I didn’t believe the story when I first heard it—presidents and staffers don’t carry on like that. When I came to see it was true, I was angry. I wrote angrily in these pages.
I see it all now more as a tragedy than a scandal. I am more convinced than ever that Mr. Clinton made the epic political miscalculation of the 20th century’s latter half. He had two choices when news of the affair was uncovered: tell the truth and pay the price, or lie and hope to get away with it.
If he’d told the truth, even accompanied by a moving public apology, the toll would have been enormous. He would have taken a hellacious political beating, with a steep slide in public approval and in stature. He would have been an object of loathing and ridicule—the goat in the White House, a laughingstock. Members of his party would have come down on him like a ton of bricks. Newt Gingrich and the Republicans would have gleefully rubbed his face in it every day. There would have been calls for impeachment.
It would have lasted many months. And he would have survived and his presidency continued.
Much more important—here is why it is a tragedy—it wouldn’t have dragged America through the mud. It only would have dragged him through the mud. His full admission of culpability would have averted the false testimony in a criminal investigation that became the basis for the Starr report and the two articles of impeachment the House approved... The American people would’ve forgiven him for the affair. We know this because they’d already forgiven him when they first elected him. There had been credible allegations of affairs during the 1992 campaign. Voters had never thought highly of him in that area. His nickname the day he was inaugurated was “Slick Willie.”.. If he had chosen the path of honesty, Americans wouldn’t have backed impeaching him, because they are adults and have also made mistakes and committed sins.
And we know Mr. Clinton would have been forgiven because in September 1998—after the Starr report was released, amid all the mud and lies and jokes about thongs and cigars—a Gallup poll asked, “Based on what you know at this point, do you think that Bill Clinton should or should not be impeached and removed from office?” Sixty-six percent answered “should not be.”
Bill Clinton, political genius, didn’t understand his country’s heart... It was a tragedy because in lying and trying to protect himself, Mr. Clinton was deciding not to protect America. And that is the unforgivable sin, that he put America through that, not what happened with Monica... The Starr report ran 452 pages and contained an astonishing level of sexual detail, of prurient, gratuitous specificity. Congress could have withheld it from the public or released an expurgated version. It didn’t have to be so humiliating. But Mr. Clinton’s enemies made sure it was... Almost immediately on receiving the Starr report, Congress voted to release it in full, “so that the fullest details of his sins could be made public,” as Ken Gormley writes in his comprehensive 2010 history of the scandal, “The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr.” They put it up on the web. Its contents wound up on every screen in America, every newspaper, every television and radio... Lawmakers released the videotape of Mr. Clinton’s grand-jury testimony, so everyone could see the handsome presidential liar squirm.Mr. Starr’s staffers said they needed extremely detailed, concrete specificity to make the American people understand what happened. At the time I assumed that was true in a legal sense. Now I look back and see mere blood lust and misjudgment.
I see the desire to rub Mr. Clinton’s face in it just as he’d rubbed America’s face in it.
Top to bottom, left to right, a more dignified government, one that cared more about both America’s children and its international stature, would have shown more self-restraint and forbearance. And there might have been just a little pity for the desperate, cornered liar who’d defiled his office... It wouldn’t have so ruined the life of a woman who, when her relationship with the president commenced, was only 22. She paid a steeper reputational price than anyone. Charles Rangel, at the time a senior Democratic congressman, said on television that she was a “young tramp.” The White House slimed her as a fantasist. She went into hiding, thought about suicide.And in the end, 20 years later, she put the Clintons to shame.
.. Publicly for two decades she has reacted with more style and dignity than they, said less and with less bitterness and aggression, when they were the ones with all the resources, and a press corps eager to maintain good relations with them because Hillary would surely one day be president.
Monica told her side and kept walking, and even refrained from blaming her shaming on the Clintons. Feminists abandoned and derided her. She took it all on her back and bore it away. In my book, after all this time, she deserves respect.
Sometimes America gets fevers. They don’t so much break as dissipate with time. Twenty years ago we were in a fever. Others will come. The thing to do when it happens is know it’s happening, notice when the temperature is high, and factor it in as you judge and act, realizing you’re not at your best. Twenty years ago, almost none of our leaders were.
our Russia-besotted president does share some traits with Dostoyevsky’s spiraling protagonist, Rodion Raskolnikov.
.. Both men are naifs who arrive and think they have the right to transgress. Both are endlessly fascinating psychological studies: self-regarding, with Napoleon-style grandiosity, and self-incriminating. Both are consumed with chaotic, feverish thoughts as they are pursued by a relentless, suspicious lawman.
.. We are in for an epic clash between two septuagenarians who both came from wealthy New York families and attended Ivy League schools but couldn’t be more different — the flamboyant flimflam man and the buttoned-down, buttoned-up boy scout.
.. One has been called America’s straightest arrow. One disdains self-promotion and avoids the press. One married his sweetheart from school days. One was a decorated Marine in Vietnam. One counts patience, humility and honesty as the virtues he lives by and likes to say “You’re only as good as your word.”
.. Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio says the president has been lying reflexively since he was a kid bragging about home runs he didn’t hit. He gets warped satisfaction from making up stuff, like those calls from the head of the Boy Scouts and the president of Mexico that the White House just admitted never happened.
Back when he was a Page Six playboy, Trump even invented two P.R. guys to play on the phone with reporters, so he could boast about himself three times as much, including fictitious claims of dating Carla Bruni and being hit on by Madonna.
He is never deterred by the fact that he can be easily caught. But considering he survived the “Access Hollywood” video, it’s no wonder he has a distorted sense of what is an existential threat.
A White House adviser told me recently about how scary Mueller’s dream team is, and how Jared Kushner should be nervous. Every time Mueller adds a legal celebrity to his crew, the music gets cued for an “Ocean’s Eleven” or “Dirty Dozen” array of talent.
- One lawyer helped destroy the New York City mafia;
- another helped bring down Nixon;
- another tackled Enron;
- others are experts on foreign bribery and witness-flipping.
As GQ’s Jay Willis wrote, “If these people were coming for you over a parking ticket, you’d be thinking about liquidating your life savings.”
.. Trump does not yet seem to fathom that Mueller is empowered in a way no one else is to look at all sorts of things. This isn’t some tiff over a casino, where Trump can publicly berate opposing counsel and draw him into a public spat. Mueller won’t take the bait.