“Catching Our Flag,” Congressman James Rogan’s scintillating tale of the impeachment of President William Jefferson Clinton is a chronicle of the effort to remove a sitting commander in chief.
Clinton, you’ll remember, lied under oath about his relationship with the most famous intern in all of history, Monica Lewinsky. The House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton, but the members of the Senate didn’t have the fortitude to remove him from office in a subsequent vote.
Rogan calls those who symbolically caught the nation’s flag – dropped carelessly and sullied by those who devalued the ideals that made the country great – well, he calls them patriots.
The term fits.
Rogan provides a behind-the-scenes view of the proceedings, which gripped the nation’s imagination.
He quotes his colorful colleague, Henry Hyde: “The president is our flag bearer. He stands out in front of our people, and the flag is falling. Catch the falling flag as we keep our appointment with history.”
Before you judge this book – unfairly – on a range of issues, consider a sampling of chapter titles in “Catching Our Flag”:
- “Blood on the Floor”
- “Lipstick on a Pig”
- “No One Left to Lie To”
- “Rag-Tag Remnant”
- “Reformed Drunks”
No, this book is no dry history or insufferable civics lesson. It is a living, breathing story from a moment that will live in infamy.
Rogan, who prosecuted the case against Clinton, makes the reader feel he was there behind closed doors, in those tense days in the nation’s capitol.
Oddly enough, he begins this tale by acknowledging that he actually has somewhat of a soft spot for Clinton. This for various reasons: He understands that, biblically, we are all sinners, and among other things, Clinton was gracious to the new congressman pre-impeachment. Heck, 20 years before, Clinton had met Rogan and urged him to use his education to run for office!
Finding himself on the Commerce Committee, Rogan found himself chafing under a desire to do something else; after all, new members of Congress spend a good deal of time just getting acclimated. After that, they begin to cast around for an important assignment. Although, at this time, Rogan somewhat wanted to remain with Commerce, for practical reasons. He was being wooed for the House Judiciary Committee by Hyde, but for the time being, they decided Rogan would remain where he was.
History was about to be written.
In one of those odd detours in history, Rogan was stunned to hear of the skiing-accident death of fellow California Congressman Sonny Bono. The former television star was on the Judiciary Committee, and all of a sudden, Hyde needed a replacement.
That’s how Jim Rogan found Bill Clinton in his cross-hairs.
(By the way, this book, though utterly fascinating, is not meant to be read around the family dining table. It is indeed an honest account of the violent world of Washington politics.)
A fascinating element of “Catching Our Flag” is the presence of Rogan’s diary entries from this period. It is amazing to watch the scandal and subsequent prosecution of Clinton as the events unfolded:
Diary, Office of the Speaker, The U.S. Capitol, March 5, 1998
Newt [Gingrich] declared authoritatively, “We will get ‘the boxes’ [Special Counsel Ken Starr’s impeachment report] in May. When the boxes finally come, this thing will be huge: Filegate, Travelgate, Whitewater, Lewinsky, and so on. Starr won’t seek to indict a sitting president – there is too much uncertainty over whether he legally can do it. Still, he’ll have a ton of stuff, and he might seek to indict Hillary Clinton.
“When it comes, we need to be very cautious. We should invite the Democrats to join us in crafting a solution as to how to proceed. We need to appear judicious and fair in all we do when we handle this. It will be very sensitive.”
Rogan, you see, kept detailed notes of the entire episode.
There is also plenty of juicy infighting among Hyde’s circle, and Rogan recalls the “discussions” that took place concerning the best way to proceed against Clinton. At one point, David Schippers, the Judiciary Committee’s chief investigator, expressed his frustration with Hyde for not giving him a bit more time; after all, Schippers claimed, he could produce evidence that would “make Watergate look like child’s play.”
In the end, the committee put its best foot forward, as they also had to take into consideration that the Clintons had also assembled a knuckle-breaking defense crew.
There is also plenty of dirty detail, such as, “Trent Lott undercutting us.” Get “Catching Our Flag” and you won’t be disappointed at the astounding insider stories Rogan provides.
In the end, Rogan muses at the way history is written. As he notes, the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock presents a view of the impeachment that reflects the bitterness of the man who inspired it all.
But for the rest of us, we have “Catching Our Flag.” And that will make all the difference.