I have just finished reading Joe Gormley's book, "The Death of American Virtue: Clinton Vs. Starr."
This book is surely the definitive account of the sad saga in U.S. history known as the Lewinsky scandal. Ken Gormley, a law professor, interviewed almost all the principle players in the drama (including some now deceased) -- President Clinton, Ken Starr and his wife, Lewinsky as well as both her parents, other prosecutors and judges, Linda Tripp, Susan McDougall, Webster Hubbell, Lew Merletti, head of the Secret Service, Henry Hyde and many many others. The only people who apparently declined the opportunity to speak to him were Hillary and Chelsea Clinton.
This book is exhaustive and exhausting but ultimately tremendously rewarding. Gormley has a flair for the dramatic. His descriptions of court scenes, the impeachment trial itself, the depositions and other background discussions read as if they come from the pages of a thriller. One knows the end -- but one is still gripped.
This is also a fair book. All of the main characters are given ample time to reflect and their views are fairly recounted. We get Clinton's extensive musings and his perspective years later, but also that of Starr and the other chief prosecutors.
Gormely also explodes a few minor bombshells. We learn that an investigation into the conduct of the Starr prosecutors concluded they had far overstepped their legal bounds in their first interrogation of Monica Lewinsky. They ignored her repeated requests to speak to her lawyer, bludgeoning her with crude threats of 27 years in prison while bringing her to the brink of mental collapse. Republican judges quashed the report and managed to keep it sealed to protect the privacy of the prosecutors who themselves had totally trashed the privacy of their victims.
This was not the only case of prosecutorial misconduct by the Starr team who in general comported themselves like bullies and thugs unbound by legal constraint, trampling over the privacy and rights of their victims while conducting their legal vendetta against the president.
We also learn about the strange and sinister death in prison of Jim McDougall, the rogue that set the Whitewater scandal in motion. McDougall was seriously mentally ill and a substance abuser -- also a crook and serial liar who would say anything to advance himself. But he did not deserve to die in a prison hole of medical neglect from a prison staff that was criminally negligent. His medical file strangely "disappeared" and was never recovered. Years later, a prison psychologist revealed that he had received a strange visit from an official invesigator who threatened him not to reveal what he knew.
None of the characters of this awful saga emerge looking very good. Clinton still refuses to take full responsibility for his serial womanizing, some of which comes across as crude sexual harrasment if not outright abuse. I was angry at Clinton at the time for wasting the opportunity history had given him to be a truly significant president. He was and remains a self-indulgent man with a vast sense of entitlement. Never in this book did I feel remotely sympathetic toward him.
Starr comes over as a sanctimonious, holier-than-thou crusader willing to do anything to bring the president down. Starr had acted as a legal adviser to Paula Jones before being appointed as special prosecutor, giving him a clear conflict of interest. He was clearly motivated by politics. Yet Starr was a "moderate" among the group of far-right zealots he hired as his senior prosecutors.
Lewinsky comes across as a victim. Sure, she made a big mistake but she was just a kid who deluded herself into thinking she was in love with a much older man who ought to have known better. She did not deserve to be hounded, trashed and victimized in the way that she was.
Susan McDougall, who went to jail for 18 months rather than telling Starr what he wanted to hear, is one of the few heroines of the story.
One thing that emerges clearly from this book is that when Hillary Clinton spoke of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" out to bring down her husband -- words that I had always previously dismissed as political hyperbole -- she was in fact speaking nothing less than the truth. Conservative financiers, judges, newspapers, activists, legislators, publicists, general trouble-makers and prosecutors, all motivated by acute hatred of the 42nd president, combined to bring about this crisis. The author demonstrates that numerous opportunities to settle the case honorably were sabotaged by right-wing extremists determined to press the scandal to a crisis and so depose a twice democratically-elected president.
So what was this all about in the end? Henry Hyde, himself an adulterer, who managed the House of Representatives "case" (if it can be called such) against Clinton took comfort in the fact that "were in not for the impeachment, George W. Bush would not have been elected president" in 2000.
So we can thank Mr. Starr for eight years of Bush, the invasion of Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the mismanagement of Hurricane Katrina and our massive national debt.
Thanks a lot Ken.