Here’s the trouble with the Clinton grand jury tape: Yes, it
proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that the president is a
liar — but people don’t care.
Even before the tape aired on national television, 75
percent of Americans, according to the polls most favorable
toward Clinton, believed he was a liar. They don’t trust
him. Almost nobody does. They wouldn’t buy a used car
from him, but, yet, 50 percent of the public doesn’t want
him ditched as president.
So, as a device to persuade public opinion, the videotape
testimony was useless. In fact, it has actually helped
He was bleeding politically before it aired. The weekend
talk shows before the airing were filled with discussions of
impeachment — not so much “if,” but “when.” Even
George Stephanopoulos pronounced Clinton was toast.
Strangely, the fact that the video didn’t live up to the hype
actually served to relieve some of the building pressure, to
halt the momentum toward inevitable congressional
action. And I think Clinton and his apologists understood
all along this would be the case. Their protests about the
airing of the tape were designed to focus attention on an
unloaded “smoking gun.”
Clinton was proud of his performance in that hearing. It
was a performance he had rehearsed and executed almost
flawlessly. He expected that tape to be seen by the American
people the day he gave that performance. The protests
leading up to it were a diversion.
So were the leaks leading up to its release. I read reports
that Clinton actually stormed out of the room after the
cigar question was asked. The fact is, Clinton was a pretty
good witness — one just sympathetic enough to maintain
On the other hand, Kenneth Starr’s prosecutors were
unprofessional, wimpy, unfocused. They never forced
Clinton to answer questions directly. Having testified more
than a few times in depositions and in court proceedings, I
can tell you ordinary citizens do not have that luxury. You
can plead the Fifth Amendment, and take the heat for
doing that. But you cannot simply refuse to answer direct
questions because you don’t feel like it.
That’s what Clinton did. And Starr’s prosecutors let him
get away with it.
They also never went in for the kill the way aggressive
prosecutors are trained to do. Kathleen Willey testified that
Clinton had called her to his hotel room. Prosecutors had
phone records proving two calls were placed to her from
his room that night. Clinton had no recollection of that. In
fact, 164 times during the four-hour session, Clinton, the
politician with the best memory Vernon Jordan ever met,
had no recollection of key facts.
Yet, prosecutors never cornered Clinton. They never asked
him to imagine what the nature of those calls were. She
remembered clearly that he was hitting on her. He couldn’t
remember anything. Here was a chance to nail him. One
witness had strong recollections, the other had none. Once
again, they changed the subject, stymied by Clinton’s
persistent failed memory. It was a sad spectacle that
reinforced my belief that, if it’s up to Kenneth Starr and
company, Clinton serves out his full term of office.
He actually managed to turn Clinton, a serial victimizer of
women, into a victim himself. Go figure. Is that an
accident? Is that incompetence? Is that lack of prosecutorial
experience? Or is that by design?
In spite of all that, the tape proves conclusively that
Clinton misused Monica Lewinsky is a most despicable
way. He led her on. He encouraged her temptations. He
recklessly jeopardized not only his presidency but national
security for a few moments of lustful pleasure with an
intern barely into adulthood. He lied about it, opening
himself up to blackmail. By the standards of federal
guidelines he himself approved, he sexually harassed her.
After all, he had the power in the relationship — the power
to promote her, give her raises, get her new jobs, introduce
her to the right people.
That is a particularly interesting point given the fact that
this whole scandal was born in a sexual harassment lawsuit
against the president.
It’s also clear from the testimony that Clinton perjured
himself in the Paula Jones case and encouraged Lewinsky
to do the same. Clinton as much as admitted this in the
grand jury testimony. But prosecutors failed to underline
his admissions in a way that made them understandable to
the average viewer — and maybe the average grand juror.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the testimony is
Clinton’s unbridled arrogance. He boasts about his
unwillingness to be “helpful” in his Jones testimony.
When asked if he honored his oath to “tell the truth, the
whole truth and nothing but the truth,” the chief law
enforcement official in the nation split legalistic hairs.
What an example he sets for America. His half-truths, his
purposeful deceptions, his cynical distortions, his
damnable lies may redefine jurisprudence for the next
generation. Perhaps it will become known as “the Clinton
Doctrine.” It certainly will unless Congress acts swiftly and
decisively to remove from office this dangerous pretender
to the presidency.