DATE September 28, 2000 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Peter Baker of The Washington Post discusses the
politics of the Clinton impeachment trial
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Peter Baker's new book "The Breach" is about the impeachment of President
Clinton, but it isn't about cigars and thongs. It's about the secret deals
that were made, or nearly made, behind the scenes involving all three branches
of government. Baker covered the impeachment for The Washington Post. After
the end of the Senate trial, he conducted about 350 related interviews and
read thousands of pages of documents that have never been made public. I
asked him if his understanding of the impeachment changed after the research
he conducted for the book.
Mr. PETER BAKER (Author, "The Breach"): I think I understood a little bit
more that it wasn't inevitable. I think in hindsight we all look back at it
and think, `Oh, you know, the House was always going to impeach and the Senate
was always going to acquit,' and it would always turn out to be the way it
did. But, in fact, when you go back and talk to the people involved, you
recognize that there were any number of pivot points, any number of very
important junctures at which this could have turned out very differently.
History would have been a very different story if at any of these critical
moments people had made decisions differently. And I thought that was
GROSS: Let's look at some of those critical points at which the story could
have taken a completely different turn. For example, Bob Livingston, who was
the House speaker, wanted to go for censure. He was thinking of censure, and
not impeachment. Why was there a moment when he was thinking about censure?
Mr. BAKER: Bob Livingston who, of course, had dethroned Newt Gingrich after
the 1998 elections, struggled with this, I think, from the beginning.
Initially after the elections, he told Dick Gephardt, the House minority
leader, that he was open to censure as an option. But Tom DeLay, who was the
real power at that point in the Republican caucus, kept convincing him, kept
talking to him why censure was a bad idea and they shouldn't allow it. And he
came around to that view himself, and he said he wouldn't allow censure.
But then on the day the impeachment debate opened in the House, the day it
went to the floor of the House in December of 1998, Livingston was back in a
cloak room off the floor, and he just had a moment of doubt. He suddenly said
to an aide, `This is craziness. This must stop.' And he told the aide to
convene a meeting because they were going to have a censure vote instead of
impeachment. And the aide, who had just learned about the secret Juanita
Broaddrick evidence, which is the allegation of sexual assault against the
president, told Livingston he couldn't do it. He said, `Bob, you can't.
There's a rapist in the White House,' and they talked about it and Livingston
agreed that Clinton was guilty of impeachable crimes and should be impeached,
and his resolve was strengthened. But it came that close to calling off
GROSS: On the other hand, there was a moment when Dick Gephardt, the House
Democratic leader, was considering asking Clinton to resign if an impeachable
offense was found.
Mr. BAKER: Yeah, the congressional Democrats like Clinton only slightly more
than the congressional Republicans. And so in August and September of 1998,
when the president first admitted that he had misled the nation and he went to
the grand jury and the Starr report was coming out, Gephardt was very much
holding his own counsel. He was very much not certain which way he would go
on this. And he told the chief Democratic investigator who was going to be
looking at the evidence that he needed to let him know what was really in
there, because if it came down to it, he would have to go to the White House
and tell Clinton to resign.
GROSS: And what about Henry Hyde--anything he was considering
differently--the head of the House Judiciary Committee?
Mr. BAKER: Henry Hyde, of course, was the head of the Judiciary Committee,
the lead manager, once it got to the Senate trial. And he was always the
public face of impeachment. He was sort of the lead crusader, if you will,
and he very much believed in that cause. But in a private moment--throughout,
in fact--he doubted whether they would actually succeed. He's a long-time
congressman and he's a pragmatist. He understand vote counting, and he knew
he didn't have the votes in the Senate, most likely, and so privately he was
conducting secret negotiations with the White House, through intermediaries
and then eventually directly, in which he was trying to find a back-channel
compromise. These are meetings that were so clandestine at the time that
people didn't even tell their own aides about them.
And Hyde proposed a rather amazing deal. He proposed that if Clinton accepted
impeachment, if he stopped fighting impeachment in the House, then Hyde would
make sure it didn't go to trial in the Senate. He would work out a deal with
Trent Lott and the president would be censured and then it would be over. And
the White House, of course, couldn't accept impeachment, couldn't sort of lay
down and simply roll over on that, and so they rejected the deal.
GROSS: Now what did President Clinton almost do differently?
Mr. BAKER: Well, you know, things would have been different for him had
Democrats, early on in August and September of '98, abandon him. You know, he
survived through this whole thing with sort of a gritty determination never to
resign, but in part that was founded on the premise that his own party would
stick with him. It was never the Republicans who could force Clinton from
office; it was always the Democrats, in the same way that it was Barry
Goldwater and fellow Republicans who forced Richard Nixon from office. And
the White House knew this.
But in August of 1998, President Clinton's position was far more precarious
than we really understood with his own fellow Democrats. Gephardt, as we
talked about, was actively considering whether he might have to go to the
White House and tell Clinton to resign. He had his staff do a count of how
many House Democrats might vote for impeachment at that point, and his staff
came up with a hundred names--a hundred out of a 206-member caucus were
possible pro-impeachment votes at that point. Tom Daschle, the top Democrat
in the Senate, he wouldn't even take the president's calls he was so angry.
Harold Ickes, a former top aide to the president, really the mastermind of his
1996 re-election, was going around town secretly talking to important
Democrats and labor leaders about whether they should come to a point of
having to go to the president and urge him to resign.
So really it was very close to the edge, and the White House people were
convinced that had one or two important, prominent Democrats come out for
resignation that it would have started a stampede, and the president never
would have been able to survive.
GROSS: Now these examples that you're giving us of what happened behind the
scenes, do you think that they show how polarized Congress was during
impeachment or how close Congress came to cutting a deal?
Mr. BAKER: Well, I think it was a very polarized situation and it was very
partisan, and it was very partisan on both sides. You know, a lot of the
discussion about how Congress handled this focused on Republican partisanship,
and it was certainly there. But the Democrats also used partisanship as a
weapon, as a shield for the president in a very deliberate way. Once Gephardt
decided that he would stick with Clinton, once he decided that the Starr
report hadn't damaged the president's public standing to the point where he
couldn't survive, he formulated a strategy that would--along with the other
Democrats that essentially manufactured partisanship in order to delegitimize
the process. In other words, have as many partisan votes as they could over
how many ever issues they could find, because the more partisan it was, the
more of a food fight it seemed to the general public, and it would never be
seen as credible.
GROSS: Well, Dick Gephardt also came up with, as you describe it, a kind of
complicated censure compromise.
Mr. BAKER: He did, yeah. He did come around to the president's defense, but
he also was legitimately angry at the president and thought that he had done
things that were worthy of punishment. And he came up with his own secret
censure plan. It would not only censure the president--reprimand him, if you
will, for what he had done--but it would also take away his pension for five
years. And that would have cost the president $750,000 over five years, and
it also would have imposed reforms on the way the president had, in Gephardt's
view, `misused' executive privilege and the use of the White House counsel's
office, basically, as a personal defense team for him.
But the plan actually went nowhere, and then the reason why, again, was not
the Republicans. It was the fellow Democrats. Hillary Clinton, who had been
the family's main bread winner for all these years--all the savings of the
Clinton family essentially are hers--didn't want to sacrifice $750,000 for
this. And the House Democrats, other members of Congress, said, `Whoa, wait a
second. You're going to take a politician's pension away for bad behavior?'
This is a precedent they didn't want to see happen.
GROSS: Now the story from the book that has made the most news is what you
call `David Kendall's longest walk.'
Mr. BAKER: Yeah, that's right.
GROSS: David Kendall is the president's lawyer who represented him--you know,
one of the lawyers who represented him during impeachment. Describe what
happened--what this walk was about.
Mr. BAKER: Well, in August of 1998, of course Ken Starr came up with the blue
dress from Monica Lewinsky and the DNA evidence that was inevitably going to
prove that the president had had a sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky. And he
had to go to the grand jury and testify about it. Well, a few days before he
went to the grand jury, he realized the story was about to come out, and he
had to make sure that somebody talked to Hillary Clinton. And he didn't want
to be the one to talk to Hillary Clinton, at least not at first. And so the
person who went and broke the news to her that the president was going to
change his story to the grand jury and then admit to the nation that he had
had a sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky, the person who was charged with
doing that was David Kendall, his lawyer.
And in some ways if the president wasn't going to do it himself, Kendall was
sort of an obvious emissary. He not only had attorney-client privilege, but
he also had represented Mrs. Clinton for many years through Whitewater, and
the two were very close--he was a confidante of hers, and she trusts him like
very few other people. And so he did have to take what had to have been the
longest walk of his career over to the East Wing of the White House to explain
to the first lady of the United States that he husband, in fact, was going to
tell the nation that he had been with another woman.
GROSS: My guest is Washington Post reporter Peter Baker. His new book about
the impeachment is called "The Breach." We'll be back after a break. This is
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Washington Post reporter Peter
Baker, and his new book "The Breach" is about what happened politically behind
the scenes during the impeachment process. And Baker covered the impeachment
process for The Washington Post.
Let's talk a little bit about the debates in the White House, about when and
what Clinton should say to the American public at about the time of the grand
jury appearance, you know, regarding his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
You say that Mickey Kantor, the former Commerce secretary, who was still
occasionally advising the president on damage control, he advocated having
Clinton pre-empt Starr by addressing the nation the night before the grand
jury appearance, but his lawyers were horrified. Talk a little bit about that
Mr. BAKER: Well, that was part of this rather extraordinary few days when the
White House was consumed with how to handle this, how to get on top of it.
They all knew the president had to change his story at that point, and however
much they wanted to believe he had been telling the truth, they all knew that
he hadn't been at that point. And so they thought maybe it would be a good
idea if they--Mickey Kantor thought maybe it would be a good idea to sort of
one-up Kenneth Starr by admitting it to the country first. But lawyers don't
like that kind of thing. Defense lawyers like David Kendall want to be able
to control how their client testifies and the statements that he makes and
to do it in a legal setting as much as possible. So that was never something
that they wanted to do.
And there was a big discussion, a big fight, really, after the grand jury
testimony that Monday, August 17th, 1998, as to what the president should say
to the nation on television. How much should he be contrite? Should he
mention Ken Starr? Should he express his own bitterness? And, in fact, most
of his political advisers told him not to. Stick to the apology. Don't say
anything about Ken Starr. Don't talk about how you don't think this is fair.
But the president rejected their advice, and he was egged on by some of his
more hard-line advisers, like Mickey Kantor, Sidney Blumenthal, and even his
wife. And he ended up, of course, giving a speech that bristled with defiance
and resentment and bitterness, and sort of took away from the message of
contrition that most of his staff thought he should be delivering.
GROSS: Now there were other drafts written by staff and supporters. What
were those other drafts like? Did you see them?
Mr. BAKER: Yeah. Some of them were much more contrite. They received one
from Bob Shrum, the old Kennedy wordsmith, who was so contrite to the point
they felt--even the staff thought Clinton should be more apologetic. They
thought that draft went overboard, it was too abject. It would weaken him and
So there are several variations of the theme at work--lots of paper all
around--and then, of course, the president's own hand-scrawled version as he
sat there in the solarium of the White House scribbling on a piece of paper,
literally writing it minutes before the speech.
GROSS: So President Clinton really did write that speech himself.
Mr. BAKER: He wrote a lot--I mean, it really was his speech. I mean, he
took things other people wrote and he adjusted and he rewrote and he
redrafted. You know, a lot of his aides say that we, the public and the
media, complain that he's so scripted. They said, `Wow, look at this speech.
This is what he really thinks. This is not scripted by his staff. This is
exactly what the president really feels in his heart.' And so good or bad,
that was a true representation of his honest emotion.
GROSS: Now you say that when Kenneth Starr's office decided to videotape the
president's testimony, that Clinton and his staff were pretty confident that
his would eventually be seen by the public. So they played it with the
assumption that everything that the president said would be seen and heard by
Mr. BAKER: Right.
GROSS: How was he prepped before that videotaped questioning?
Mr. BAKER: They had--David Kendall and Nicole Seligman and his other lawyers
had worked with the president to come up with what were called set pieces.
They came up with 14 sort of mini speeches that he could give before the grand
jury that would sort of present his point of view and his interpretation of
events. In effect, he was filibustering. They would ask him some question,
and then he would use it as an opportunity to get across a point that he
wanted to make, whether it was really directly related to the question or not.
And they knew that Starr had agreed to a strict, four-hour time limit, and so
the more the president talked, they figure, in these set pieces, the more he
would control the interview, and the more he would present his side in what
they were certain was going to be shown to the general public eventually, and
of course they were right.
GROSS: What's an example of one of those set speeches?
Mr. BAKER: Well, I think he just wanted to portray things in his own light.
He had a written statement that he read in the beginning in which he used
careful language as to how he admitted having relations with Monica Lewinsky
without actually using the words. He never wanted to use words like, you
know, `oral sex' or anything else more explicit like that. And he refused to
be drawn into the discussion of specific acts, because he knew again it would
sort of--you know, if you had a president using very explicit language like
that on a videotape that was sure to be shown in public, that would become the
defining image of his presidency. As it was, of course, you know, it may be a
defining image, but at least he wasn't saying words that would be sort of
recorded forever as a sort of embarrassing moment.
GROSS: So he stuck more to terms like `inappropriate behavior,' or
`inappropriate sexual banter.'
Mr. BAKER: Yeah, `inappropriate behavior.' Right. Exactly. Exactly.
That's a good example. He wouldn't use terms like `phone sex' or things like
that. How humiliating it would be for him to be known for decades and
centuries to come as the president, you know, with the sound bite of those
kind of words coming from his mouth.
GROSS: Now you write that House Majority Whip Tom DeLay started a war room
for the impeachment. What happens in this war room?
Mr. BAKER: Well, they did all sorts of things. They tried to create an
environment in which it was harder for Republicans to vote against impeachment
than for it. Every day they would sent out messages and memos and so forth to
all the different Republican congressmen. They would send out blasts faxes to
conservative radio talk shows around the country. They would collect the
names of Republican congressmen who had called for resignation and then try to
serve as sort of a booking agency with media outlets to get these people on
the air. They talked with Republican leaders and activists in congressmen's
districts to sort of stir up as much support for impeachment as they could.
They researched things in the National Archives, including Hillary Clinton's
involvement as a young lawyer for the Watergate impeachment effort.
And when push came to shove, when it got close down to the wire and Henry Hyde
had allowed a censure resolution to be voted on in the committee, Tom DeLay
did what he could to keep it from ever being allowed on the floor. And an
aide went around writing letters in the name of Henry Hyde and Bob Livingston
and Newt Gingrich that effectively closed off censure as an option, and they
went around getting signatures on these letters, and they were all put out, in
effect, by DeLay, but his name was never on any of them. So he was sort of
orchestrating the effort at every single step along the way to the point he
could in order to create this environment.
GROSS: Why wouldn't he have wanted his name on that letter?
Mr. BAKER: Well, because it wasn't his letter to write. Formally it was up
to the speaker of the House to make a decision on that. And I think that he
recognized he could be only so public and only so prominent in his leadership
of impeachment, that he was becoming something of a boogeyman to Democrats, he
was an easy target. If he was too public about it, then they would make him
the issue and not Clinton. And so he tried to be both public, but also
private, also subtle in the way he did things.
People talked at the time, `Oh, well, Tom DeLay must be breaking arms with
congressmen.' Well, he was smarter than that, actually, and more clever than
that, at least. When one congressman, for instance, was wavering and the
word got back to DeLay, DeLay didn't call him himself to say, `Hey, vote for
impeachment.' Instead he tracked down a conservative rabbi who knew this
congressman and said, `Hey, you call him and see if you can talk him in to
impeachment,' and that rabbi did call him and, in fact, that congressman did
vote for impeachment.
GROSS: Peter Baker is a reporter for The Washington Post. His new book is
called "The Breach." He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry
Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music by Andy Biskin)
GROSS: Coming up, Kevin Whitehead reviews the debut CD by clarinetist and
composer Andy Biskin. We're listening to it now. Maureen Corrigan reviews
the new true crime book "The Island of Lost Maps." And we continue our talk
on the politics of impeachment, and hear about the repercussions of Larry
Flynt's investigation into the private lives of congressmen.
(Soundbite of music by Andy Biskin)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Peter Baker of The
Washington Post. He covered the impeachment of President Clinton. When the
Senate trial was over, Baker conducted hundreds of further interviews and got
access to documents that hadn't been made public. His new book about what
went on behind the scenes during the impeachment is called "The Breach."
One of the little dramas during the impeachment process was the Larry Flynt
story. And he threatened to expose several congressmen who he never really
said anything public about.
Mr. BAKER: Yeah.
GROSS: But you say that the investigative work that he was doing behind the
scenes still had its repercussions.
Mr. BAKER: Well, there was a real atmosphere of fear among congressmen,
particularly Republicans. Just the fact of Larry Flynt out there was
terrifying to them. He had put an ad in The Washington Post, I hate to say,
for--advertising million-dollar bounty, if you will, to people who came
forward with stories of sexual indiscretions by congressmen and other high
officials. And what had happened through the fall was several congressmen had
had their own private misdeeds exposed, including Henry Hyde. And so a number
of the managers, the people who would prosecute the president in the Senate
trial, were convinced that they were the next target.
One congressman got phone calls to his office threatening to out him as gay,
even though he says he, of course, is not. But the fact that he's
conservative and from a Southern district, just the whisper of that would be
damaging. Another congressman feared that he was on the list and so he had
sort of a cleansing conversation with his wife in which he sort of admitted
all, all of the things that maybe she wouldn't have liked to have known, just
so she wouldn't hear about them from anybody else. And, of course, it turned
out he wasn't actually on Larry Flynt's list. So there as a real atmosphere
of fear that these people were living through at the time.
GROSS: How do you feel about your newspaper, The Washington Post, printing
that advertisement that Larry Flynt took out looking for people who were
willing to confess secret affairs that they'd had with adulterous congressmen?
Mr. BAKER: Well, you know, obviously, that's--our ad policy is that we
accept ads, and that's what a newspaper does, but, you know, given our
druthers, maybe we wouldn't have liked to have seen that in there. But the
paper's policy is to accept ads from people, even if we don't agree with them.
GROSS: What kind of response did you get to those ads when you were going
about your business reporting on the impeachment?
Mr. BAKER: I think most people recognized that it wasn't a Washington Post
effort, that it wasn't about what The Washington Post was doing, that it was
what Larry Flynt had done and that we were just simply the vehicle that he
paid to advertise in. So nobody, I don't think--people weren't holding it
against The Post, thank goodness. But again, people were very angry about it,
and they--you know, the Republicans suspected that Larry Flynt was sort of
working in cahoots with the White House. And I don't know that there's any
evidence of that, but it certainly fostered an atmosphere of suspicion and
GROSS: Now you say that for this book, after the impeachment, you read
thousands of documents that were never made public. What were among the most
interesting things that you got to see?
Mr. BAKER: Well, some people shared their diaries with me. Some people
shared some of the investigative files, their internal memos over strategy.
Both the Democrats and the Republicans wrote out memos summarizing some of the
secret evidence that was in Ken Starr's office that he never sent over. And
it was filled with rather sensational and lurid stories about the president,
most of them presumably unsubstantiated but certainly very tabloid-esque. And
people literally let me go through their file cabinets because I think they
understood that this was a seminal moment in history and that it was important
to record it as much as possible for posterity.
GROSS: So what role did those secret stories about the president, those
tabloid-esque stories, that Kenneth Starr had that were unsupported--what role
did those stories play during the impeachment, do you think?
Mr. BAKER: Well, some of them, I think, helped strengthen the resolve of
congressmen who weren't quite sure what to do. Quite a number of them
actually went to see the Juanita Broaddrick evidence, which we all know
about now, prior to the vote. And, you know, a number of them were probably
leaning to vote for impeachment anyway, but certainly afterwards, I think they
came away with a sense of revulsion at the president and also a fear that they
couldn't let this go sort of unaddressed, even if Juanita Broaddrick and any
instances like that were not formally part of the charges or the Articles of
Impeachment in front of them.
GROSS: Was it legit for Kenneth Starr to show this unsubstantiated
information to congressmen?
Mr. BAKER: Well, that wasn't Starr's fault. I mean, he was told--he was
asked to show them everything. I mean, both Democrats and Republicans kept
showering him with letters saying, `Show us what you haven't shown us. Show
us what you haven't given us.' And he simply complied with their wishes. So
he let them into his vault to look around and to record what they saw as being
GROSS: Now you say at the end of your book that this book is not going to
have a lot of footnotes because you can't reveal most of your sources. What
kind of confidentiality did your sources want in talking to you about the
impeachment and the secret deals behind the scenes?
Mr. BAKER: Well, unfortunately, it's part of the culture in Washington right
now in which people don't speak on the record as often as we think they should
or I think that they should. And the problem was that a number of people did
speak to me freely and happily on the record, but enough others didn't that if
you started getting into a game of who did and who didn't, you start
identifying the ones who requested confidentiality. And so from my
perspective, it was more important to try to get the full story and then
corroborate it as much as possible, and that's what I tried to do. Most of
the conversations we have in the book are based not merely on people's
recollections, but often, in many cases, on notes that were taken in meetings,
memos that recorded the conversations that were going on, anything we could to
try to substantiate, corroborate, double-check and confirm.
GROSS: My guest is Washington Post reporter Peter Baker. His new book about
the impeachment is called "The Breach." More after a break. This is FRESH
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Peter Baker is my guest, reporter for The Washington Post. His new
book, "The Breach," is about what happened behind the scenes in secret in the
political process during the impeachment.
During the impeachment process when you were covering the story for The
Washington Post, did either side, the Democrats or the Republicans, or Kenneth
Starr's office, ever approach you with leaks?
Mr. BAKER: Well, leaks are part and parcel of the trade in Washington. It's
part of how we do business. But, you know, I think there is a misimpression
in general among the public that stories are almost always generated by leaks,
that reporters, somehow, are merely passive vessels who wait for our phone
call every day from Deep Throat I or Deep Throat II, passing along some
scurrilous thing that we simply transmit into the paper without scrutiny.
And it really doesn't work that way. It's a much more complicated situation
in which reporters hear things, get tips, check things out. We go to one
source and we ask them about this and they only tell you a tiny, little bit.
And then you go to the next person and you use the little bit of information
you got from the first one to try to get a little bit more out of the second
one. And then you take those two bits of information, you go to the third guy
and so forth and so on. And so it's rarely a simple, or clear-cut as I think
the public often sees it.
GROSS: Are there ever times when you feel like you're being used as the
reporter with the leak and that the leak is really about a self-serving
reason that the source has for wanting you to print it?
Mr. BAKER: Well, very few people talk to reporters without be self-serving.
I mean, it's no--you know, we talk to reporters because we want to get our
side out, if nothing else, even if there's nothing particularly venal about
it. And a good reporter just factors that in and tries to screen out what
seems to be, you know, purely self-interest and whittle it down to actual
facts as much as possible, the truth as much as possible and, of course, we
are always constantly balancing those things. You talk to enough people on
enough sides and hopefully, you know, the sum total of the information you're
being given--albeit each piece borne out of somebody's self-interest, the sum
total of it hopefully adds up to a fuller and more complete and more accurate
GROSS: Last week the independent prosecutor Robert Ray ended the Whitewater
investigation saying he concluded there was insufficient evidence to show that
either Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton committed any crimes in connection with
the Whitewater venture. But Robert Ray said he was still deciding whether to
indict President Clinton after he leaves office over his sworn statement in
connection with his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. What do you think
still faces the president now?
Mr. BAKER: Well, you know, we talk about impeachment, but the president has
already since then--he has paid an $850,000 settlement to Paula Jones. He was
found in contempt of court by a federal judge in Arkansas and fined another
$90,000 and he faces a Bar Association complaint to take away his law license
in Arkansas, all of this before Ray even makes his decision. And all of these
things may play in to Ray's decision as to whether to indict following the
president leaving office, but I think that--I think Ray has an awfully tough
road ahead of him if he really plans to try to indict him because he has to
find A, a grand jury that will indict him--that may be easier than--but then
he has to find a regular jury to convict him, and that has to factor into any
prosecutor's decision. And finding 12 people in this--in this country right
now who would be open to the idea of conviction, all 12 of them, I think would
be tough. People think it's been two years and they're ready to move on and
whether they think he was guilty of the crimes or not, it might be hard to get
a unanimous verdict from a jury.
GROSS: Have you been following the Hillary Clinton-Rick Lazio Senate
campaign in New York?
Mr. BAKER: Oh, who hasn't been? It's a great race.
GROSS: Did you feel like the impeachment story is still playing out in some
way in that race?
Mr. BAKER: Well, I mean, of course, in some ways it does. You know, this
race was borne out of impeachment. The very day in February of 1999 that the
Senate was taking its final vote whether to convict or acquit the president,
Hillary Clinton was at the White House meeting with Harold Ickes discussing
her perspective Senate race. So literally the day that they were passing
judgment on her husband, she was trying to figure out how to join them. And
her popularity, of course, that enabled this rather extraordinary campaign to
be mounted in the first place was generated out of sort of a public
reappraisal of her that came about as a result of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
And so today it's still playing out and I think that it both helps and hurts
her. There are a number of New Yorkers who I know who are--seem to be
Democrats, seem to be normally people who would support her, and yet are
really angry still with her, don't see why she acted in the way she did. And
so the fact that it's even a race in a state that's so heavily Democratic and
that Al Gore will clearly most likely win by a substantial margin, the fact
that Mrs. Clinton has--still has a competitive race I think is partly a
result of the ambivalence the public has following all these actions in 1998
GROSS: Your book is so much about the polarization of Congress today. In
January, you leave Washington to go to Moscow where you'll report for The
Washington Post. Did you say to your editors, `Get me out of here. I've
covered American politics too long'?
Mr. BAKER: Well, politics there is a little simpler. If they don't like what
you say about them, they simply through you in jail.
Mr. BAKER: But, no, it was a great opportunity for my wife and me. My wife,
Susan Glaser(ph), works at The Washington Post as well and we both had a
long-time interest in Russia and thought this was a good time of our lives to
go explore a different place, and it will be a contrast and--to Washington,
where we spent an awful lot of years.
GROSS: Well, good luck to you when you go.
Mr. BAKER: Thank you. Thank you very much.
GROSS: And thanks so much for talking with us.
Mr. BAKER: Oh, I appreciate it. Thanks for having me.
GROSS: Peter Baker's new book about the impeachment of President Clinton is
called "The Breach." Baker will become Washington Post Moscow bureau chief in
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Review: Andy Biskin's new CD "Dogmental"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has some great music to introduce us to.
After the swing era of the 1930s, the jazz clarinet seemed in danger of
extinction, but lately there's been a major resurgence of interest in the
instrument. Kevin says one clarinetist worth watching is Andy Biskin, as
much for his composing as his playing. Born in Texas, Biskin lived in New
York where he worked for a time as an assistant to folklorist Alan Lomax. In
the 1990s, Biskin started a couple of bands, both heard on his new CD, but he
started on the road to being a leader when he was 15 and came across some old
sheet music at a store in his native San Antonio. Kevin reviews Biskin's
(Soundbite of instrumental)
KEVIN WHITEHEAD reporting:
Clarinetist Andy Biskin got his initial inspiration as composer and band
leader, from old arrangement for small wind bands he'd stumbled on as a
teen-ager back in Texas. Some of those charts date from the 1930s. That may
be why his pieces recall early jazz and old social music in various ways.
Short solos alternate with tightly arranged passages. The rhythm section
plays two-beat oompah rhythms once in awhile. And his quintet has a trumpet,
clarinet and trombone front line like an old New Orleans jazz band. Even so,
the sound he gets from those old ingredients is quite fresh. You can't pin
his music down to any one period or style.
(Soundbite of instrumental)
WHITEHEAD: Andy Biskin's compositions tend to be light in tone, even a bit
frothy at times, but they have real substance. His tunes often have a
transparent logic as if he was still working through the basics he'd picked up
from those old music books. One favorite ploy is to take a riff, expand or
contract it in time and then extend it into a longer line. He grows a whole
tune from a small seed.
(Soundbite of instrumental)
WHITEHEAD: That's Andy Biskin's tune "Table Manners." It's from his new CD
"Dogmental" on the GM label. Biskin is a good clarinet player too with a
full and liquid tone and a knack for nimble phrasing. His style is
appropriately slippery in keeping with the way he writes.
(Soundbite of instrumental)
WHITEHEAD: His new CD mostly features his quintet with trumpeter Ron Horton,
bassist Ben Allison and drummer Matt Wilson, all fine players. There are also
a few tracks by his earlier quartet recorded in 1996. Both bands include
trombonist Bruce Eidam. In New York, he works a lot in big bands and Broadway
shows, but he's a strong soloist too. Eidam really brings out the blues
feeling latent in some of this music.
(Soundbite of instrumental)
WHITEHEAD: Andy Biskin's quartet and quintet both favor a spare, open texture
that comes from not having a piano on board. The downside is, Biskin the
composer can be a bit too fond of two-chord bass vamps to anchor the blowing.
Still, that's a minor beef compared to what he's accomplished, making modern
music using old ideas. It's as if he picked through the rubble of collapsed
buildings, collecting a door here and a window frame there and some lumber
around back, and then built himself a handsome, new house.
GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is the author of "New Dutch Swing." He reviewed
"Dogmental," the debut recording by the Andy Biskin Quintet.
(Soundbite of instrumental)
GROSS: Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews the true crime book "The Island of
Lost Maps." This is FRESH AIR.
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Review: Miles Harvey's "The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story
of Cartographic Crime"
TERRY GROSS, host:
In "The Island of Lost Maps," writer Miles Harvey leads his readers into the
world of antiquarian map collecting. If that sounds to you like a flat topic,
book critic Maureen Corrigan says that, like Columbus, you're in for a
MAUREEN CORRIGAN reporting:
True-life, extreme adventure stories continue to sit atop the best-seller's
list like flags planted on Mt. Everest, but this season's newest and hottest
extreme adventure tale takes place neither on a mountaintop nor out on a
tempest-tossed sea, rather most of the action occurs in a library. "The
Island of Lost Maps" by former Outside magazine editor Miles Harvey is an
engrossing story concerning the one essential item any thrill-seeker or
explorer needs before he or she departs for a far-off place. That is a map.
But as Harvey notes, the maps that he's writing about in his book don't lead
to treasure, rather they are treasure.
"The Island of Lost Maps" takes readers deep into the strange world of
antiquarian maps, a world constructed out of rare book rooms, private
collectors' studies and the occasional auction house, places of refinement and
dust. Harvey penetrates this world in the role of a detective on the trail of
one of the greatest cartographic criminals of all-time, a mystery man
appropriately named Gilbert Bland Jr.
In the 1980s and '90s as the market for hitherto, unregarded, old maps began
to boom, Bland strolled into the rare book rooms of research libraries across
the United States and Canada, requested centuries-old atlases and when no one
was looking, razored out their maps in cold blood. Bland was caught in
December of 1995 at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. A graduate student in
history, who was sharing the otherwise empty stack room with him on that
winter's day, noticed his slash-and-dash operation and alerted security. Even
then, the Baltimore police were reluctant to arrest Bland, especially after he
offered to pay the library in cash on the spot to repair the damaged books.
After all, the guy had only stolen a few pieces of paper. When Bland paid the
library and left the scene; however, he also left behind a notebook, a virtual
shopping list of other libraries whose collections he had desecrated over the
past few months. That's when the hunt for Bland began in earnest.
Harvey's book follows the by now standard and successful formula for true
adventure tales, like say Sebastian Junger's "A Perfect Storm," which
chronicled not only a single disastrous fishing trip in the north Atlantic,
but also told us readers all we never knew we wanted to know about commercial
swordfishing, search-and-rescue operations and near-death drowning
experiences. "The Island of Lost Maps" fans out to give us many histories of
map stealing and the science of cartography, as well as engrossing individual
descriptions of exotic maps and atlases. Harvey sometimes strains too hard
after symbolic significance, especially when he tries to fashion Bland into a
mirror image of his own shadow self. But mostly, he tells a fascinating and,
to book lovers, an ultimately horrifying tale.
Security in most rare book collections in the United States has usually been
kept to a democratic minimum. Any reader with a valid ID could lay his or her
hands on priceless volumes. Although major research libraries have tightened
their security, they're reluctant to turn themselves into museums. And so as
one rare book consultant tells Harvey, `It's still the case that any halfway
smart undergraduate student can pay his way through four years at a major
university for the price of a razor blade.'
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "The Island of Lost Maps" by Miles Harvey.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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