Mike Pence’s publisher refuses to cancel memoir after staff protest

Simon & Schuster has said it will not pull out of a seven-figure book deal with Mike Pence after some of its employees called for the contract to be scrapped, stating that “we come to work each day to publish, not cancel”.

An open letter circulated by staff at S&S said that the publisher had “chosen complicity in perpetuating white supremacy by publishing Pence”, in a two-book deal struck earlier this month and reported to be worth $3-4m (£2.1-2.8m). The letter, which did not reveal how many members of staff had signed, said that the former vice-president had “made a career out of discriminating against marginalised groups and denying resources to BIPOC and LGBTQA+ communities”, and demanded his book deal be cancelled.

“By choosing to publish Mike Pence, Simon & Schuster is generating wealth for a central figure of a presidency that unequivocally advocated for racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Blackness, xenophobia, misogyny, ableism, islamophobia, antisemitism, and violence,” says the letter. “This is not a difference of opinions; this is legitimising bigotry.”

Though in January S&S pulled out of publishing Republican senator Josh Hawley’s book over his part in the Capitol riot, S&S president Jonathan Karp told staff on Tuesday that the publisher would not cancel Pence’s deal.

“As a publisher in this polarised era, we have experienced outrage from both sides of the political divide and from different constituencies and groups. But we come to work each day to publish, not cancel, which is the most extreme decision a publisher can make, and one that runs counter to the very core of our mission to publish a diversity of voices and perspectives,” wrote Karp. “We will, therefore, proceed in our publishing agreement with vice-president Mike Pence.”

The employees also called for the publishing house to refrain from signing any more book deals with former members of the Trump administration, and demanded S&S stop distributing books for Post Hill Press. An independent publisher which focuses on “conservative politics” and Christian titles, Post Hill hit the headlines last week when it announced it would be publishing a book by by one of the police officers who shot Breonna Taylor, officer Jonathan Mattingly. While S&S subsequently announced it would not distribute Mattingly’s book, staff at S&S pointed to Post Hill titles which S&S still distributes, including embattled Republican congressman Matt Gaetz’s Firebrand.

“We impart to you the sad and unfortunate truth that we are actively making history right now,” says the open letter. “People will look back on this one day, and see that through our complicity, we chose to be on what is clearly the wrong side of justice.”

Karp said the decision not to distribute Mattingly’s book was “immediate, unprecedented, and responsive to the concerns we heard from you and our authors”. But he added that S&S has “contractual obligations and must continue to respect the terms of our agreements with our client publishers”.

Post Hill confirmed last week that it would go ahead with publishing Mattingly’s book without S&S, and declined to comment further.

Karp described the publisher’s role as “to find those authors and works that can shed light on our world — from first-time novelists to journalists, thought leaders, scientists, memoirists, personalities, and, yes, those who walk the halls of power”.

“Regardless of where those authors sit on the ideological spectrum, or if they hold views that run counter to the belief systems held by some of us, we apply a rigorous standard to assure that in acquiring books, we will be bringing into the world works that provide new information or perspectives on events to which we otherwise might not have access,” he wrote.

“When we allow our judgment to dwell on the books we dislike,” he added, “we distract ourselves from our primary purpose as a publisher – to champion the books we believe in and love.”

Pence’s currently untitled autobiography is set to be released in 2023.

Original Article – The Guardian

Trump takes a big bite out of Fox News, the hand that feeds his base

In his tweet, the president makes explicit the subtext at which he’s hinted in the past, when offering complaints about how Fox had “forgotten the people that got them there” — meaning, of course, his and the network’s shared base of conservatives and Republicans. Previously, he had chastised Fox for allowing Democratic voices on the airwaves without articulating the other side of the coin. Here, he’s just saying it: Fox isn’t helping to elect Republicans, which, it clearly follows, they ought to be doing.

‘Fox isn’t working for us anymore,’ tweets Trump in another blast at the network

To the extent that Fox still needs to deal with the fallout from Trump’s temperamental criticisms, the president’s explicit link between the network and electing Republicans will not make things easier. It needs to get advertisers to pay money for ad blocks, something that’s been trickier in recent years in the aftermath of relatively effective boycotts targeting hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham after their controversial comments. If a fabric softener’s marketing team is trying to decide where to buy 30 seconds of airtime, how enthusiastic will they be about doing so on a channel that the president thinks should be in the business of electing members of his own political party?

The irony of this, of course, is that Fox News has clearly been effective at helping to bolster Trump’s chances in November.

The evidence of that is overwhelming. Pew Research Center polling breaks out responses to questions based on media diets. Asked last November how they felt about Trump, more than half of respondents overall said they were cold toward him. Among Republicans, 71 percent said they felt warmly about the president. Conservative Republicans were even more positive: 83 percent said they felt positively.

View full article! – Washington Post

The New York Times: How the billionaire Koch brothers fueled the right-wing movement

In 1980, David H. Koch, one of the two billionaire industrialist brothers at the center of a sprawling and powerful political network, served as the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential nominee. The ticket earned 1.1 percent.

But in the years since that failed run, Mr. Koch, who died on Friday, and his brother Charles, found far greater power and influence outside of elected office as they became two of the most prominent faces in a new era of megadonors in American politics, building a political apparatus that, at its peak, rivaled the Republican Party itself.

The Kochs and their network spent hundreds of millions of dollars in support of their particular brand of conservatism: One of limited government, more lenient immigration policy, free trade, free markets and limited corporate regulations — all while running Koch Industries, a conglomerate with annual revenues of $100 billion. But not long after they rose to become two of the most coveted political donors in America, they saw much of their worldview rejected by President Trump’s ascendant version of the Republican Party.

Because so much of their network’s money was funneled through an array of nonprofits, where full disclosure of finances is not required, it is near impossible to assess the full scope of their operations, but the influence is vast.

“The Koch brothers have been very strategically thinking about how best to shape politics over decades and at the same time they were amassing a fortune that would power whatever strategy they devised,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics. She noted that they were especially effective working on narrow issues while pursuing a larger strategy.

“The Kochs,” she said, “have built an empire.”

“If not us, who? If not now, when?” opened a letter from Charles G. Koch to donors in 2010, inviting them to join what the Kochs called their semiannual “seminars,” gatherings of major contributors that would become the hallmark of the network.

The Koch-funded political operation would help propel the Tea Party takeover of Congress in 2010, spend an estimated $400 million on the 2012 campaign and fund heavily the Republican takeover of the Senate in 2014.

Along the way, the Kochs took full advantage after the Supreme Court sided with Citizens United and other rulings loosened spending rules. They became the most feared, recognized and loathed (by the left) Republican donors in the nation, surpassing even Karl Rove, as the boogeyman of Republican big money. In a sign of the vitriol around him, the hashtag #DavidKochisDeadParty was trending on Twitter Friday.

Matt Schlapp, who oversaw federal affairs for Koch Industries during President George W. Bush’s second term and is now the chairman of the American Conservative Union, said the most lasting legacy of the Koch network will likely be its funding of a large network of think tanks and universities.

“I give the Kochs and their network high marks on understanding that if they don’t change hearts and minds and build institutions that can educate people in the nonprofit world then the world will drift to the left, the government will continue to grow,” Mr. Schlapp said.

He said their direct impact on politics was less pronounced. “The best judgment you can give it is mixed,” he said. Part of that mixed legacy is linked to the rise of Mr. Trump. Some prominent alumni of Koch-funded organizations do hold high-ranking positions in the Trump administration. But the Kochs’ approach to governance, beyond curbing business regulations and cutting taxes, has often been sidelined, if not rejected outright, by the Republican Party under President Trump, who dismissed the brothers as “a total joke” last year.

Trevor Potter, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission and the current president of the Campaign Legal Center, a watchdog group, said the true Koch legacy was having “diminished our democracy.”

“The Kochs changed two things. First, the system went from transparent spending to secret spending,” Mr. Potter said. “The second was they were an important part of the wave of billionaires who took campaign spending to an entirely different level in American politics.”

Both developments, he said, gave average Americans a deep sense of disenfranchisement.

Parts of the Koch network have at one point touched on nearly every facet of the conservative movement. There have been separate organizations for outreach to Latinos (the LIBRE Initiative), veterans (Concerned Veterans for America), younger voters (Generation Opportunity) and older voters (60 Plus Association), for instance. A national political group, Americans for Prosperity, established outposts in the majority of states across the country.

“David Koch helped design and implement the center-right, free enterprise, activist wing of the political spectrum,” said Scott Reed, the senior political strategist of the United States Chamber of Commerce. “And he became a historical power player.”

The agenda for the 2010 Koch seminar was revealing. It included fighting “climate change alarmism and the move to socialized health care,” as well as “the regulatory assault on energy” — issues that would recur over in the coming years.

In 2014, the Koch network was at the center of the successful Republican efforts to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats. A network of six Koch-linked nonprofits had paid to air nearly 44,000 television spots by August of that year, according to a study by the Center for Public Integrity.

Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who was then the Senate majority leader, took to the Senate floor in early 2014 to declare that “Senate Republicans are addicted to Koch” (the name is pronounced coke), as the network’s television ads hammered Democrats in key races.

The sweeping Republican Senate victories that fall put Senator Mitch McConnell in power. He would use the majority to block some of President Obama’s final judicial appointments, most notably forcing a vacancy on the Supreme Court for nearly a year until it was filled by President Trump’s selection of Judge Neil Gorsuch in early 2017.

Environmental groups have denounced the Kochs, whose business empire includes oil operations, as “secretly funding the climate denial machine,” as Greenpeace put it, adding up to $127 million in such spending over two decades. Among the recent Koch brothers pursuits has been killing mass transit projects around the country.

“If someone has the freedom to go where they want, do what they want,” Tori Venable, Tennessee state director for Americans for Prosperity, told The New York Times last year, “they’re not going to choose public transit.”

The Kochs were perhaps at their peak in 2015, as the last Republican presidential primary was heating up. Koch officials outlined plans to spend as much as $900 million that cycle — possibly as much as the Republican Party itself. In a sign of their influence, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker and Carly Fiorina all trekked to a luxury hotel in Southern California to pitch the network’s donors in person that summer.

“I, for one, cannot wait to see who the Koch brothers pick,” President Obama joked at the White House Correspondents Association dinner that year.

But the Kochs did not get their pick. Instead, Mr. Trump would go on to win the nomination and redirect the party away from the Koch network’s brand of fiscal conservatism, and their preference for free trade and a more open immigration policy. (The Kochs did spend millions supporting Mr. Trump’s tax cut legislation.)

“Trump’s passion was clearly focused on stopping immigration and stopping free trade and that was pretty well unacceptable to the Kochs,” said David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank that has longed received money from the brothers.

In mid-2018, Charles Koch, without naming Mr. Trump, warned of the “rise of protectionism” and those who were “doing whatever they can to close themselves off from the new, hold on to the past, and prevent change.”

Mr. Trump quickly responded. He attacked the brothers, saying they “have become a total joke in real Republican circles” with a “highly overrated” political network.

“Two nice guys with bad ideas,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter.

In a shift last year, the Koch network ran ads in support of a Democratic senator, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, who was being challenged by a staunch Trump supporter, Kevin Cramer. Mr. Cramer won the election. This year, the network has signaled plans to stay out of the White House contest entirely.

Yet even as the Kochs have receded somewhat from electoral politics, alumni of their network continue to hold sway in Mr. Trump’s government. A former top Koch operative, Marc Short, for instance, served as Mr. Trump’s legislative affairs director and is now chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence. Mr. Schlapp’s wife, Mercedes, is a senior White House official. And a former director of communications for Koch Industries, Matt Lloyd, is a senior adviser at the State Department.

“It is really hard to quantify their impact,” Ms. Krumholz said of the Kochs. “It was enormous. It was pervasive.”

Original story: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/23/us/politics/david-koch-republican-politics.html

“Slow Burn” Season 2, Reviewed: The Painful Lessons of the Clinton Impeachment

The impeachment saga of Bill Clinton, the subject of the second season of “Slow Burn,” the Slate podcast hosted by the Slate staff writer Leon Neyfakh, would seem, at first, to have little in common with Watergate, the subject of its first. They were different kinds of scandal, with vastly different causes, trajectories, and outcomes, and the Clinton impeachment didn’t feel like a slow burn, as Watergate was. January, 1998, when the public first became aware of Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, felt more like spontaneous combustion, and the fire of scandal and political histrionics raged on for the next thirteen months, through Clinton’s impeachment and acquittal. For “Slow Burn,” the story is a bold and curious choice. In its first season, its audience, presumably largely progressive, could revel in Watergate’s absurdities, and in Richard Nixon’s amusing hubris and short-sightedness, while being reassured, almost subliminally, about our own era. We could hope that the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, whose workings were mysterious, would ultimately prove to be another slow burn, with a Presidential resignation to follow. Focussing on Bill Clinton’s misdeeds provides no such political comfort. But comfort can’t be all that we seek. And I’m pleased to report that “Slow Burn” Season 2 is, so far—I’ve heard two episodes, the first of which was released today—a riveting listen, narratively fascinating, with relevant and urgent themes. If it’s painful for Democrats, it’s appropriately so.

In 1998, the year the mayhem began, Neyfakh was in middle school. Part of what he seeks in the series, which will comprise eight episodes, is to “get into the minds of people who followed the scandal and talked about it and argued about it,” and to figure out why they reacted as they did. As a “child of Democrats,” Neyfakh says, he “took Clinton’s side and believed sort of vaguely and ambiently that Ken Starr was in the wrong.” This reaction was common among adult Democrats, too, though many were chagrined by Clinton’s behavior. Neyfakh says that he hopes that he felt sympathy for Monica Lewinsky at the time. “But I honestly don’t know if I did,” he says. “A lot of people didn’t.” (That, at least, has changed dramatically, in part because of Lewinsky’s own articulate writing and speaking on the subject.) Neyfakh wants to explore “the ideas that swirled around the Clinton saga—ideas about sex and power and privacy and character,” and to consider whether our attitudes and perspectives have changed. “Are we more enlightened now?” he asks. “Or is there something we’re not appreciating about what it was like to live through this story in real time?”

Neyfakh is a gifted and trustworthy storyteller, with a gently wry tone; the details in his writing are lightly comic and well chosen, evincing empathy and amazement. As we meet Lewinsky, it’s January 16, 1998, and she is a twenty-four-year-old former White House intern. (Lewinsky did not participate in the podcast.) She’s waiting to meet a friend from work, Linda Tripp, for lunch in the food court of “a typical suburban mall, brightly lit, with a movie theatre, a Macy’s, and white tiles on the floor,” Neyfakh says. Lewinsky has come from the gym, and she’s still dressed in workout clothes. Her affair with Clinton, which lasted for about eighteen months, consumes her thoughts, and she has confided about the relationship to Tripp. She sees Tripp coming toward her, down an escalator, and Tripp gestures to some men behind her, in dark suits and carrying badges. The men tell Lewinsky that they are F.B.I. agents, “and that the Attorney General of the United States had authorized a criminal investigation into her actions,” Neyfakh says. Then they take her to a nearby Ritz-Carlton, where two men from the office of the independent counsel Ken Starr clarify the stakes: twenty-seven years in prison, for lying on an affidavit in which she denied a relationship with Clinton.

This opening has fascinating parallels to the thrillingly crazy opening scene of “Slow Burn” Season 1, which centered on Martha Mitchell, the wife of the then U.S. Attorney General, John Mitchell, who was in cahoots with Nixon. Each scene tells the story of a woman who is romantically linked to a political figure, held at a fancy hotel against her will, put in a situation of tremendous political import and personal stress, and pressured by powerful, manipulative men. Lewinsky, like Mitchell, resists these pressures.

Neyfakh’s narration captures the often surreal details of political scandal. The agents want Lewinsky to tell them everything about the affair, to coöperate with the Starr investigation, and to participate in an undercover operation to implicate the President. Lewinsky, scared, angry, and upset, wants to wait for her mother, who lives in New York, to arrive before she decides what to do. To pass the hours while they wait, Lewinsky convinces the prosecutors to let her return to the mall, and Lewinsky, an F.B.I. agent, and one of Starr’s investigators proceed to a Crate & Barrel, where they browse the housewares, and Lewinsky tries to “lighten the mood by cracking jokes.” During a restroom trip, Lewinsky, attempting to warn the President, calls Clinton’s secretary’s office from an out-of-view pay phone, but she doesn’t answer. Later, Lewinsky and the agents eat dinner together at a restaurant in the mall called Mozzarella’s American Grill. These are all unexpected moments in an operation that the investigators have named Prom Night.

One of the great strengths of the first season of “Slow Burn” was its deliberate, methodical study of the political Zeitgeist of the seventies. Politics, as ever, was partisan, but behavior in the congressional and judicial branches lacked the extremism and guerrilla tactics of later decades; when the dirty tricks of Nixon’s executive branch came to light, Americans were taken aback. The Clinton era marked a watershed moment for such tactics. “The nineties were a transformative period in American politics, a time when the culture of no-holds-barred partisan warfare that we’re all used to now first took hold in Washington,” Neyfakh says. “January 16th, 1998, represented a turning point in that era. You could argue that it determined everything that happened next.” Beyond the government itself, new, partisan media eagerly fanned the flames of the Clinton conflagration. The Lewinsky story exploded into our consciousness via a new online publication, the Drudge Report; Fox News, which went on the air in 1996, had a field day with it, and with the Clintons more broadly. We haven’t heard much about Fox yet on “Slow Burn,” but we do hear the newscasters of that era, including a recurring Tom Brokaw, who seems to be scolding Clinton at every turn. Brokaw, an anchorman-hero whose beloved book “The Greatest Generation” also came out in 1998, was recently accused of having engaged in work-related sexual harassment, including in the nineties. Brokaw vehemently denied the allegations, and many network colleagues, including Rachel Maddow and Andrea Mitchell, signed a letter of support. The claims, like many of the #MeToo revelations, became a matter of public debate years after the alleged behavior, and it took almost two decades for public opinion to turn in Lewinsky’s favor. Are we more enlightened now? It’s tough to say. Enlightenment is a slow burn, too.

Original Link: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/podcast-dept/slow-burn-season-2-reviewed-the-painful-lessons-of-the-clinton-impeachment

‘Washington Was About to Explode’: The Clinton Scandal, 20 Years Later

n 1998, news broke that upended politics and sent a presidency hurtling toward impeachment. Twenty years later, an all-star panel tries to make sense of that moment—and what it tells us about our own.

Most journalists experience indelible moments that color our thinking long after the story moves on. These moments, usually in the first half of a career, come when a reporter or editor is immersed in a story that at the time is all-consuming—as though history suddenly has revved its jets—and remains a frame of reference even years later.

It is just our luck that for many Washington journalists of my generation, one of those career-defining stories revolved around furtive acts of West Wing fellatio.

Sure, go ahead and snicker. Even at the time, the scandal involving Bill Clinton’s illicit relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky, which broke publicly on this day 20 years ago—January 21, 1998—was the inspiration for no end of lewd jokes and chortling.

What many people don’t remember—and what people who are too young to have followed the story in real time may find inconceivable—is how strange and disturbing and fragile things seemed at the beginning.

And they may not perceive what seems clear to many veterans of those days: How much the angry, raucous, media-saturated politics of the Age of Trump has its roots in the angry, raucous media-saturated politics of the Age of Clinton.

In the opening days after the Washington Post and Newsweek broke the news that independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s years-long investigation into Clinton’s financial affairs was now focused on his sexual affairs, there was widespread speculation that a presidential resignation might be days away.

Within several weeks, however, it became evident that even as the sex scandal was at least briefly an object of prurient obsession for nearly everyone, only for some people—well short of a majority—was it an object of moral indignation and constitutional gravity. Jay Leno cracked on The Tonight Show that Clinton was doing so well in the polls that he was already planning his next sex scandal.

That quip captured the prevailing view of Clinton’s sex scandal that took hold long before Clinton reversed his emphatic denials of an affair with Lewinsky (in August 1998) and the Senate acquitted him (in February 1999) in an impeachment trial in which the outcome was never in doubt. In this light, the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was the kind of story that could only flourish outside the main currents of history—after the end of the Cold War but before the September 11, 2001, attacks jolted us from our national slumber.

On its 20th anniversary, however, those surreal days of January 1998 seem connected in a much more linear and living way to the politics of 2018.

It was the first time as a journalist I experienced political events at close range and thought, “I can’t believe this is happening—it feels like a hallucination.” In the Trump era, I (and many others) have these moments several times a week.

Present at the Creation was the title of Dean Acheson’s memoir of the early days of the Cold War. Those of us immersed in the Clinton story sometimes perceive we were present at the destruction. In this case, the destruction of confidence that the game of politics was on the level or that people with respected titles, like president or senator or lawyer or anchorman, were necessarily comporting themselves in respectable or responsible ways.

Clinton survived his scandal not so much because people believed his finger-wagging assertion, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”—then a faint pause as he seemed to blank on her name—“Ms. Lewinsky.” He survived because he persuaded a majority that the scandal was not about sex (as most people at first naturally assumed), nor about the rule of law (as Republicans primly insisted was their real concern). It was about power. And in power battles, the question that matters most is not “What is the truth?” It is instead: “What side are you on?”
To mark the anniversary of the Clinton-Lewinsky moment, POLITICO—which was still nine years away from launch when the scandal broke—assembled a group of journalists who played central roles in the story to ponder the lessons of that history. The conversation is excerpted below.

Michael Isikoff, then a Newsweek reporter and now with Yahoo News, was the reporter who first learned about the connection between Lewinsky and Clinton and the fact that Starr was investigating. Newsweek editors wanted more time to deliberate whether to publish, meaning Isikoff got partially scooped on his scoop when Matt Drudge used his platform on the then-new internet to publicize the big battle taking place inside the magazine. “Those few days were as gripping and nerve-wracking as any I have experienced,” he said.

Isikoff predicted that Washington will again see an impeachment battle after what he sees as the probability that control of the House of Representatives flips to Democrats in the 2018 elections.

Isikoff also asserts that recent events have vindicated his old reporting. Back then, Clinton loyalists attacked his professionalism by suggesting he was a sex-obsessed reporter on the “bimbo beat.” What he was really exploring, he said, was the way important people use their power to exploit women—as highlighted by the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

It is just a fact that there is no reasonable way—under the new prevailing standards around sexual harassment—that Bill Clinton could pass a test that Al Franken or Charlie Rose or Kevin Spacey failed. Of course, as many have noted, it is hard to see how Donald Trump passes such a test either.

Susan Glasser, now a global affairs columnist for POLITICO and then the editor shepherding scandal coverage for the Washington Post, argued that Trump learned a very specific lesson from Clinton: Don’t let the truth get in the way of politics.

“I believe that Donald Trump has learned from and will take to heart the lessons of how Clinton survived politically the year 1998,” she said. “It was political genius how he handled it by lying. Lying was proven to work in some way that has enabled further the cynical and divisive political culture of Washington.”

Glasser also wonders the same thing I do: How is it that a story that would have been jaw-dropping—and quickly all-consuming for the news media—in the Clinton years seems to be moving swiftly to the margins of Trump coverage. This was the revelation, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, that a few weeks before the 2016 election, Trump’s personal lawyer secretly paid a pornographic-film actress, who then recanted her previous claim that she and Trump had a sexual relationship a decade earlier.

Why has this has not produced a 1998-style feeding frenzy? And don’t responsible editors have an obligation to press on this story?

Peter Baker, then the White House reporter for the Washington Post and (amazingly) still on the beat 20 years later for the New York Times, reminded the group that lots of Democrats in 1998 were none too fond of Bill Clinton, in the same way that many Republicans in 1974 were appalled by Richard Nixon. But Clinton used the modern political and media culture to ensure that his own party did not turn on him. In the same way that Trump has so far kept his own party—which includes many leaders who loathe him—from turning on him.

“One of the things that Clinton did that helped ensure his survival is to make sure, a) he made it partisan, and, b) he took advantage of the partisanship of his opponents. Right? You’ve talked about the opponents’ overreach helping him out. By making it a partisan thing, he forced Democrats who didn’t approve of his behavior [and] who might have abandoned him under other circumstances to stand by him because they didn’t want … to stand with the other guys, “ Baker said. “That has only gotten more so in 20 years by virtue of the media and social media and the increasingly balkanized, polarized environment in which we live in. Everything is seen through the partisan lens, and it’s so hard to kind of get to that Nixonian era where basically Republicans were able to say, ‘Enough. We don’t believe that this president belongs here, even though he’s from our own party.’”

If there was one common belief among the panel we assembled, it was in the redemptive power of conscientious and politically independent reporting. But a chastening note came later from someone all the panelists know—Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel—who wasn’t on the panel but with whom I spoke afterward.

Emanuel was then by Clinton’s side as a White House senior adviser. During that year of partisanship and frenzy, he said, he first noticed non-journalistic voices, like The Daily Show, having as much power—and, in some ways, more power—than traditional media in setting the agenda and creating the prism through which politics is viewed. “You guys lost,” he said, without a tone of gloating. …. [Establishment] people and institutions lost authority and public support, and that includes the media.”

That is an argument that Trump definitely believes. And, if true, one from which he benefits.


The following transcript has been edited for length and readability. Listen to the full conversation here.

John Harris: Twenty years ago this week, the Monica Lewinsky scandal breaks wide open, and for a certain group of us, it was a defining moment in our careers covering Washington. Mention her name to my children, who [in 1998] were not yet born, and it prompts snickers. Those snickers and eye rolls—many people have those now when they think of that scandal. I’m trying to invite people to remember that in those opening days, it did not prompt laughter, it seemed really serious. The issues raised about the presidency, about the media, seemed—then and even now—seem profound.

Peter Baker: I actually think we’re kind of coming full circle back to that. The whole “Me Too” thing in the last few months has put this back on the table in a way that doesn’t sound quite as snickering. After 9/11, a lot of people said, “Oh, look what they spent their time on in the ’90s instead of focusing on real threats.” And, “Oh, gosh. That was just a case of sexual McCarthyism gone amuck.” And I think today it looks a little different.

We’re revisiting in some ways what President Clinton did and what he was accused of in the light of Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose and all these others. And you hear some of the people who defended him—including people like Senator Kirsten Gillibrand—saying, “Well, maybe actually we shouldn’t have handled it the way we should have. Maybe we shouldn’t have defended him.”

Susan Glasser: I think the comparisons that are echoing for people right now are, as Peter correctly pointed out, the #MeToo movement in Washington and the sense that the world has changed and that what seemed an acceptable level of sort of sexual peccadilloes on the part of the president is actually something much more predatory and disturbing. But it’s also about institutions. Trump poses these big questions about the nature of the presidency, what our expectations are for the office, what is the proper role of Congress or the media when the presidency seems to be out of balance in some way. And, of course, that is instantly what people recognized as the potential problems and threats when the Monica Lewinsky story first broke. That was the question we were instantly confronted with that people forget. It wasn’t so much, “Did he or didn’t he do it with Monica Lewinsky?,” although that was certainly relevant right away. It was also the question of, “What are we supposed to do when the president lies under oath, or he was accused instantly of suborning perjury?”

Harris: Michael, take us back though that moment. Nobody was closer to the story than you.

Michael Isikoff: Oh, my God. It was crazy. I had, through a weird set of circumstances, been aware of the Lewinsky relationship with Clinton for months. I had been talking to Linda Tripp. She had been telling me everything … the late-night phone calls and surreptitious visits. At one point, she offered to give me the blue dress. So I was aware this was a potentially big story. We would talk about it at Newsweek: How would we ever publish this? How would we ever be able to prove that this was real? Then I get the phone call on a Tuesday. There is this little event going on at the Ritz-Carlton: Tripp is having lunch with Monica, and [Whitewater independent counsel Ken] Starr’s got the whole thing wired. And I nearly fell off my chair. Starr? Ken Starr is on this?

Baker: Well, that’s what makes it different: It’s not a sex scandal at this point; it’s the prosecutor who is alleging criminal acts that go beyond infidelity.

Isikoff: Absolutely. That’s when I knew this was an earthquake. Washington was about to explode, because any way you cut it, this was going to be a monster story. Those few days 20 years ago were as gripping and nerve-racking as any I have experienced.

Harris: Just to take people back, Peter and I both covered the White House [for the Washington Post], and Susan was our editor on many of the important stories. Before this, we, let’s face it, would gossip all the time—“What about this rumor? What about that?”—as kind of a recreational habit to pass the hours on the press plane. But we would, for the most part, never think about injecting that into our stories or making it a major subject of coverage.

Glasser: In part because of the politics before then. It’s not that it was a taboo subject; it had been raised from the very beginning of Clinton’s presidential campaign, and he had won not once but twice despite this conversation about his extracurricular sex life. And I think there was a feeling that, politically speaking, it was out there and the judgment of the public had been heard on it.

Isikoff: But the public didn’t know what was true and what was not. Just as we all didn’t. That’s why you would talk about it and gossip about it. I got into this for a number of reasons, but one big reason was that I had helped in the Post’s coverage of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas. So when the Paula Jones allegations first surfaced, my perspective was, “Well, if we took Anita Hill seriously, we have to take this seriously.” And let’s remember what the core allegations of Paula Jones were: that a state trooper summons her—while she’s on the job—up to a hotel room to see the then-governor, who proceeds to make sexual advances, drops his pants, exposes himself and asks for oral sex. Now, who does that sound like when you hear it today? I think most people would think, “Oh, my God. Harvey Weinstein.” That’s what Paula Jones was alleging. So then the question became, “Was she telling the truth?” And I spent a lot of time on that. The Post went around and round about how to handle something like this. Yes, she had come forward [via Clinton’s] political enemies, yet she had witnesses. The woman who was sitting next to her confirmed that the state trooper was there and took her down and she came down and appeared shaken as she left the hotel room.

Harris: We used to torture ourselves: “Well, what’s the angle? Who paid for the state trooper’s gas?” So there was a public angle and we’d have to look at it. The sex was, of course, nobody’s business, but maybe the abuse of funds is. And now we would say, “No, sexual relations, as they reflect power relationships, are fair game.”

Glasser: I went back and [read] both the original, fascinating Newsweekstory, which was written by Michael [Isikoff] and the original, fascinating Washington Post story, which was written by Peter [Baker], Sue Schmidt and Toni Locy. And I was really struck: There is a very antiquated and very sexist characterization of all of the women, in particular Monica Lewinsky, in those original stories. Questioning her veracity, her presentation—everything about her was considered to be fair game, from how she dressed and her lack of maturity and her own penchant for talking about sex with Linda Tripp. There was a deep vein of skepticism that she could ever possibly be telling the truth about this sexual relationship with the president of the United States. What really struck me, reading those accounts 20 years later: Everything Monica Lewinsky said was true.

Isikoff: I happened to be on Morning Joe the other day talking about this, and I was admonished because I slipped at one point and called it “the Lewinsky scandal.” I was admonished, and deservedly so.

Baker: [Monica Lewinsky] hates that, and she’s right.

Isikoff: This was a Clinton scandal; it was not a Lewinsky scandal.

Baker: It was a tough story to write. Michael’s editors were squeamish about it and weren’t sure whether or not to go forward with it because we had never actually accused a sitting president of the United States of doing anything like this. Gennifer Flowers came out through a tabloid in a campaign setting; it was just different.

I remember sitting in the office of [the Post’s] national editor. By this point, we knew Michael had a story; we knew it had been spiked [by Newsweek’s editors]. We had gotten the gist of it ourselves through our own reporting, and we were about to publish. And the question that was being asked was not, “Should we publish?” It was, “What holes do we still have?” And what strikes me is that here we are 20 years later, there’s no way on earth a story like that wouldn’t be published by the first organization that got it. Newsweek did hesitate, understandably, for good reasons, because they wanted to be responsible.

Isikoff: [Hesitates] Yeah.

Baker: I’m not agreeing with that; I’m on your side on that one.

Isikoff: OK, good. Just to make that clear.

Baker: I think that they were trying to sort through tough issues, and they made a wrong call.

Isikoff: They were squeamish. One of the arguments that was raised is, “Well, what if [Lewinsky] is just a fabulist? What if she is just making this all up, and we go put on the newsstands for a week that the president is being investigated for this relationship, and it turns out she is a complete flake?”

We had lots of advantages over everybody else, but our biggest advantage is we did have the tape. We had listened to the tape that Friday night into the wee hours of the morning, parsing every word—I remember we just went around and around. There wasn’t the explicit confirmation that Clinton had told her to lie, which was the core basis for Starr getting involved. It was ambiguous. There is an exchange where he says, “Well, has he told you to lie?” “No, he didn’t tell me to lie.” “Does he expect you’re going to tell the truth?” “Well, no.” So what is it? I suspect that accurately reflects what actually happened, because Clinton, for all his recklessness and stupidity for getting himself involved in this situation, was smart in that sense.

Glasser: You said you listened to the tapes on Friday. It was not until Saturday, which is actually 20 years ago today—Saturday, January 17th, 1998—that Clinton went to give his deposition in the Paula Jones case. And they had the information about Monica, and they asked him a series of questions. And Clinton up until that very moment … probably sitting in the room is when he realized the vulnerability.

Harris: There’s no way they’re asking these questions if they don’t know.

Isikoff: But the Jones lawyers blew it.

Glasser: That’s right.

Isikoff: They relied on this tortured definition of sexual relations instead of asking specifically, you know—

Glasser: Specific questions. Had they said, “Did you do it?”

Baker: Again out of a desire not to besmirch the presidency. This is a tough thing. You’re asking people to say to the president of the United States, “Did you do this particular act?”

Glasser: That’s when the cover-up begins. It’s when Clinton starts to realize he’s going to have to lie even more in order to protect himself, that his secret is out.

Harris: I’m torn, though. On one hand, I think we would agree: There is no way Bill Clinton could pass the test as it’s prevailing currently against Senator Al Franken or against Charlie Rose, based on what we know of his behavior and the allegations against him—not just from Monica Lewinsky but from a trail of other people on the record, Kathleen Willey, Paula Jones. He’d flunk the test. Except there is no way that Donald Trump could also pass that test, and yet he seems to pass it. What gives?

Isikoff: Good question. My instant reaction would be there is so much else with Trump—so many other questions that might even be larger—that maybe this one doesn’t get as much attention as it should.

Baker: The other day on the front page of a couple of the papers is a story about the president, the future president of the United States, allegedly paying $130,000 to keep a porn star quiet about their affair.

Harris: Three days later, and now it’s, “In other news …”

Baker: It wasn’t even on a front page a second day because of Michael’s reason: There are so many other things. Is he mentally fit? Is he saying racially inflammatory things? Oh, and is he paying off a porn star?

Glasser: But let’s also say that the deck is still stacked against women. There are no women executive editors at these newspapers making decisions about what’s important. There is a sense that somehow, [much as when] Gennifer Flowers came up in 1992 but Clinton was elected anyways, that because the Access Hollywood tape came out, because these women—19 women came forward and accused Donald Trump of various kinds of sexual harassment or assault even before the election—his claim and that of his supporters is basically, “Old news,” or, “Fake news.”

Baker: I would say one of the unfortunate lessons from the Clinton episode that some other politicians have internalized is that denial works, and in Clinton’s case, lying works. For seven to eight months, he basically says to the American people, “No, I didn’t have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky,” and then he finally admits it in the grand jury in August 1998. But by that point, the public was tired and sick of it, and they’d already made up their own minds about it, and it wasn’t as shocking. Had the admission come from the very beginning, it might have shocked the public enough to force him to resign. But he gave his supporters something to hold on to: “It’s not true. It’s a lie. It’s Ken Starr.”

Harris: The delay allowed him to change the question from, “Did he do it? Is that OK?,” where I think a lot of people would have said “No, it’s not OK.” The question was not, “Did he do it?” The question was, “Which side are you on? Are you on Bill Clinton’s side, or are you on Ken Starr’s side?”

Isikoff: Clinton benefited from two things. One is, first of all, in addition to lying, he had a very aggressive set of media-savvy defenders who knew how to shape his story to go after his political enemies and frame it that way. And then he had the excesses of his political enemies, who clearly went too far.

At the end of the day, impeachment is a political question. If the country is not with you, it doesn’t make sense to move forward. It was clear, once the results of the 1998 elections came in and Republicans lost seats during a midterm [in which] they should have picked up big gains, that the public wasn’t there. But Clinton’s political foes were so determined to get him that they took it to a step where they turned the country against him.

Harris: Michael, I want to challenge you, though—

Isikoff: Please do. Let’s not all agree with each other.

Harris: —from what I think would be a—would be a Clinton perspective. You spent a significant portion of the ’90s exploring what was, I think, obvious at the time: Clinton’s personal frailty, his vulnerability to weaknesses of the flesh, his sex life. And Donald Trump is exposed as writing a check to a pornographic star, and that is, “Well, we need 24 or 48 hours to chew that over,” and on we go. That does not seem to jibe.

Isikoff: First of all, let me stop you. I reject the idea that my reporting was about his “sex life” any more than the brilliant reporting that the New York Times and the New Yorker and others have done about the abuses of powerful men toward subordinate women—nobody says that was about their “sex lives.”

Glasser: Yeah, I agree with Michael on that. I think that’s important.

Isikoff: That’s the way the Clinton people wanted to craft it: I was the guy on the “bimbo beat.” That was the way they could dismiss the legitimate questions about their boss’ abusive conduct toward multiple women and his lying about it. So I think that’s a very important point. Should Trump’s more-than-indiscretions get more attention? Yes, of course. But, as I said before, there’s just so much with Trump that, where does this rank? Does it trump the questions about whether he is mentally fit to be in office, whether he has the temperament to be president, whether he was in league with a foreign power in some way that got him elected in the first place? Those are all huge questions that need to be sorted out.

Glasser: I’ve always believed that Bill Clinton’s denial and how he handled the revelations of January 1998 were both the key to his political survival of the impeachment and trial and also the template for future presidents who would face enormous scandal. I believe that Donald Trump has learned from—and will take to heart—the lessons of how Clinton survived, politically, the year 1998, and not only weathered the scandal but did so for a long period of time with his reputation intact and even burnished. It was political genius how he handled it by lying. Lying was proven to work in some way that has enabled further the cynical and divisive political culture of Washington.

On Trump, what I would say is that we don’t know what we’re going to face in terms of the Mueller investigation, in terms of how these various strands—the Russia investigation, Trump’s business dealings—how they play out, whether they come to a head in some sort of a political process on Capitol Hill or not. If they do, it may well be that they somehow merge with the questions about Donald Trump’s character and comportment and behavior toward women. We haven’t seen the end of the story yet. And it may well be because the politics are shifting that you could envision an article of impeachment that somehow makes reference to this conduct toward women.

Baker: Most politicians end up being forced out because they feel ashamed or they don’t want to live with the battering that comes with having their lives exposed, or they think it might be unfair coverage, or what have you, right? Nobody forced Al Franken to resign except that Al Franken decided to resign. There was no process that required him to leave office; he decided to leave office. Bill Clinton refused. Democrats would have preferred in some way that he leave office, because Al Gore would have been perfectly fine as a president; he would have been fine running in the 2000 elections as an incumbent. Bill Clinton said no.

Now, his supporters say that was a heroic act on his part to resist the mob, but it also meant that Bill Clinton proved a point: They can’t make you leave, so don’t. And I think Donald Trump is the same way: He’s willing to live with all kinds of things being said about him in a way that most politicians would have either shame or say, “No, I’m not going to live with this crap,” or whatever. And it doesn’t seem to bother him.

Isikoff: We should probably talk a little bit about the dramatic changes in the news media, and how that affects coverage of these scandals and how they play out.

Harris: Back then, we believed—and I think it was true—powerful platforms like Newsweek, like the Washington Post, like the New York Times could set the agenda of what the consequences and relevance of the story would be. I’ve long since surrendered that belief that any institution sets the agenda; the mob of a million arguing voices does their thing—nobody sets the agenda. What would have happened if we were in the current media climate in 1998?

Isikoff: When Newsweek held the story, they were holding the story for a full week. There was no Twitter. Although Newsweek had a dedicated AOL website, I had never even seen it. Nobody read it. It was there for the sole purpose of posting the magazine when it came out. We had never put a story up—

Baker: But then you did, right? And that was a revolutionary moment.

Isikoff: Right. So we have to give the devil his due. Matt Drudge posts this little item on a Saturday night [on] big screaming arguments at Newsweek about holding a story about the president’s relationship with a former intern. Then everybody is like, “What the hell is going on?” Everybody is scrambling. By Tuesday, you guys [at the Post] break the story, so it’s out there. But we knew we had more than anybody else. We had the tape; we had—I had been talking to Tripp for months. The decision is made: We’re going to post the story on our website. And it was like, “Huh? How does that work? What do you do?” We wrote a 10,000-word story or whatever it was. But since we didn’t think anybody would even know how to find our website, we faxed the story around to news organizations all over town.

Glasser: Yeah, and the fax was the key instrument, the revolutionary technology at the time. At the Washington Post, I had started work the week before as the deputy national editor for investigations. And the internet was considered a perk at the time at the Washington Post. And I did not actually even have access on my computer to the internet, and I was going to end up overseeing this coverage. I said, “How do you get information? How do you access the internet?” And they said, “Well, you go to the library.” It took three weeks of lobbying the top editors of the Washington Post to get me access to the internet. In the meantime, the president of the United States has almost been forced to resign from office because of the internet.

Baker: This whole story as it played out over the year was a whole revolution in the media. You had the advent of Drudge, at least in a powerful public way; you had Michael’s story first going up on the web; I wrote the first story that ever appeared on the Washington Post website about the step toward impeachment; we had Fox News, which really came into its own as a powerful force in politics in that year. All of these forces beginning to show how the media was going to transform ultimately into what it is today, without social media, which has then taken that three or four or five extra steps.

Harris: Do you think [having social media at the time] would have just accelerated the process and we all would have been in different camps, so Clinton would survive in this environment? Or would it have meant the whole project would have erupted in flames within the first week?

Isikoff: I don’t know. You had Fox News. That was around. You had MSNBC—but it was not what it is today—to defend Clinton. So, you know, it may have been worse for him if the technology was there, because would he have had the same access to defenders?

Glasser: The flip side is Starr’s investigation would have been completely different. I was struck rereading Michael’s excellent account of all the wiring that Linda Tripp did and the taping [of Lewinsky]. She did that because she was concerned of being called in as a witness; she was concerned about her own account of her relationship with Monica Lewinsky being called into question. Well, of course, in the era of email and texting and Facebook, there would have been so much evidence that a prosecutor would have been able to gather very quickly. The entrapment aspect of this would actually have gone away, because they would have just had all the evidence.

Isikoff: That’s a great point. There would have been text messages.

Glasser: Yeah, of course there would have been. And Monica definitely would have saved them. If she’s saving the dress, she definitely would have saved—

Isikoff: She would have been texting Linda after every one of her visits with Clinton.

Glasser: Yeah, she would have been like, “Oh, my God. We did this. We did—”

Isikoff: And it would have been right there.

Baker: One of the things that Clinton did that helped ensure his survival is, a) he made it partisan, and, b) he took advantage of the partisanship of his opponents. By making it a partisan thing, he forced Democrats who didn’t approve of his behavior [and] who might have abandoned him under other circumstances to stand by him because they didn’t want to stand with the other guys. That has only gotten more so in 20 years by virtue of the media and social media and the increasingly balkanized, polarized environment in which we live in. Everything is seen through the partisan lens, and it’s so hard to get to that Nixonian era where basically Republicans were able to say, “Enough. We don’t believe that this president belongs here, even though he’s from our own party.”

Isikoff: You had a little moment of that when Clinton finally came clean and admitted it, and I think Joe Lieberman made that speech on the Senate which indicated he was about—did he call for Clinton’s resignation or he just—

Baker: Clinton was in Moscow, and I was with him at the time. It was an incredibly dramatic moment because Russia’s economy was collapsing and the president of the United States was being called out by his own party on the floor of the Senate. And this is where the Republicans lost an opportunity: They preferred to go for an all-or-nothing, impeachment-or-nothing kind of attack rather than sitting together with the Joe Liebermans and the other disaffected Democrats—of whom there were plenty—and saying, “Let’s do a bipartisan censure,” or whatever it is that will have an end result in which both parties spoke out and said, “This is unacceptable. We may not be pushing you out of office, but we don’t think this is [appropriate] behavior by a president.”

Harris: Peter, one part I don’t agree with you about Bill Clinton is [the idea] that he was kind of indifferent to the opinions or judgments of others, that he just compartmentalized and was sort of at peace with the false story he had to project. I think it pained him greatly. And this is the difference with Trump. I honestly think Trump is contemptuous of establishment institutions, establishment voices, establishment precedents. Bill Clinton … the presidency that he wanted would have been to have the acclaim of those establishment voices. Bill Clinton cared what the New York Times editorial page said about him. And he cared about whether he was a president being subpoenaed, whereas I honestly don’t think Trump gives a damn.

Isikoff: Yes, but go back to what I always thought was one of the telling moments after the scandal breaks and it’s the darkest days. Who does Clinton talk to? Dick Morris. “What are the numbers? Do a poll for me.” And Morris is giving him the numbers … and Clinton is, like, writing them down. It was a cold, political calculation: “What can I get away with? What can’t I get away with?”

Isikoff: Clinton—I mean, it must be killing him, because he’s such a public figure, how does he contain himself? But the fact that he is not out there saying anything, I think, says a lot about how views have changed.

Harris: I feel that the original behavior that led to this is still deeply unsettled in Bill Clinton’s mind. And the evidence I have for that is his own memoir … it’s almost an hour-by-hour account of his presidency. ‘And then I called Tony Blair, and then I stopped to grab a Diet Coke.’ And in that tick-tock of his presidency, Monica Lewinsky enters the story not when they had their relationship starting in November 1995. She doesn’t ever get a reference until this week in January 1998. And that, to me, said something telling and also kind of sad. We have to remember that there are human beings at the heart of this, and Monica Lewinsky is probably the biggest victim. She mattered not at all except to the extent that she was thrown into this firestorm.

Isikoff: That does remind me of another telling point from that episode: I believe Monica testified that she was not sure—even after the first four or five times she had sexually serviced the president—whether he knew her name. That is not your normal sexual straying infidelity. It gets into the power question that I think was so troubling.

Glasser: Another name we haven’t mentioned is that of Hillary Clinton, and we haven’t talked about Chelsea Clinton, also victims in this scenario. It’s fascinating, the extent to which over the last year and a half, Donald Trump was able to rewrite the narrative of Bill Clinton’s scandal and his aggressive behavior toward women and pattern of lies and deception and rewrite that as a story about Hillary Clinton as his enabler. It’s also an interesting and important footnote that arguably it was the Clinton impeachment scandal which gave rise to Hillary Clinton’s independent political career.

Baker: It’s literally the day that he is being acquitted on the floor of the Senate after the trial that she is in the White House meeting with Harold Ickes, talking about this potential Senate race in New York and which counties she might do well in and so forth. It was really like the prequel to the next story.

Harris: I recall Jay Leno, two weeks into it, he said, “Bill Clinton is doing so well in the polls that he’s already planning his next sex scandal.” But beneath the jokes, it is a reality that this moment deeply compromised a very promising presidency, and in my judgment, it compromised a brand of Clinton politics for which there were big prices to pay. One of those prices was paid by Al Gore. I think Hillary Clinton’s aura and her brand of politics has been compromised with enormous consequences—if you imagine a world in which Al Gore wins and George W. Bush doesn’t, or you imagine a world where Hillary Clinton is now president and Donald Trump isn’t. This moment 20 years ago, January 1998, had big consequences, maybe more than that are obvious, which continue to echo to this day.

Isikoff: If Hillary Clinton had won the election, what would this conversation be like with Bill Clinton back in the White House? And would the Harvey Weinstein scandal have broken if Hillary Clinton had won the election? There are so many different ways you can think about this. But bottom line, we deal with the history that played out. We do look at this differently now than many of us did at the time. There was always the question about where Monica Lewinsky would rank when they write the obituary of Bill Clinton. Would it be in the first paragraph, the second paragraph, the third paragraph? I think there was a point at which it had probably dropped to three or four. I think it’s now up there to two or possibly in the first one. And that’s no small thing if you are Bill Clinton.

Baker: He had successfully—for a while—rewritten history so that his was a presidency of peace and prosperity compared to what followed, so by the time 2008 comes around and his wife is running for the first time, people look back quite fondly on the Clinton presidency. And they said, “Well, gosh, that was a time when we had 22 million more jobs and we were booming and we had relative peace around the world, and now here we are with this quagmire and a financial crisis and all.” And now we’re back talking about this again, and it’s a complicated thing. That’s what makes Clinton such a fascinating figure. There is this combination of promise and peril; his greatest strengths are also his greatest weaknesses. It’s such a Shakespearean story for him to bring all this upon himself, and then defying his enemies—both his tormentors and, in some ways, his saviors. He’s a story we’re going to be writing about and changing for many decades to come.

Glasser: I think one of the reasons we’re going to be changing the story is that Donald Trump has caused us to reexamine the legacy of most of our recent presidents. And it’s going to look very different if you have someone like Trump who remains in office and is seen to have gotten away with accusations of a similar or even more serious gravity when it comes to attitudes and relations toward women. The story of Bill Clinton is now intertwined with that of Donald Trump, just as the legacy of Barack Obama is now intertwined in our minds with that of Donald Trump. So until we know the ending of the Trump story, we’re not going to know how to look at this chapter in Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Harris: Michael, I’m going to give you the last word. Do you feel now that your reporting, intensely criticized at the time, has been vindicated? Do you have any regrets about the whole episode?

Isikoff: Yes and no. Yes, vindicated. Although the criticism was unpleasant, I never had any doubts, nor did my editors, that we handled it in the right way. I think we got it entirely right. What we published, it holds up, so, no; no regrets on that score.

I would like to end on one point about just how complicated Bill Clinton is and his greatest strengths are his greatest weaknesses. I want to take you back to the Paula Jones episode for one moment. When I first started looking into that, the White House communications person at the time was George Stephanopoulos. And Stephanopoulos made the point to me: Do you realize when this event with Paula Jones was supposed to have happened? It was the day after Bill Clinton flies back from Cleveland at the Democratic Leadership Conference, where he gave this rousing speech that essentially put him on the map as the probable front-runner for the Democratic nomination. It was his highest moment in national politics. He was pumped. He could taste it: He was going to be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States. And what does he do the very next day? Stephanopoulos made the point that it proves it couldn’t have happened: “Do you think he’s that crazy?” In fact, it’s all there. At his moment of greatest triumph, he sows the seeds for the greatest debacle of his political life. And I think there is something very large—when you talk about “Shakespearean”—to say about all that.

Original article link

Do You Believe Her Now?

It’s time to reexamine the evidence that Clarence Thomas lied to get onto the Supreme Court — and to talk seriously about impeachment.

On the same fall night in 2016 that the infamous Access Hollywood tape featuring Donald Trump bragging about sexual assault was made public by the Washington Post and dominated the news, an Alaska attorney, Moira Smith, wrote on Facebook about her own experiences as a victim of sexual misconduct in 1999.

“At the age of 24, I found out I’d be attending a dinner at my boss’s house with Justice Clarence Thomas,” she began her post, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court justice who was famously accused of sexually harassing Anita Hill, a woman who had worked for him at two federal agencies, including the EEOC, the federal sexual-harassment watchdog.

“I was so incredibly excited to meet him, rough confirmation hearings notwithstanding,” Smith continued. “He was charming in many ways — giant, booming laugh, charismatic, approachable. But to my complete shock, he groped me while I was setting the table, suggesting I should ‘sit right next to him.’ When I feebly explained I’d been assigned to the other table, he groped again … ‘Are you sure?’ I said I was and proceeded to keep my distance.” Smith had been silent for 17 years but, infuriated by the “Grab ’em by the pussy” utterings of a presidential candidate, could keep quiet no more.

Tipped to the post by a Maryland legal source who knew Smith, Marcia Coyle, a highly regarded and scrupulously nonideological Supreme Court reporter for The National Law Journal, wrote a detailed story about Smith’s allegation of butt-squeezing, which included corroboration from Smith’s roommates at the time of the dinner and from her former husband. Coyle’s story, which Thomas denied, was published October 27, 2016. If you missed it, that’s because this news was immediately buried by a much bigger story — the James Comey letter reopening the Hillary Clinton email probe.

Smith, who has since resumed her life as a lawyer and isn’t doing any further interviews about Thomas, was on the early edge of #MeToo. Too early, perhaps: In the crescendo of recent sexual-harassment revelations, Thomas’s name has been surprisingly muted.

Perhaps that is a reflection of the conservative movement’s reluctance, going back decades, to inspect the rot in its power structure, even as its pundits and leaders have faced allegations of sexual misconduct. (Liberals of the present era — possibly in contrast to those of, say, the Bill Clinton era — have been much more ready to cast out from power alleged offenders, like Al Franken.)

But that relative quiet about Justice Thomas was striking to me. After all, the Hill-Thomas conflagration was the first moment in American history when we collectively, truly grappled with sexual harassment. For my generation, it was the equivalent of the Hiss-Chambers case, a divisive national argument about whom to believe in a pitched political and ideological battle, this one with an overlay of sex and race. The situation has seemed un-reopenable, having been tried at the highest level and shut down with the narrow 1991 Senate vote to confirm Thomas, after hearings that focused largely on Hill.

But it’s well worth inspecting, in part as a case study, in how women’s voices were silenced at the time by both Republicans and Democrats and as an illustration of what’s changed — and hasn’t — in the past 27 years (or even the last year). After all, it’s difficult to imagine Democrats, not to mention the media, being so tentative about such claims against a nominated justice today. It’s also worth looking closely at, because, as Smith’s account and my reporting since indicates, Thomas’s inappropriate behavior — talking about porn in the office, commenting on the bodies of the women he worked with — was more wide-ranging than was apparent during the sensational Senate hearings, with their strange Coke-can details.

But, most of all, because Thomas, as a crucial vote on the Supreme Court, holds incredible power over women’s rights, workplace, reproductive, and otherwise. His worldview, with its consistent objectification of women, is the one that’s shaping the contours of what’s possible for women in America today, more than that of just about any man alive, save for his fellow justices.

And given the evidence that’s come out in the years since, it’s also time to raise the possibility of impeachment. Not because he watched porn on his own time, of course. Not because he talked about it with a female colleague — although our understanding of the real workplace harm that kind of sexual harassment does to women has evolved dramatically in the years since, thanks in no small part to those very hearings. Nor is it even because he routinely violated the norms of good workplace behavior, in a way that seemed especially at odds with the elevated office he was seeking. It’s because of the lies he told, repeatedly and under oath, saying he had never talked to Hill about porn or to other women who worked with him about risqué subject matter.

Lying is, for lawyers, a cardinal sin. State disciplinary committees regularly institute proceedings against lawyers for knowingly lying in court, with punishments that can include disbarment. Since 1989, three federal judges have been impeached and forced from office for charges that include lying. The idea of someone so flagrantly telling untruths to ascend to the highest legal position in the U.S. remains shocking, in addition to its being illegal. (Thomas, through a spokesperson, declined to comment on a detailed list of queries.)

Thomas’s lies not only undermined Hill but also isolated her. It was her word versus his — when it could have been her word, plus several other women’s, which would have made for a different media narrative and a different calculation for senators. As the present moment has taught us, women who come forward alongside other women are more likely to be believed (unfair as that might be). There were four women who wanted to testify, or would have if subpoenaed, to corroborate aspects of Hill’s story. My new reporting shows that there is at least one more who didn’t come forward. Their “Me Too” voices were silenced.

My history with the Thomas case is a long one. In the early 1990s, along with my then-colleague at The Wall Street Journal Jane Mayer, I spent almost three years re-reporting every aspect of the Hill-Thomas imbroglio for a book on the subject, Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas. Quickly, we uncovered a pattern: Clarence Thomas had, in fact, a clear habit of watching and talking about pornography, which, while not improper on its face, was at the heart of Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment. She testified that at the Department of Education and the EEOC, where she worked for Thomas, he had persisted in unwelcome sex talk at work. Often, he’d called her into his office to listen to him describe scenes from porn films featuring Long Dong Silver and women with freakishly large breasts. “He spoke about acts that he had seen in pornographic films, involving such matters as women having sex with animals, and films showing group sex, or rape scenes,” she testified. “On several occasions, Thomas told me graphically of his own sexual prowess.”

Thomas flat-out denied, under oath, repeatedly, that these conversations ever took place in his office with Hill or any other of his employees. “What I have said to you is categorical that any allegations that I engaged in any conduct involving sexual activity, pornographic movies, attempted to date her, any allegations, I deny. It is not true,” he said during questioning, along with specific denials like these:

Senator Hatch: Did you ever say in words or substance something like there is a pubic hair in my Coke?

Judge Thomas: No, Senator. …

Senator Hatch: Did you ever brag to Professor Hill about your sexual prowess?

Judge Thomas: No, Senator.

Senator Hatch: Did you ever use the term “Long Dong Silver” in conversation with Professor Hill?

Judge Thomas: No, Senator.

And: “If I used that kind of grotesque language with one person, it would seem to me that there would be traces of it throughout the employees who worked closely with me, there would be other individuals who heard it, or bits and pieces of it, or various levels of it,” Thomas said, as if daring the Senate committee to investigate further.

His bluff wasn’t called. Many individuals we uncovered who knew about Thomas’s habitual, erotically charged talk in the workplace were never contacted by the Senate Judiciary Committee or called as witnesses. We found three other women who had experiences with Thomas at the EEOC that were similar to Hill’s, and four people who knew about his keen interest in porn but were never heard from publicly. The evidence that Thomas had perjured himself during the hearing was overwhelming.

When our book came out, I was told there were lawyers in the Clinton White House and some congressional Democrats who, based on our reporting, were looking into whether Thomas could be impeached through a congressional vote. It’s not entirely without precedent: One Supreme Court justice, Samuel Chase, was impeached in 1804 for charges related to allowing his politics to infiltrate his jurisprudence — though he wasn’t ultimately removed, and that particular criticism looks somewhat quaint now. In 1969, Justice Abe Fortas resigned under threat of impeachment hearings for accepting a side gig with ethically thorny complications; the following year, there were hearings (which ended without a vote) against another justice, William O. Douglas, accused of financial misdealings. But when the Republicans took control of Congress after the 1994 midterms, the Thomas-impeachment idea, always somewhat far-fetched politically, died.

To my surprise, the notion of impeaching Thomas resurfaced during the 2016 campaign. In the thousands of emails made public during the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton, there was one curious document from her State Department files that caught my attention, though it went largely unremarked upon in the press. Labeled “Memo on Impeaching Clarence Thomas” and written by a close adviser, the former right-wing operative David Brock, in 2010, the seven-page document lays out the considerable evidence, including material from our book, that Thomas lied to the Judiciary Committee when he categorically denied that he had discussed pornographic films or made sexual comments in the office to Hill or any other women who worked for him. When I recently interviewed Brock, he said that Clinton “wanted to be briefed” on the evidence that Thomas lied in order to be confirmed to his lifelong seat on the Court. He said he had no idea if a President Hillary Clinton would have backed an effort to unseat Thomas.

Unsurprisingly, the volume of sexual-harassment disclosures across so many professions recently has helped surface new, previously undisclosed information about Thomas’s predilection for bringing porn talk into professional settings. Late last year, a Washington attorney, Karen Walker, emailed New York. She had worked at the Bureau of National Affairs at the time of Hill’s testimony and said that a then colleague, Nancy Montwieler, who covered the EEOC for BNA’s Daily Labor Report, confided that Thomas had also made weird, sexual comments to her, including describing porn and other things he found sexually enticing. Montwieler, who considered Thomas a valuable source and didn’t think he was coming on to her, had invited him to a black-tie Washington press dinner, where he also made off-color remarks.

After Anita Hill came forward, Walker told me, she pressed Montwieler about whether she planned to speak up, but Montwieler brushed her off and said no, “because he’s been my source.” During the weekend of the Hill-Thomas hearings in October 1991, Walker called Montwieler again, begging her to say something. “I told her that what she knew could have helped Anita Hill,” Walker told me, as Senate Republicans tried to label Hill a liar and erotomaniac. “But she wanted to protect her source and said that if I said anything, she’d deny the whole thing.”

On a cold morning in early February, I knocked on the front door of Montwieler’s home in northwest Washington, D.C., where a wooden angel stands in the front yard. On the phone, when I summarized what Walker had told me, she said she didn’t want to talk about Thomas, but I hoped I could change her mind in person. Now retired from journalism, Montwieler, a petite woman with cropped hair and tinted glasses, was polite. She wouldn’t answer any questions about Thomas, but she never denied Walker’s account. Nor did she request that I keep her name out of this story. She simply said, “I’ll read it with interest.” Another colleague of Montwieler’s at BNA told me that her silence over the years isn’t surprising, given the value and cachet of knowing a powerful public official in Washington. (Update: After publication of this story, Montwieler emailed to say that “she never experienced any type of inappropriate behavior from [Thomas],” and that she did not “recall any conversations with Justice Thomas regarding inappropriate or nonprofessional subjects.” Montwieler had not disputed the allegations in the story during her two encounters with Abramson and three phone calls with a fact-checker.)

Thomas’s workplace sex talk was also backed up in 2010, nearly 20 years after the Hill-Thomas hearings, by Lillian McEwen, a lawyer who dated Thomas for years during the period Hill says she was harassed. She had declined to talk for Strange Justice but broke her silence in an interview with Michael Fletcher, then of the Washington Post, who had co-written a biography of Thomas. She said Thomas told her before the hearings that she should remain silent — as his ex-wife, Kathy Ambush, had. In another interview, McEwen told the New York Times that she was surprised that Joe Biden, the senator running the hearings, hadn’t called her to testify. In fact, she’d written to Biden before the hearings to say that she had “personal knowledge” of Thomas.

What sparked her to go public so many years later, McEwen told Fletcher, was a strange call Thomas’s wife, Ginni, made to Hill on October 9, 2010. On a message left on Hill’s answering machine, Ginni asked Hill to apologize for her testimony back in 1991. “The Clarence I know was certainly capable not only of doing the things that Anita Hill said he did, but it would be totally consistent with the way he lived his personal life then,” said McEwen, who by then was also writing a bodice-ripping memoir, D.C. Unmasked and Undressed. According to the Post, Thomas would also tell McEwen “about women he encountered at work and what he’d said to them. He was partial to women with large breasts, she said.” Once, McEwen recalled, Thomas was so “impressed” by a colleague’s chest that he asked her bra size, a question that’s difficult to interpret as anything but the clearest kind of sexual harassment. That information could also have been vital if made public during the 1991 confirmation hearings because it echoed the account of another witness, Angela Wright, who said during questioning from members of the Judiciary Committee that Thomas asked her bra size when she worked for him at the EEOC.

Neither Thomas nor his defenders came after McEwen for her story. Perhaps that was because of their lengthy past relationship. Probably, they wisely chose to let the story die on its own. But it’s what sparked Brock’s memo on the impeachment of Thomas.

The Thomas hearings were not just a national referendum on workplace behavior, sexual mores, and the interplay between those things; they were a typical example of partisan gamesmanship and flawed compromise. Chairman Biden was outmaneuvered and bluffed by the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee. He had plenty of witnesses who could have testified about Thomas’s inappropriate sexualized office behavior and easily proven interest in the kind of porn Hill referenced in her testimony, but had made a bargain with his Republican colleagues that sealed Hill’s fate: He agreed only to call witnesses who had information about Thomas’s workplace behavior. Thomas’s “private life,” especially his taste for porn — then considered more outré than it might be now — would be out of bounds, despite the fact that information confirming his habit of talking about it would have cast extreme doubt on Thomas’s denials.

This gentleman’s agreement was typical of the then-all-male Judiciary Committee. Other high-profile Democrats like Ted Kennedy, who was in no position to poke into sexual misconduct, remained silent. Republicans looked for dirt on Hill wherever they could find it — painting her as a “little bit nutty and a little bit slutty,” as Brock later said, with help from Thomas himself, who huddled with GOP congressmen to brainstorm what damaging information he could unearth on his former employee, some of which he seems to have leaked to the press — and ladled it into the Hill-Thomas testimony. Meanwhile, Biden played by Marquis of Queensberry rules.

Late last year, in an interview with Teen Vogue, Biden finally apologized to Hill after all these years, admitting that he had not done enough to protect her interests during the hearings. He said he believed Hill at the time: “And my one regret is that I wasn’t able to tone down the attacks on her by some of my Republican friends. ”

Among the corroborative stories — the potential #MeToos — that Biden knew about but was unwilling to use: those of Angela Wright; Rose Jourdain, another EEOC worker in whom Wright confided; and Sukari Hardnett, still another EEOC worker with relevant evidence. (“If you were young, black, female and reasonably attractive and worked directly for Clarence Thomas, you knew full well you were being inspected and auditioned as a female,” Hardnett wrote in a letter to the Judiciary Committee, contradicting Thomas’s claim “I do not and did not commingle my personal life with my work life” and supporting McEwen’s 2010 assertion that he “was always actively watching the women he worked with to see if they could be potential partners” as “a hobby of his.”) Kaye Savage, a friend of Thomas’s and Hill’s, knew of his extensive collection of Playboy magazines; Fred Cooke, a Washington attorney, saw Thomas renting porn videos that match Hill’s descriptions, as did Barry Maddox, the owner of the video store that Thomas frequented. And at least some members of Biden’s staff would have known Lillian McEwen had relevant information.

This is what any trial lawyer would call a bonanza of good, probative evidence (even without the additional weight of the other people with knowledge of Thomas’s peculiar sex talk, like Montwieler). In interviews over the years, five members of Biden’s Judiciary Committee at the time of the hearings told me they were certain that if Biden had called the other witnesses to testify, Thomas would never have been confirmed.

The most devastating witness would have been Wright. In addition to what she told the committee about Thomas’s comments on her breasts, she — upset by the experience — had also told her colleague Jourdain that Thomas had commented that he found the hair on her legs sexy. Jourdain, who came out of the hospital after a procedure just in time to corroborate Wright’s testimony and was cutting her pain medication in quarters so that she would be lucid, was never called to testify. Their accounts were buried and released to reporters late at night.

Wright would have killed the nomination. But Republicans, with faulty information spread by one of Thomas’s defenders, Phyllis Berry, claimed Wright had been fired by Thomas for calling someone else in the office a “faggot.” The man Wright supposedly labeled thus later said she never used the word, but Biden was too cowed to take the risk of calling her. Wright has since said repeatedly that she would have gladly faced Republican questioning. But in a pre-social-media age, that was that; the would-be witnesses weren’t heard from. Less than a week after the confirmation vote, Thomas was hastily sworn in for his lifetime appointment on the bench.

Most important to any new #MeToo reckoning of the Thomas case is Moira Smith’s Facebook account. She kept silent about what happened for 17 years. Her motives for going public appear identical to the ones expressed by the alleged victims of Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, and other powerful, celebrated men: The time had come to bring sexual harassment, assault, and abuse of power into the open. “Donald Trump said when you’re a star, they let you do it; you can do anything. The idea that we as victims let them do it made me mad,” Smith told Coyle, the National Law Journal reporter. “Sure enough, Justice Thomas did it with I think an implicit pact of silence that I would be so flattered and starstruck and surprised that I wouldn’t say anything. I played the chump. I didn’t say anything.”

Going public has clearly not been an altogether happy experience for Smith. Almost immediately, the well-oiled Thomas defense machine — a cadre of friends, conservative lawyers, and former law clerks — swung into action. The Smith story was the first allegation involving Thomas’s behavior as a sitting justice, and thus had the potential to be especially troublesome. Almost immediately after Coyle’s story came a series of sharp attacks aimed at Smith by Carrie Severino, a former Thomas clerk, in the National Review. Undermining Smith’s credibility, calling her a “partisan Democrat,” and labeling her story “obviously fabricated,” Severino, who is policy director of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, concluded, “The Left has a long track record of trying to destroy Justice Thomas with lies and fabrications, and these allegations are only their latest attempt. They should be ashamed of themselves.” Smith took down her Facebook profile, worried about right-wing trolls.

There are clear risks involved in speaking out against a Supreme Court justice. After Kaye Savage spoke to Mayer and me for Strange Justice, David Brock, who was then a staunch defender of Thomas’s, tried to, in effect, blackmail her. He threatened to make public details from her messy divorce and child-custody case if she did not sign a statement recanting what she had said to us for the book. Brock, who turned into a liberal Clinton supporter (and, of course, authored that memo about impeaching Thomas, in a rich bit of irony), told me in a recent interview that he got the personal information about Savage from Mark Paoletta, then a lawyer in the Bush White House (who had a recent stint as Vice-President Pence’s counsel) and a friend of Thomas. Brock believes it’s all but certain that Paoletta got the information about Savage directly from Thomas. (Paoletta has denied Brock’s account.)

Hill, who now teaches law at Brandeis University, was picked in December to lead a newly formed commission on sexual harassment in the entertainment industry; in a recent interview with Mayer for The New Yorker, she emphasized how crucial believability is to the narrative of cases like hers, and, in Mayer’s words, “Until now, very few women have had that standing.” Thomas, meanwhile, sits securely on the U.S. Supreme Court with lifetime tenure. He was 43 when he faced what he famously called “a high-tech lynching” before the Judiciary Committee. After that, he vowed to friends, he would serve on the Court another 43 years. He’s more than halfway there. His record on the Court has been devastating for women’s rights. Thomas typically votes against reproductive choice: In 2007, he was in the 5-4 majority in Gonzales v. Carhart that upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. He voted to weaken equal-pay protections in the Court’s congressionally overruled decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire. He joined the majority decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, holding that an employer’s religious objections can override the rights of its women employees.

And, as Think Progress noted, “in one of the most underreported decisions of the last several years, Thomas cast the key fifth vote to hobble the federal prohibition on harassment in the workplace.”* The 5-4 decision in 2013’s Vance v. Ball State University tightened the definition of who counts as a supervisor in harassment cases. The majority decision in the case said a person’s boss counts as a “supervisor” only if he or she has the authority to make a “significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.” That let a lot of people off the hook. In many modern workplaces, the only “supervisors” with those powers are far away in HR offices, not the hands-on boss who may be making a worker’s life a living hell. The case was a significant one, all the more so in this moment.

Thomas, who almost never speaks from the bench, wrote his own concurrence, also relatively rare. It was all of three sentences long, saying he joined in the opinion “because it provides the narrowest and most workable rule for when an employer may be held vicariously liable for an employee’s harassment.”

The concurrence is so perfunctory that it seemed like there was only one reason for it: He clearly wished to stick it in the eye of the Anita Hills of the world.

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The Clarence Thomas Exception

Anita Hill’s accusations against the Supreme Court nominee launched the first #MeToo moment 26 years ago, but the justice has faced little renewed scrutiny amid the current reconsideration of sexual harassment.

Before Alex Kozinski, before Harvey Weinstein, before Bill Clinton, there was Clarence Thomas.

The 1991 hearings for Thomas’s confirmation to the Supreme Court became the first major moment of national attention on sexual harassment in the workplace, after allegations of past harassment lodged by Anita Hill, a former colleague, were leaked to the press. Thomas was ultimately confirmed, narrowly, but it’s difficult to imagine his nomination surviving the same accusations today. As allegations of harassment and abuse bring down powerful men in media, entertainment, and politics, Thomas has also been curiously immune to fresh scrutiny, despite the multiple, detailed accusations against him.

Before Alex Kozinski, before Harvey Weinstein, before Bill Clinton, there was Clarence Thomas.

The 1991 hearings for Thomas’s confirmation to the Supreme Court became the first major moment of national attention on sexual harassment in the workplace, after allegations of past harassment lodged by Anita Hill, a former colleague, were leaked to the press. Thomas was ultimately confirmed, narrowly, but it’s difficult to imagine his nomination surviving the same accusations today. As allegations of harassment and abuse bring down powerful men in media, entertainment, and politics, Thomas has also been curiously immune to fresh scrutiny, despite the multiple, detailed accusations against him.

Hill’s accusations emerged during confirmation hearings for Thomas, who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush, and who seemed to be headed for easy confirmation as the second black justice in Supreme Court history. The Senate Judiciary Committee had completed its work when reports of Hill’s allegations against Thomas emerged. Hill, like Thomas, was an African American graduate of Yale Law School. She first worked for Thomas, eight years her senior, at the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights and then at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

She said Thomas had repeatedly asked her out, but she turned him down. He discussed sexual topics, she said, including “acts that he had seen in pornographic films involving such matters as women having sex with animals and films showing group sex or rape scenes. He talked about pornographic materials depicting individuals with large penises or large breasts involved in various sex acts.” She said he’d discussed his own “sexual prowess” and, in the most enduring and bizarre image from the hearings, had once walked up to his desk and then asked her, “Who put pubic hair on my Coke?”

The allegations were awful—Ted Koppel called them “grotesquely riveting”—but they were also challenging for anyone watching or listening, as many Americans did. (Long before the golden age of cable news, many outlets carried the hearings live.) For viewers at home, it looked like a typical he-said, she-said sexual-harassment case, in which it was nearly impossible to determine who was in the right. Believing Hill required believing that a federal judge on the verge of Supreme Court confirmation would perjure himself; believing Thomas required believing that Hill would have fabricated vivid allegations out of whole cloth.

This appearance of irresolvable conflict was neither wholly accurate nor accidental. Four friends of Hill’s testified that she had told them about the harassment at the time, lending more credibility to the claims. Three other women were willing to testify about being harassed by Thomas, too. But Biden chose not to allow one of them, Angela Wright, to testify publicly, instead releasing a transcript of a phone interview with her. Strange Justice, a 1994 book by reporters Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer, concluded the Judiciary Committee had failed to follow up leads on allegations against Thomas and had conducted only a cursory investigation. Whether such testimony would have been adequate to convict Thomas in a court of law is unclear, but perhaps also beside the point. It was as strong or stronger than the evidence that has toppled several members of Congress, including Senator Al Franken.

When apprised of Hill’s accusations, Senator Howard Metzenbaum, the Ohio Democrat, said, “If that’s sexual harassment, half the senators on Capitol Hill could be accused.” With 26 years of perspective, new data on congressional settlements, and testimony from women in politics, it seems Metzenbaum was right, though not for the reasons he believed.

Thomas denounced the proceedings as a “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks,” but Hill came out at least as badly bruised as him, with Republican senators among her assailants. Senator Orrin Hatch called her the tool of “slick lawyers.” Senator Arlen Specter flatly called her a perjurer. Senator Alan Simpson said, “I really am getting stuff over the transom about Professor Hill. I’ve got letters hanging out of my pocket. I’ve got faxes. I’ve got statements from Tulsa saying: Watch out for this woman.” Other observers questioned why Hill had continued to work for Thomas and moved to the EEOC with him despite her allegations.

In tone and in content—questioning Hill’s motives, and casting doubt on her career moves—these attacks echo those lodged against women who have accused men like Weinstein and former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes. These defenses have not worked as well recently. There is a more of a default to believe accusers, in part because so many accusations have proven true. The dilemma faced by an underling who depends on a powerful boss’s mentorship while also hating his harassment is better understood. While attacks on women who make public accusations have not disappeared by any measure, they are more likely to earn a rebuke today.

Thomas’s confirmation and the attacks on Hill did produce a quick political backlash. With new visibility, sexual-harassment complaints to the EEOC—ironically, Hill’s and Thomas’s former employer—spiked. The following year, a large crop of women ran for Congress, inspired in part by the specter of aging white men grilling Hill, and four were elected to the Senate.

Hill went on to a successful career as a law professor. Thomas, of course, was ensconced on the court, where he has become an important and reliable vote for the conservative bloc. There have been almost no new allegations against him since his confirmation, but it’s tough to know who would report new allegations. In 2016, a woman accused Thomas of groping her at a dinner party in 1999. Friends of the woman, Moira Smith, recalled her telling them of it at the time. Thomas denied that accusation as well, calling it “preposterous.”

Thomas’s current workplace is very different from EEOC. Supreme Court justices hire a crop of law clerks every year, and clerks on every level, though especially the Supreme Court, are tight-lipped about what happens in chambers. Heidi Bond, who accused Kozinski of harassment, wrote that the judge’s strict conception of omertà held her back from speaking about his behavior. “I’d assumed that what he said about judicial confidentiality was correct, that I had no choice but to hold onto my silence,” she wrote.

In the post-Weinstein moment, Biden’s handling of the Thomas hearing has exposed him to renewed criticism. The former vice president appears to be testing the waters for a 2020 race in the wide-open Democratic presidential field, and his approach in 1991 is once again an issue for him. A group of current and former Democratic lawmakers spoke to The Washington Post and said Biden had been part of the problem. Biden told Teen Vogue in December that he believed Hill and was saddened by the hearings.

“My one regret is that I wasn’t able to tone down the attacks on her by some of my Republican friends,” he said. “I mean, they really went after her. As much as I tried to intervene, I did not have the power to gavel them out of order. I tried to be like a judge and only allow a question that would be relevant to ask.”

There are straightforward reasons this would be a bigger problem for Biden than Thomas. Biden would be seeking elected office, whereas Thomas is already confirmed; Biden would also have to face a Democratic primary electorate, which polling shows is more concerned about sexual harassment than other voting group. Yet there’s an obvious disproportionality, too: Biden’s handling of the confirmation hearing is one thing, but it pales in comparison with what Hill alleged about Thomas.

Supreme Court justices operate largely as they wish. They can be impeached, but that hasn’t happened since Samuel Chase in 1805, and he was acquitted by the Senate. Even the notoriously caddish William O. Douglas got away with his skirt-chasing, though he was twice threatened with impeachment for other reasons. Progressives have on occasion demanded that Thomas recuse himself for conflicts of interest related to his wife’s political activism; those demands have been met with Thomas’s typical taciturnity. There have been fringe efforts to push for Thomas’s impeachment, but they’ve never gone anywhere. So far, Thomas has escaped serious new scrutiny on the Hill allegations, as well as those of the other women who were prepared to testify against him.

In a baffling October 2010 incident, Thomas’s wife left Hill a voicemail asking her to apologize for her accusations in 1991.

“Good morning Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas,” she said. “I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband. So give it some thought. And certainly pray about this and hope that one day you will help us understand why you did what you did. OK, have a good day.”

Hill was astonished. “I appreciate that no offense was intended, but she can’t ask for an apology without suggesting that I did something wrong, and that is offensive,” she told The New York Times.

Ginni Thomas explained that she had called Hill “in hopes that we could ultimately get past what happened so long ago.” It’s understandable that she would feel upset about accusations against her husband, if a little less understandable that she would call Hill. The memories of the hearings must have remained very real and recent for the Thomases and for Hill. But there isn’t yet any indication that the public at large will revisit the episode.

Original Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/12/clarence-thomas-anita-hill-me-too/548624/

Sessions argued in Clinton impeachment that presidents can obstruct justice

Donald Trump’s personal lawyer argued Monday that, as the nominal head of federal law enforcement, the president is legally unable to obstruct justice. But the exact opposite view was once argued by another senior Trump lawyer: Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In 1999, Sessions – then an Alabama senator – laid out an impassioned case for President Bill Clinton to be removed from office based on the argument that Clinton obstructed justice amid the investigation into his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

“The facts are disturbing and compelling on the President’s intent to obstruct justice,” he said, according to remarks in the congressional record.

Sessions isn’t alone. More than 40 current GOP members of Congress voted for the impeachment or removalof Clinton from office for obstruction of justice. They include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – who mounted his own passionate appeal to remove Clinton from office for obstruction of justice – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, who was a House member at the time.

In all, 17 sitting senators supported the obstruction of justice charge against Clinton in 1998 and 1999.

“The chief law officer of the land, whose oath of office calls on him to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, crossed the line and failed to defend the law, and, in fact, attacked the law and the rights of a fellow citizen,” Sessions said during Clinton’s trial in the Senate, two months after he was impeached by the House. “Under our Constitution, equal justice requires that he forfeit his office.”

Trump’s personal lawyer John Dowd argued in an interview with Axios on Monday that the “president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case.”

Where Sessions argued in Clinton’s case that the president had the responsibility to “defend the law,” Dowd argued that the president’s oversight of law enforcement makes it impossible for anyone in the office to obstruct it in the first place.

The interview followed Trump’s tweet—which Dowd says he wrote—that he knew Flynn had lied to the FBI when he was fired in February.

Trump has come under scrutiny for his decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey amid an intensifying investigation of Trump associates’ connections to Russia and whether any aided the Russian effort to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Comey has since testified that Trump pressured him to pull back on an investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty last week to a count of lying to federal investigators about his contacts with Russian officials during the presidential transition.

Congressional Democrats have argued that Trump’s firing of Comey, now part of the special counsel investigation overseen by Robert Mueller, amounts to obstruction.

In the Senate trial that could have removed Clinton from office, Sessions delivered a 450-word analysis of the obstruction charges against Clinton.

Sessions’ argument for finding presidential obstruction concerned Clinton’s attempts to defeat a civil action against him. “Since the truth would be damaging, he took steps to see that the truth concerning his relationship with Monica Lewinsky would never come out,” Sessions argued at the time. That obstruction began, he said, when Clinton lied to the courts under oath and worked to influence witnesses, including Lewinsky.

“The president coached his personal secretary twice to ensure that if she were called as a witness in the civil case she would not contradict his testimony given the day before. The president intentionally lied to aides in an effort to have them mislead the public and the grand jury,” Sessions went on. “This is to me a clear pattern of obstruction of justice.”

Grassley and McConnell at the time laid out legal arguments for obstruction that included accusing Clinton of coaching a longtime assistant who was slated to give testimony in the matter. “Then the president—in violation of the federal obstruction of justice law—fired off a string of fundamentally declarative statements to his secretary,” McConnell said.

McConnell also laid out the legal case that obstruction of justice is a “high crime” that would warrant removal from office.

“I am completely and utterly perplexed by those who argue that perjury and obstruction of justice are not high crimes and misdemeanors,” he said. A McConnell spokesman declined to comment.

Burr, however, told reporters Monday that he did not agree with Dowd’s view that presidents are legally disqualified from obstructing justice.

Grassley demurred when asked to weigh in, telling reporters Monday that “that’s a theory you’d better let the legal profession work out.”

In the House, where impeachment proceedings originate, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) – today the chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee – similarly described a “pattern of obstruction” by Clinton. Like some of his colleagues, he invoked the president’s role as “chief law enforcement officer.”

“As the chief law enforcement officer of the Nation, it is incumbent upon the President to uphold the laws and remain faithful to the Constitution,” he said. Goodlatte aides declined to comment.

Yet it was Sessions, in a section of his speech titled “personal observations,” who laid out the emotional and philosophical case for removing Clinton from office on charges that included obstruction of justice.

“Of course, none of us are perfect and we often fail in our personal affairs, but when it comes to going to court, and it comes to our justice system, a great nation must insist on honesty and lawfulness,” he said. “Our country must insist upon that for every citizen.”

Elana Schor contributed to this report.

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This is not another obituary for Roger Ailes, who died last week 10 months after being ousted at Fox News. It is, I hope, instead an obituary for the culture he purveyed — a culture that affected me profoundly and personally.

Just two years after Rupert Murdoch appointed Mr. Ailes to head the new cable news network, my relationship with President Bill Clinton became public. Mr. Ailes, a former Republican political operative, took the story of the affair and the trial that followed and made certain his anchors hammered it ceaselessly, 24 hours a day.

It worked like magic: The story hooked viewers and made them Fox loyalists. For the past 15 years, Fox News has been the No. 1 news station; last year the network made about $2.3 billion.

Some experts have noted that viewers found Fox for the first time because of the crisis. John Moody, a Fox executive editor, reflected on that period: “The Lewinsky saga put us on the news map.” As he put it in another interview: “Monica was a news channel’s dream come true.”

 Their dream was my nightmare. My character, my looks and my life were picked apart mercilessly. Truth and fiction mixed at random in the service of higher ratings. My family and I huddled at home, worried about my going to jail — I was the original target of Kenneth Starr’s investigation, threatened with 27 years for having been accused of signing a false affidavit and other alleged crimes — or worse, me taking my own life. Meantime, Mr. Ailes huddled with his employees at Fox News, dictating a lineup of talking heads to best exploit this personal and national tragedy.

For myriad reasons — information gathering, boredom (I couldn’t leave my home without being trailed by paparazzi) and a touch of masochism — I watched the news around the clock. On Fox, it seemed, no rumor was too unsubstantiated, no innuendo too vile and no accusation too abhorrent.

Let’s not pretend that Fox News was the only network to cover this story in the gutter. Mr. Ailes’s station may have pioneered this new style of television reportage, but the other cable news channels didn’t hesitate to join the race to the bottom. In fact, in late 1998, when Keith Olbermann briefly left MSNBC, he expressed disgust with the frequent Lewinsky coverage.

Just as television news was devolving into a modern coliseum, the internet came along and compounded this culture of shame and vitriol. Remember: The story of my affair was not broken by The Washington Post, The New York Times or the networks, but online by the Drudge Report. The comments on television and online were excruciating. I ceased being a three-dimensional person. Instead I became a whore, a bimbo, a slut and worse. Just days after the story broke, Fox asked its viewers to vote on this pressing question: Is Monica Lewinsky an “average girl” or a “young tramp looking for thrills”?

Our world — of cyberbullying and chyrons, trolls and tweets — was forged in 1998. It is, as the historian Nicolaus Mills has put it, a “culture of humiliation,” in which those who prey on the vulnerable in the service of clicks and ratings are handsomely rewarded.


Monica Lewinsky in Washington in 1999
As the past year has revealed, thanks to brave women like Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly, it is clear that at Fox, this culture of exploitation wasn’t limited to the screen. The irony of Mr. Ailes’s career at Fox — that he harnessed a sex scandal to build a cable juggernaut and then was brought down by his own — was not lost on anyone who has been paying attention.

There are some positive signs that the younger generation at Fox — James and Lachlan Murdoch — seem to want to change the culture Mr. Ailes created. Last week Bob Beckel, a Fox pundit who made a racist remark to an African-American Fox employee, was dismissed. Would this have happened in the Ailes era?

Although I imagine the desire by the Murdoch brothers to present a clean record to the European Commission reviewing their proposed takeover of Sky News played a role in their thinking, the Murdochs deserve praise for their part in the decision to fire Bill O’Reilly, whose show brought in $100 million a year in ad revenue but who harassed and bullied women he worked with. I hope the Murdochs understand that Americans will no longer tolerate a corporate culture that views hate and harassment as part of running a successful news business.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t have a credible conservative point of view in our media — quite the opposite. If we’ve learned nothing else from the 2016 presidential election, it’s that we must find a way to foster robust and healthy discussion and debate. Our news channels should be just such places.

So, farewell to the age of Ailes. The late Fox chief pledged Americans fair and balanced news. Maybe now we’ll get it.

Conservative students file suit against U.C. Berkeley over Coulter event

The controversy over Ann Coulter’s appearance erupted when two groups announced plans for an upcoming speech by the best-selling conservative author. | Bridget Mulcahy

Conservative students file suit against U.C. Berkeley over Coulter event

BERKELEY — Charging that the University of California has attempted to “restrict conservative free speech’’ regarding author Ann Coulter’s appearance on campus, two Berkeley student groups filed suit Monday in federal court to challenge the university’s efforts to reschedule her April 27 event.

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Northern California on behalf of two organizations — the national Young America’s Foundation and the UC Berkeley College Republicans — names UC President Janet Napolitano and university officials, including the head of the campus police department, as defendants.

San Francisco attorney Harmeet Dhillon, a Republican National Committee member who is representing the student groups, said in an interview that progressive leaders including Sen. Bernie Sanders, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, and Rep. Keith Ellison have all spoken up for the right of the student groups in Berkeley, the “birthplace of the Free Speech Movement” to schedule Coulter’s address.

“It’s the right thing to do,” she said. “The students have a right to hear different voices on campus. They have a right to invite speakers we have a right to hear.”

Her suit maintains that UC Berkeley officials “freely admit that they have permitted the demands of a faceless, rabid, off-campus mob to dictate what speech is permitted the center of campus during prime time — and which speech may be marginalized, burdened, and regulated out of its very existence by this unlawful heckler’s veto.”

The controversy over Coulter’s appearance erupted when the two groups announced plans for an April 27 speech by Coulter, a best-selling conservative author.

University officials, citing recent politically-generated violence on campus and in the city, at first said they had received information that suggested Coulter’s personal safety would be at risk and canceled the event. Then they rescheduled the event for May 2 — prompting both the conservative groups and Coulter herself to balk, contending that the new date, during the university’s “dead week,’’ was unacceptable.

University officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Dhillon’s filing charges that at one of California’s leading public universities, UC Berkeley officials have consistently aimed “to restrict and stifle the speech of conservative students whose voices fall beyond the campus political orthodoxy.”

“Though UC Berkeley promises its students an environment that promotes free debate and the free exchange of ideas,” the lawsuit argues, it has “breached the promise” simply because that “expression may anger or offend students, UC Berkeley administrators, and/or community members who do not share Plantiffs’ viewpoints.”

Coulter, on Twitter, announced “our lawsuit” Monday, but Dhillon told POLITICO that she does not represent the author — only the two student groups seeking to schedule her talk.