by a woman of having whistled at her would lead enraged relatives to drag young Emmitt from his bedroom and later shot him in the head and tied a large industrial fan to his legs so that when he was dumped in a river his body would not be discovered; the incident in Rosewood, Florida in the 1920’s was another case of a riot being started as a result of a woman hiding an affair she was having with another man and then blaming one of the black citizens, leading white males to form a lynch mob to just burn the black section of town to the ground, while killing at least 20 people—perhaps many more—in the process, on account of a woman wanting to hide her affair.

    I cite this to show that it just makes the fight against a male-dominated society bent on taking advantage of women hard to contest, when so many other women, now and then, have abused the concept of honesty by knowingly and falsely accusing someone else.

    However, the Roy Moore and Donald Trump perversions, the Harvey Wienstein case, and the Cosby atrocities are far more credible. And then there are women(and men) who fabricate abuse stories just for political gain—Bill Clinton’s case smells of such a set-up, as does the case of Al Franken being taken to task by a woman with strong Right Wing ties—ties that may be irrelevant, but certainly add a set of confounding factors that cloud the issue and make one wonder.

    Honesty, integrity, truthfulness, trustworthiness, and other spiritual qualities have long been abandoned by too many in America for the sake of convenience or for political/personal gain. All of which just puts an extra unnecessary burden on women to come forward in the case of sexual abuse, when the culture has already condoned sexual abuse for centuries. A situation that causes victims of rape to remain silent for years because of the trauma and the attitude that men’s excuses count more than the testimony of women. This is an intolerable situation.

  9. art brodsky November 19, 2017

    Can we look at the larger picture? This whole mess was never about sex. It was about power. Tom DeLay and the Republicans were determined to impeach Clinton for something, anything. When Whitewater didn’t pan out, and they struck out on TravelGate, Vince Foster’s suicide, etc., they took what they could conjure up. Sex.was their only option and they took it. Hardly impeachable offenses, but good enough for this sleazy bunch.

    1. smartalek November 24, 2017

      Tom DeLay and the Republicans were determined to impeach Clinton for something, anything

      As so often happens, the biggest tell is what the Publicans are currently accusing Democrats of doing.
      It’s been painfully obvious for a very long time that one of the most reliable habits of Publicans (and conservatards of all stripes), right up there with their incessant hypocrisy, is projection.
      I believe it was D Weinert, of the underappreciated Orcinus blog, who said it first and probably best, close on 20 years ago now: If you want to know what Publicans are up to, or about to get up to, just watch what they’re currently accusing Dem’s of doing.
      As they have spent the past year accusing not only Dem’s, but their very own Publican investigators*, of “trying to overturn the results of an election that didn’t go their way.”
      Well, that is exactly what all the years of Whitewater, and other investigations, were all about.
      They were an attempted coup d’etat that, fortunately for all of us, failed to bring down its primary target…
      But unfortunately for all of us, did manage to damage Al Gore enough (with his foolish compliance, distancing himself during his campaign from his former boss, then enjoying approval ratings in the mid-to-high 60s) to let the Publicans get close enough to an EV majority to steal that election.
      BTW, for a cogent and convincing argument that the Supremes’ behaviors (not just the final decision, but much of what led up to it) in Bush v Gore was a judicial coup d’etat, you could do worse than to read the short and fascinating “Supreme Injustice” by Alan Dershowitz.
      (No, I don’t get a kickback if you buy it. You can get it at the liberry, if you wish.)

      *which raises the question: why are only Publican operatives allowed to investigate Democrats under suspicion of anything — and only Publican operatives are allowed to investigate Publicans under suspicion of anything?
      Trumpsters howl “unfair” that anyone on Mueller’s investigative team had ever contributed anything to any Democrat — but they didn’t have any problem with the Whitewater investigators being hardcore Publican partisans.
      For that matter, since when are prosecutors supposed to be “impartial,” hm?
      That’s judges’ and juries’ roles, not prosecutors’.


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