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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Back to the future, Whitewater edition

by digby

Picture removed. My apologies for using it.

So, one of Trumps press people screwed the pooch and sent a request to the RNC for some juicy dirt on Whitewater to a member of the press. Apparently, Trump was too busy trying to curry favor at the time to follow the details. Anyway, as it happens, the Whitewater Javert, Ken Star is also in the news this week, having been revealed to have covered up a sex scandal and to have seemingly changed his mind about the person whose presidency he relentless tried to destroy. Get out you Alanis CDs and find yourself some Seinfeld re-runs because we're gonna do the 90s Time Warp.

Michael Tomasky has helpfully written a primer on Starr and Whitewater with all the good stuff you need to know in case you were in diapers during the period or have made the intelligent decision to  erase the idiotic details from your mind. An excerpt:
Ken Starr isn’t exactly in Bill Cosby territory, but with the revelation that he’s apparently being canned from the presidency of Baylor University for ignoring charges of sexual misconduct by football players, he has made himself into one of the most exquisite hypocrites of our age. (I should note that the university, responding to reports Tuesday of Starr’s impending dismissal, refused to confirm the news, although it didn’t deny it either.)

Here is morality according to Starr, who by the way is (of course) a great Christian. It’s appropriate to expose sexual misconduct (wrong, but consensual) when it gives you a shot at bringing down a president you loathe and creating a constitutional crisis over a few blow jobs. But when sexual misconduct risks messing with the football team, well by God, you brush it under the rug! You’re in Texas, boy.

A lot of you reading this may be too young to remember what I’m even talking about, and many of you who were around forget the appalling details. You may have seen the other day that Starr had some kind words for Bill Clinton, to which we’ll return. But don’t be deceived, and whatever you do, don’t go soft on Starr. He’s one of the monumental sleazeballs of our era.

Some innuendo-rich reporting in the Times and elsewhere during the 1992 campaign suggested that both Clintons may have behaved inappropriately with regard to a land investment known as Whitewater. They did not, as time would prove, but the right pushed the story hard, and the mainstream press sensed that surely something happened, because this was how things had to have worked in a hayseed state. By 1994, President Clinton, succumbing to external and some internal pressure, agreed to appoint a special prosecutor to delve into the facts.

Attorney General Janet Reno appointed a Republican named Robert Fiske. Fiske was finding no evidence of wrongdoing and was about to say so. Then, a twist of fate: It so happened that the special prosecutor law was coming up for renewal. Clinton considered it bad law (as did Antonin Scalia) and didn’t want to sign, but he knew it would look suspicious, so he signed. His renewal of the law had a crucial consequence: It transferred oversight of the special prosecutor from the Justice Department to the D.C. Court of Appeals, and specifically to a three-judge panel thereof. This panel consisted of two arch conservatives. Immediately, the panel fired Fiske on flimsy, trumped-up conflict-of-interest grounds, and appointed Starr.

Starr at that point enjoyed a grand reputation in Washington. He’d been a judge and Ronald Reagan’s solicitor general, and he and his wife glided through the social circuit with apparent grace. But he had well concealed the partisan knife that he now began to unsheathe.

To make a really long story really short, he turned up nothing on Whitewater. He spent three years subpoenaing everyone he could think of, squeezing witnesses; he jailed a woman, Susan McDougal, for nearly two years, trying to get her to lie about Clinton, keeping her for a time in solitary confinement, even in a PlexiGlas cell, on display like an animal. The ACLU of Southern California called her treatment “barbaric.” But he had nothing. He even quit the gig in 1997, because he knew he had nothing, but The Wall Street Journal editorial page and Times columnist and GOP propagandist Bill Safire hounded him back into the job.

Meanwhile in 1997, Monica Lewinsky met Linda Tripp, who, at the suggestion of conservative provocateur Lucianne Goldberg, started secretly taping Lewinsky’s discussions of her and Bill’s liaisons. Also, Paula Jones, who had a sexual harassment suit going against Clinton, fired her regular lawyers and hired very political, right-wing counsel. Goldberg got word to these lawyers that she had information that might be useful to them, so they connected, and in short order, in late 1997, a connection was made to Starr’s office.

Jackpot! He had nothing on Whitewater, but now here was evidence of a presidential affair. And, in his fevered dreams, maybe obstruction of justice to boot, he hinted to the Justice Department (with no hard evidence). And so the Lewinsky story broke in January 1998, and Starr possessed the power to bring down a president. 
Clinton’s behavior, both the act and the lying about it, was of course indefensible. But funny thing—the public was far more repulsed by Javert than Valjean. In March 1998, just two months after the scandal broke, Clinton’s approval ratings were pushing 70, while Starr was at 11 percent. That September, Starr released his famous report, a 445-page doorstopper that went into completely unnecessary detail—the word “sex” or a variant thereof was used 581 times, the word “Whitewater” just four times.

His conduct was reprehensible. He put dozens of totally innocent aides through legal hell. His office illegally leaked grand jury material left and right to friendly reporters. He lied repeatedly and publicly about Madison Guaranty, Susan McDougal and her ex-husband’s bank. And he wrapped himself in a cloak of self-righteousness the entire time, and the media, which had turned into a mob, was almost wholly on his side.

And now he comes to praise Clinton? Please. No thanks, says longtime Clinton aide Betsey Wright ...

That's the character assassination machine that tarred both Bill and Hillary Clinton as "dishonest" and "untrustworthy." Great work by the wingnuts. They are justifiably proud. The only problem is that they keep stepping on their own feet and the Clintons survive and go on because a majority of the American people see through this nonsense.  This drives them crazy. 

Read on, there's lots more. Starr is one of America's most notorious villains whose name should forever be synonymous with out-of-control political witch hunts right up there with Joseph McCarthy.