Progressive Politics Research and Commentary by Janette Rainwater
 

The Starr Chamber and the Future of American Democracy The Starr Report (this is the printer friendly version)

The dimpled darling of the Religious Right and Big Tobacco released his X-rated report to Congress. In his zeal to "get" the President, he did not allow Clinton or his attorneys any of the due process afforded Nixon and Reagan when they were being investigated for genuine abuses of power. (No opportunity to preview the Report before its release--- even Gingrich was given a week to examine the ethics charges leveled against him.)

Next Congress---- all the Republicans and some of the Democrats---- voted to dump this one-sided material onto the internet before they had a chance to read it themselves, much less digest and evaluate it. (Just curious: I wonder how many of those voting YES on this also voted YES for that dreadful "Communications Decency Act" a few years back?)

So now we all know the tawdry--- and frankly, boring--- details of Bill Clinton's latest Zipper Problem---- from Monica's come-on display of her thong underwear to the two-minute blow jobs in the presidential bathroom to . . . .

The ONLY reason for the release of this report with its many gratuitous pornographic details was POLITICAL. The Republicans hoped the American public would have such a collective knee-jerk reaction that we would fail to analyze those eleven counts for impeachment and would then----
a) demand Clinton's departure by resignation or impeachment
b) stay home from the polls in November or vote Republican.

So far it's not working! The polls indicate that 62-66% want Clinton to remain in office at the same time that they certainly do not condone his personal behavior. (Nor do I.)

What happens if we allow the Republicans to get a landslide in November?

God help what's left of our democracy if we allow the Republicans to keep their majority in the House and expand to a veto-proof majority in the Senate. In that case we can expect:
---- tax cuts for the wealthy
---- welfare cuts for the poor
---- increased spending for the military ----- Hello, Star Wars!
---- less money for education
---- more money for prisons
---- privatization of Social Security
---- curtailment of Medicare
---- repeal of Roe v. Wade (recommended by Barbara Boxer's opponent)
---- defeat of the handgun bill
---- school vouchers
---- death and burial of campaign finance reform
---- reinstatement of offshore oil drilling (and other threats to the environment)
---- abolition of birth control clinics
---- the Istook Amendment or another threat to the separation of church and state
---- a green light for the Tobacco interests

Remedy: GET OUT THE VOTE IN NOVEMBER . . . . . . VOTE DEMOCRATIC
Californians: Keep Barbara Boxer in the Senate!

Does the Starr Report contain grounds for impeachment?

Not for anybody who can read Standard English!
Sure Clinton lied to the American people. (Not good, I don't approve.) BUT lying to cover up a consensual sexual encounter is NOT in the same class as Eisenhower's lie about the U-2, or Johnson's lie about Tonkin Gulf (which precipitated our commitment to the Vietnam War with the resulting death of 58,000 Americans, many times that number of Vietnamese and the expenditure of $120 billion) or Nixon's lies about _____________________ (not enough space to enumerate), or the Reagan-Bush lies about mining the Nicaraguan harbor, aid to the contras (in violation of the Boland Amendment), arms to Iran, etc.

In the Rebuttal David Kendall makes a case that the very specific requirements to make a perjury charge stick will NOT prevail thanks to Clinton's clever lawyerly answers to questions while under oath. What makes sense to me is that perjury (if it could be proved) about a consensual sexual relationship (especially in a civil suit that was subsequently dismissed) does not fall into the category of TREASON, BRIBERY, AND OTHER HIGH CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS that is prescribed in the Constitution.

The most ridiculous and also the most infuriating charge that Starr makes is that of ABUSE OF POWER. I urge you to read the White House Rebuttals on this one! We've had REAL abuses of power by presidents in this century that have gone unpunished. The one that sticks most in my craw is the Iran-Contra Conspiracy. Its investigation by a much more fair-minded Independent Counsel, Lawrence E. Walsh, was completely sabotaged. Remember how the felony convictions of Oliver North and John Poindexter were overturned on appeal because of the "tainted" testimony given to the competing congressional committee? And who can forget that lame-duck George Bush pardoned indicted Caspar Weinberger and the already convicted four: Elliott Abrams, Alan Fiers, Clair George, and Robert McFarlane. For an earlier administration read Stanley I. Kutler's aptly named Abuse of Power which contains the latest release of Nixon tapes and reveals him as even more corrupt than we knew at the time.

Sex, Lies and Now VIDEOTAPES

As I write this (Wednesday evening, September 16, 1998), it seems likely that Congress will vote to release selective excerpts of President Clinton's videotaped testimony before the Grand Jury. (I'm betting on another Friday afternoon release to give the public something to chew on over the weekend.)

This is beginning to sound more and more like the actions of a police state. First of all, the "evidence" given to a Grand Jury is supposed to be secret. (But secret in this case means only what Kenneth Starr doesn't want revealed. Such as the exculpatory evidence for the Clintons given by William Watt and others about Whitewater. Or Starr's attempts to prevent the prosecution of his prize witness, David Hale, for allegedly looting funds from a burial insurance company.)

Secondly, we can expect that the excerpts will be only ones unfavorable to the President and, like all the salacious bits in the Report, designed to embarrass him. I imagine we will see angry outbursts as well as some infuriating weasel-out answers.

I think most of us would be angry at this Inquisitor who has been mounting a four-year witch hunt (more about this below). Any weasel answers would be self-preservation against a modern-day Inspector Javert who, if Clinton should admit to perjury, would be delighted to invoke the still active Grand Jury to indict him. Then in a worst case scenario---- jail time and disbarment? You'd better believe Clinton had to answer very specifically and very carefully.

If the pundits are correct, these excerpts will be available for Republicans to run in their campaign ads. If so, we will probably see certain cuts as frequently as we have had to endure those damn shots of Clinton hugging Monica--- both the one with the beret and the one with the loose hair. Does this sound like fair play to you?

History of the Starr Chamber Proceedings
(or What He Has to Show for Four+ Years and $45 Million-and-Still-Counting)

This is a long, sad and sordid story. Too many details to give it all here, so I'm going to refer you from time to time to the excellent reporting by the on-line Salon Magazine.

The witch hunt started back in 1992 before the election as a last minute attempt by the Bush White House to instigate a bogus criminal referral about the Clintons and their failed investment in Whitewater, according to the Salon article, "Starr Chamber" , by Mollie Dickenson. Part of Starr's first actions after his appointment as Independent Counsel in 1994 was to cover up these improper and probably illegal shenanigans of the White House officials and Bush's attorney general.

On June 30, 1994 Robert Fiske, the original Whitewater Independent Counsel, filed a report that Vincent Foster had committed suicide because he was depressed over the "mean-spirited and factually baseless" editorials about him in the Wall Street Journal---- and not because of anything to do with Whitewater and no one had murdered him. On August 5th Fiske was fired by the three-judge panel and replaced by Kenneth Starr. (The panel had been selected by Chief Justice Rehnquist, who was originally appointed by Nixon and promoted to Chief Justice by Reagan.) Starr re-opened the Vincent Foster inquiry (imagine how painful that must have been for his family) and refrained from issuing his yes-it-was-suicide report until after the 1996 election.

As described by Bruce Shapiro in "Men in Black (robes)", there's an important history behind Starr's appointment. Rehnquist appointed Judge David Sentelle, a big buddy of North Carolina's two senators, Jesse Helms and Launch Faircloth. Sentelle lunched with Faircloth (who had been working for a long time to get Fiske fired) and soon after appointed Starr. Starr is a senior partner in the law firm of Kirkland and Ellis whose principal client is the Tobacco giant, Brown and Williamson. Starr continued to work for the firm (at around $1 million a year) for most of his tenure as Independent Counsel. North Carolina is a big tobacco growing state. In Clinton's six years much has been accomplished to prevent kids from learning to smoke and to make the tobacco companies liable for damages caused by their products. Get the picture?

Starr had other conflicts of interest that would have prevented a more honourable man from accepting the position.
1---- As Joe Conason and Murray Waas reported two and a half years ago in The Nation, at the time of his appointment his law firm was being sued for professional negligence by the Resolution Trust Corporation; the Whitewater probe would involve Starr investigating the very officials in the RTC responsible for bringing the suit against Kirkland and Ellis.

2---- Starr had advised the attorneys for Paula Jones.

3---- Starr later accepted an appointment to be the dean of a new school at Pepperdine University which was funded by the super conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife who also funded the clandestine Arkansas project. The function of this group was the promulgation of scurrilous rumors about Clinton---- murder, drug running, you name it. The Arkansas Project also paid money to convicted felon ex-Judge David Hale, Starr's key witness in Arkansas, the man whose testimony was needed to indict Jim McDougal and Jim Guy Tucker. See Jonathan Broder and Murray Waas' "The Road to Hale".

Starr made life miserable for everyone in Arkansas with any remote connection to the Clintons, yet turned a blind eye to the probable perjuries and other felonies of four of his witnesses, as described by Gene Lyons in "See Some Evil, Hear Some Evil". Recently on KPFK Lyons said Starr has "power and ruthlessness instincts that are close to totalitarianism".

And yet there was NOTHING about Whitewater in the report Starr sent to Congress! Nor Filegate. Nor Travelgate. Despite the many, many people he subpoenaed to appear before both the Arkansas and District of Columbia grand juries. Despite the fact that he forced the Clintons to produce massive quantities of documents and every canceled check for the last fifteen years. (According to a Reuters dispatch he sent someone to search the private quarters of the White House, including even Chelsea's underwear drawer, looking for some allegedly missing document.) He obtained and scrutinized their phone records for the same period.

So Starr was coming up empty and possibly was close to giving up when he got that phone call in December from Linda Tripp. He listened to the tapes she had surreptitiously taped of her "friend" Monica's confidences, then sent a wired Tripp to further interview Monica. At the end of that Monica was confronted, held without counsel for several hours by his investigators and threatened with prosecution and jail time if she refused to wear a wire and go see Clinton. Isn't that called "entrapment"?

Monica did refuse, so the next trap was set: Some woman (most likely La Tripp herself) called Paula Jones' lawyers and filled them in on the questions to ask Bill Clinton about Monica Lewinsky in his upcoming deposition. Clinton, believing Monica when she told him she had told no one about their affair (HA! Only eleven people!), walked right into the trap.

Starr most deviously went to Attorney General Janet Reno and asked for an extension of his Whitewater mandate, citing obstruction of justice---- the so-called "talking points" that Bill Clinton was supposed to have given Monica to suggest to Linda. You will not find anything about the "talking points" in the Report! Monica says she created them herself with some help from Linda. (Linda denies any part in their creation.) The grounds on which Starr obtained his license to invade Bill Clinton's sex life turned out to be without foundation.

It's against the law in Maryland to tape a person without his consent. But Linda is safe--- Starr gave her immunity from prosecution. Also Monica. Also Monica's mother. Which I suppose means that Clinton could never be able to sue them to recover damages.

Starr's Perversion of the Grand Jury Procedure
(or Alice in Wonderland Revisited)

The way a grand jury is supposed to operate: First a crime is committed. There is a possible or probable culprit. A grand jury is formed to subpoena witnesses, hear testimony, and decide whether there are sufficient grounds to indict the target for that crime. The records are sealed because
a) the target and his attorney have not had the opportunity to confront and cross-examine the witnesses
b) there may be material that would be harmful to innocent people
c) the witnesses have been promised secrecy.

In this case first the target (Clinton) is named. Two grand juries are formed with unlimited powers to go on fishing expeditions to find a crime. Supposed statements of witnesses are leaked with regularity to several journalists favored by the prosecutor. Clinton has not had the opportunity to confront and cross-examine any of the witnesses. First the verdict and maybe never the trial.

What a monstrous perversion of the law! Still it took over 4 years, over $45 million, a faithless friend, and a most determined prosecutor to produce this pitiful result.

Maybe this injustice to Clinton will cause this country to start evaluating the function of grand juries. When we inherited this concept from English Common Law, the grand jury was seen as a protection for the people against the government or powerful individuals. Lately it seems to be used as a fishing expedition by over-zealous prosecutors with no Bill of Rights for the targets. Great Britain abolished the grand jury several decades ago.

This is a CIVIL LIBERTIES issue.

If this can happen to Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, the same could happen to you or me if our activities, influence, knowledge or opinions become inconvenient in any way to those in power. We may be witnessing the decisive battle in the Culture War that has been going on for the last decade or so. If the Religious Right and the Christian Coalition win this one, watch out!

Are we going to have privacy in the bedroom or will the government have the power to legislate what kind of sex is legal? (Twenty-one states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books.)

Will Roe v. Wade continue to stand or will its provisions be whittled away a month at a time?

Will we have an Istook Amendment to the Constitution or will we maintain our First Amendment guaranteed separation of church and state? The Religious Right is determined that THEIR ideas on what is RIGHT and MORAL must prevail and be the law of the land for all. I urge everyone to write or e-mail all in Congress and express your indignation--- ask for censure of Starr, not Clinton.

The Sorry Role of the Media in All of This

The mainstream media have been aiding and abetting Starr from the very beginning, especially The New York Times which started the Whitewater rumors and The Wall Street Journal. Now the major players are literally screaming for Clinton's scalp. It's hard to understand why they are so eager to get rid of Clinton; he has moved the Democratic party far to the right and implemented much of the Republican agenda--- deficit reduction, welfare "reform", harsher laws, etc. However, here are some possibilities:

1. The media believe that sex sells copies and improves ratings. They think we are titillated by details of the private lives of celebrities and Bill Clinton is our biggest celebrity. (They may discover that sex ad nauseam repels readers and viewers.)

2. If they can keep us diverted with scandals--- first OJ, now Monicagate--- maybe we won't notice that 8 out of 10 of us have less income than a decade ago.

3. The big media names who are so hot to get Clinton--- Cokie Roberts, Sam Donaldson, Larry King, et al--- are not poor working stiffs like bygone reporters. They are in the top 1% income category and out of touch with such things as the need for affordable day care, a living wage, or a health insurance program that will deliver when you need it.

4. Reporters have become fat and lazy for the most part. It's easier to write a story based on governmental handouts and leaks than to go digging. Then when they find they missed out on the real story, it's easier to deny its veracity. Who wants egg on the face?

5. Most of the media are big corporations themselves now. They scratch each others' backs. Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post has said that Ken Starr can do no wrong--- he was the lawyer who saved the Post from a $11 million libel suit.

6. Possibly Clinton serves as a symbol for the Sixties in the Culture War---- the draft, marijuana, the sexual revolution---- even though many of the media names who oppose him were also baby boomers and had similar lives in that decade.

The irony is that many of the journals talking about what STARR has done wrong are the progressive ones--- The Nation, In These Times, Progressive Magazine, Mother Jones , etc. ---- who have been very critical of Clinton for his political lurch to the right! They seem to be the only media with the perspective to realize that this has been a six year ATTEMPT AT VOTER-NULLIFICATION.

Only in America could we have a COUP D'ETAT BY PORNOGRAPHY. Let's don't let it happen here.

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