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'Clinton Vs. Starr': The Definitive Account
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
In this time of extreme partisan division in Washington, a new book re-examines
the impeachment of President Clinton and the partisan divisions it represented.
The author, Ken Gormley, says he wanted to write a neutral, definitive book
about how an investigation into a real estate deal gone bad became an
investigation into President Clinton's affair with an intern and ended with the
president's impeachment by the House and acquittal in the Senate.
Gormley's new book is called "The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr."
Gormley interviewed Clinton and Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who led
the investigation. Gormley also spoke with many other key players in the story,
including Monica Lewinsky, Linda Tripp, Paula Jones, Susan McDougal and Henry
Hyde. Gormley is a professor and interim dean at Duquesne University Law
School. He's an expert on Watergate and special prosecutors, and wrote the book
"Archibald Cox: Conscience of A Nation."
Ken Gormley, welcome to FRESH AIR. Now, in your research of the Kenneth Starr
investigation, you say that President Clinton now thinks that his decision to
appoint an independent counsel to investigate Whitewater was one of the
greatest miscalculations of his presidency. Why did he do it in the first
place? Why did he want a special prosecutor?
Professor KENNETH GORMLEY (Law, Interim Dean, Duquesne University Law School;
Author): Well, I don't think he wanted a special prosecutor, Terry, but at the
time, you have to understand that the independent counsel law was viewed as a
good government measure.
It had been born during the aftermath of Watergate. It was viewed as a measure
designed to prevent that sort of scandal at the highest levels of the executive
branch from creating problems again. And President Clinton, in the election
campaign of 1992, had campaigned in favor of the independent counsel law. There
was almost no way out of it, out of signing that bill back into law.
I think at the time, he believed, and he told me that he believed, that this
would be a relatively quick and painless matter where folks would investigate
the Whitewater matter, see that the Clintons had had no involvement in any
wrongdoing by Jim McDougal, who was the individual in Arkansas who had really
masterminded that real estate deal and then turned it into Madison Guarantee
Savings and Loan investments that ended up defrauding the savings and loan
President Clinton and Mrs. Clinton believed that they had nothing to do with
any of this and that, pretty swiftly, that would be determined, and that would
be the end of it. It turned out not to be the case.
GROSS: Why didn't it go away? If they were really innocent of doing anything,
why did the investigation continue and get larger and larger?
Prof. GORMLEY: Well, that was what was so remarkable about working on this book
project, Terry. And I have to tell you after nine years of working on it, I
never got tired of it. You couldn't make up this story if you tried to invent
it in your wildest imagination, because it started with this relatively benign
Whitewater land deal, which was, you know, encompassed some other things,
including this Madison Guarantee Savings and Loan, masterminded by Jim
But because of this confluence of events and characters, it turned into the
second impeachment trial in the United States history. You had the totally
unexpected death of Vince Foster, while he was working in the White House.
You then, quickly on the heels of that, had the filing of the Paula Jones
lawsuit. And as a number of people told me, in looking back on this time who
were involved in it, people started connecting dots that didn't really connect,
and all of a sudden â and certainly there was a group of folks who believed
that Bill Clinton was the wrong person to be president under any circumstances,
and this kind of gave credence to their belief that he should never have been
in the White House in the first place.
And so all of these pieces of the scandal come together, almost like a perfect
storm, and then once we have the Monica Lewinsky revelations in the winter of
1998, that was just â almost blew the roof off of this thing and literally
almost led to the removal of President Clinton.
GROSS: You say that Hillary Clinton was almost indicted by the Office of the
Independent Counsel. This is something that you discovered, I believe.
Prof. GORMLEY: Well, it was known that there was discussion of indicting
Hillary Clinton, and this was around March and April of 1998, right in the
thick of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
This was one of the kind of exciting, heart-stopping moments in my research,
because I found a copy of the draft indictment of Hillary Clinton that no one
had ever seen - President Clinton, Hillary Clinton had never seen it.
It was somewhere where it shouldn't have been, and I was able to sit down and
actually read this document. And it was amazing because it turned out to be a
draft indictment of both Hillary Clinton and Webster Hubbell, who had been her
partner at the Rose Law Firm and then became deputy attorney general and had to
resign in the face of his own scandal.
But the effort to indict Hillary Clinton - what was so amazing about it was it
came about right at the time that the Monica Lewinsky investigation had sort of
stalled, and Starr's operation was looking for a way to put pressure to try to
make something give here. And so there was serious consideration to indicting
the first lady. There were attempts to indict Webster Hubbell again, to indict
Susan McDougal again, to make her talk. So all of this was pushing very hard in
about March and April of 1998 to try to finally break the logjam and get to
President Clinton on one of these charges.
GROSS: I can't tell from how you're describing it, whether you think this was
an effort on the part of the Office of the Independent Counsel to get to the
truth, or an effort to just impeach the president and get rid of him.
Prof. GORMLEY: Well, that's the million-dollar question, I guess. I did my best
to call this one down the middle and to let the major players themselves tell
the story in their own voices. Certainly Ken Starr and his prosecutors in the
Office of Independent Counsel believed that their job was to get the truth, and
they believed that Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton were lying and
stonewalling. And they reached this conclusion over a period of time, I
believe, so that when we get to the winter and spring of 1998, they were firmly
convinced that the Clintons were hiding things, that they were up to their ears
in some of â not only in the Whitewater-Madison Guarantee matters, but in
covering that up.
So in their mind, I believe they were trying to get to the truth. However, we
reached the point, and I put the point, I'd say, in the book when the Starr
office decides to expand into the Monica Lewinsky matter. And I believe that
Ken Starr, while a first-rate lawyer, was the last person in the world who
should have been appointed to deal with that particular investigation when half
the country at that point, rightly or wrongly, viewed him as biased, as being
on a witch hunt.
And I think that at that point, the independent counsel office was so deeply
distrustful of President and Mrs. Clinton, that they sort of lost their
composure as prosecutors, that they sort of lost their cool. And at that point,
I think they were set on getting President Clinton because they believed that
he was doing everything within his power to stonewall and to circumvent their
President Clinton, for his part, obviously, believed from the start that this
was nothing but a political witch hunt. And this was the problem, in my view,
Terry, and certainly I think that both sides deserve some responsibility here,
because both sides failed to exercise restraint.
It was as if in the name of their position that they believed so strongly was
true, and in President Clinton's mind, the Starr prosecutors were simply out to
oust him from office because they wanted a regime change - I think both sides
were willing to go for broke here and almost win at any cost. And there was
such a lack of restraint that it ended up leading to this train wreck that was
a terrible, terrible thing for the country.
GROSS: My guest is Ken Gormley, author of the new book "The Death of American
Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Ken Gormley. He's the author of
the new book "The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr." It's about the
Kenneth Starr investigation into President Clinton that led to the House
impeaching the president. He was acquitted in the Senate. And Ken Gormley is
the interim dean at the Duquesne University Law School, where he's also a
professor of law.
GROSS: Now, let me ask you about the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit against
President Clinton, and this â how does this tie into the special prosecutor's
investigation, first of all?
Prof. GORMLEY: Well, first of all, Paula Jones files this sexual harassment
suit in 1994, and it just intensifies the drumbeat for more investigations and
this notion that Clinton had a kind of serious character defect. But
ultimately, it becomes critical because it is through that Paula Jones lawsuit
that Monica Lewinsky is forced to testify, and instead, she signs this
affidavit that turns out to be false, denying any sexual relationship with
And it is through that Paula Jones lawsuit that President Clinton is forced to
take a deposition, and in that, he denies any sexual relationship with Monica
So everything is interconnected here, and without the Paula Jones lawsuit, you
cannot get to the Monica Lewinsky charges, which ended up being the principal
basis for the impeachment.
GROSS: Now, you discovered that President Clinton's lawyer, Bob Bennett, had
what you describe as a box full of surprise evidence that would create massive
problems for Paula Jones if her case came to a jury.
The most amazing thing you describe here is a 45-minute piece of raw film
footage of Paula Jones and her husband, Steve, discussing allegations against
President Clinton, and this was before her case had attracted national
attention. This was before the nation knew her name. Would you describe this
film and why Bob Bennett thought it would undermine Paula Jones?
Prof. GORMLEY: Well, yes. This was raw film footage that was taken for the film
"The Clinton Chronicles" that was a right-wing - extreme right-wing film aimed
at accusing President Clinton of all sorts of atrocities, including murder,
including running drugs in Arkansas and all sorts of things.
But this was right at the beginning...
GROSS: I want to stop you and just say Jerry Falwell was one of the producers
of the movie.
Prof. GORMLEY: Yes, that's correct. And this was in the beginning, Terry, of
the whole effort by Paula Jones to get her story national attention. And that's
what's so remarkable about it because this is, you know, in a very early stage,
where she's telling her own story before she's being handled by these PR gurus
like Susan Carpenter McMillan.
And this raw film footage, which I've seen and studied carefully, is really
remarkable because what's so significant about it is, if this were shown to a
jury, I believe it would undermine any notion of an aggrieved plaintiff who had
been exposed to something shocking - not that I'm saying one way or the other
whether the facts are true with respect to her allegations, but this was not a
woman who looked as if she was shell-shocked by the occurrences.
She's, you know, kind of being irreverent, blowing raspberries into the camera,
making jokes that have themselves little sexual innuendo and things like that,
with her husband, Steve, who clearly, intensely disliked President Clinton and
seemed like he wanted to punch his lights out for any number of reasons,
appearing on the film kind of coaching her along at times.
It just would have, as I think I said in the book, sort of lit a stink bomb in
the whole proceedings if it had been thrown in there as evidence. And Bob
Bennett, President Clinton's lawyer, was waiting to show that.
The other thing that was so significant, I think...
GROSS: Can I just stop you for a second?
Prof. GORMLEY: Oh, sure.
GROSS: I think you also mentioned in the film, like, she's laughing as she
describes the incident. She doesn't seem â you say she comes off like a cabaret
dancer, not like a traumatized victim of sexual harassment. And what you say
about her husband, who appears onscreen, he looked like an angry, would-be
actor who wanted to punch the president's lights out, in part because the
president made a pass at Stephen's then-fiancÃ©e, and in part because Steve
simply hated Clinton's guts.
So you were going to bring something up, and I interrupted you.
Prof. GORMLEY: Yes, well, it relates to that, and that is that what Bob Bennett
was also prepared to bring out to the jury that was very significant, I think,
and largely overlooked was - at the time, Paula Jones went up to that hotel
room in the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas, where the pass allegedly
occurred, she was engaged to Stephen Jones, and in fact, they got married seven
So, she did have a motive to shade the facts in her favor, and of course, the
conflicting evidence that was contrary to her version of the story with
President Clinton exposing himself and her being traumatized and all of that,
was Trooper Danny Ferguson, who said that she came out of the room and didn't
seem upset at all and in fact gave him a phone number to pass along to
President Clinton and said she wanted to be his girlfriend.
So, all I can say on this is that although large parts of her story may be
true, it's the five percent which has to do with her participation and
involvement in this that I just couldn't be certain about.
But what I can say, is that Bob Bennett had a lot of evidence that would, if he
had ever gone to trial on this, would certainly have made Paula Jones not a
GROSS: So Paula Jones filed her lawsuit in 1994. In 1997, just as Kenneth Starr
was wrapping up his investigation into Whitewater, you say that he made a
decision that altered his legacy, which was to authorize his team to interview
Arkansas women about past sexual liaisons with President Clinton. Why did he
make that decision?
Prof. GORMLEY: That's a very tough question to answer, in terms of just â one
of the true mysteries for me, why Ken Starr's team went down that path. When I
interviewed Bob Woodward, who wrote a story for the Washington Post that broke
that story that Starr's prosecutors were now interviewing women in Arkansas
with respect to their past potential relationships - sexual relationships with
President Clinton - he believed that this was a real pivotal moment in the
whole story, that something changed. It was almost as if you could feel the
One explanation, I believe, is that Ken Starr was hurting at this point. He had
just announced, shortly before that, the Whitewater investigation was wrapping
up. He announced that he was going to be leaving to become dean at Pepperdine
Law School, and he received so much flak from that, it totally caught him off
guard - from Republicans as well as Democrats, and I think he was hurt by the
fact that the White House sort of rubbed his nose in this.
And he had reached a sort of conclusion, with respect to Whitewater, and as he
told me, he took the approach that you have to turn over every stone to make
sure you weren't missing something and that women in Arkansas potentially could
have some information, if Clinton was intimate with them, with respect to this
whole Whitewater-McDougal thing.
But something about that still doesn't seem right. Something about that seems
as if the Office of Independent Counsel made a conscious decision to start
moving in a different direction, and in fact, it is from that beginning point
that it ends up linking up with the, otherwise wholly unrelated, Paula Jones
GROSS: Let's talk a little bit about Linda Tripp and her story. In early 1998,
she calls Jackie Bennett(ph), one of Kenneth Starr's investigators, and tells
him that she has tape she secretly made of phone conversations she had with
Monica Lewinsky, who had been an intern in the White House, and in these tapes,
Monica confesses about her relationship with Clinton.
So Jackie Bennett gets this phone call, and he decides to meet with Linda
Tripp, and he doesn't ask Kenneth Starr's approval first. Why is that
Prof. GORMLEY: Well, I thought it was significant because this was the most
important decision in Ken Starr's tenure as independent counsel. Should they
start moving into a totally new direction and meet with and investigate the
allegations of this woman, Linda Tripp, that President Clinton was about to â
hadn't done it yet â but was about to commit perjury in the Paula Jones
deposition that was coming up, based upon his denial of a relationship with
Jackie Bennett, one of Ken Starr's top prosecutors, did inform - keep Ken in
the loop and informed him that they were going to meet with Linda Tripp, but
this was not â and Ken told me he was focused on other things. He was focused
on, at the time, Whitewater and trying to bring those matters to closure in
But it was such a significant thing, and you have to understand that an
independent counsel, a special prosecutor under the law at this time, has a
specific charter that says what he can do in terms of an investigation. He is
not authorized to just go into whatever he may feel is worth investigating. He
has a very specific charge, and in this case, the charge was principally
Whitewater-Madison Guarantee and also the Vince Foster matter, later on.
Yet he allows his prosecutors to go into this significant new direction, to go
out and meet with Linda Tripp. And literally, within 24 hours, they have FBI
agents wiring up Linda Tripp as she goes to meet with Monica Lewinsky for lunch
to try to get all of this on tape.
That was just such a dramatic decision that altered, really, Ken Starr's legacy
in terms of â as Whitewater prosecutor, as special counsel here, unalterably -
yet it really happened without much input of Ken.
GROSS: Ken Gormley will be back in the second half of the show. His new book is
called "The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr." You can read an
excerpt of the first chapter on our Web site, freshair.npr.org. Gormley is a
professor and the interim dean at the Duquesne University Law School. I'm Terry
Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross, back with Ken Gormley, author of the
new book "The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr." He wants his book
to be the definitive neutral story of how an investigation into a real estate
deal gone bad became an investigation into President Clinton's affair with an
intern. Gormley spoke with many key players in the story, including Clinton,
Starr, Monica Lewinsky, Linda Tripp, Paula Jones, Susan McDougal and Henry
One of the things you learned in your investigation into the Kenneth Starr
investigation was that Kenneth Starr had hoped to use information from Linda
Tripp's tapes of Monica Lewinsky for the Starr Report. But right before the
report was published, he found out that there were serious problems with the
tape. What was wrong with the tapes?
Prof. GORMLEY: This was part of the story that never really came out at the
time. I was surprised to find it myself. But the Office of the Independent
Counsel - the Starr prosecutors - came to feel burned by Linda Tripp because
she had insisted that the tapes had not been altered in any way, yet FBI
analysis of the tapes indicated that there were erasures - a kind of harkening
us back to Watergate and the great Nixon mystery of erasures on the tapes. But
there were erasures made on those tapes, and that, in the minds of the Office
of the Independent Counsel, tainted the evidence.
And so they literally went back right at the final hour as they were completing
the Starr Report and removed references to all of those tapes, because they
believed they were now subject to attack. So by the end of it, even the Office
of the Independent Counsel didnât feel real good about Linda Tripp and her
cooperation with them, and that remains one of the puzzles as to whether there
were any significant erasures.
One of the principle things missing, I have to tell you, was she had talked
about the kind of smoking gun in terms of Vernon Jordan agreeing to get Monica
a job in return for lying in her affidavit, and there was no such statement in
those tapes. That key fact was missing, and that was a very significant
omission. Linda Tripp told me she had just failed to tape record that
conversation, or hadn't hooked up the gizmo properly. But that was a very
serious omission, because Starr's office had put a lot of stock in that when
they went forward in the first place to get permission to investigate the
GROSS: And they ended up not having any evidence.
Prof. GORMLEY: Yeah. And if you look at the Starr Report, one of the amazing
things is that this whole supposed connection with Vernon Jordan, there is very
little discussion of that and his getting jobs, you know, trying to get a job
for Monica Lewinsky - very little discussion to that in the Starr Report. In
fact, he began trying to get her a job in New York before she was on the
witness list, because she wanted to get out of Washington. President Clinton
had, in effect, ended the relationship. She was feeling terribly burned, and
she wanted to move to New York. And she ended up getting a job - as she pointed
out - that was probably half the pay of her job in Washington. So hardly a
great prize here. She just wanted help in moving and moving on with her life.
GROSS: There were conflicts between the Justice Department and the Special
Prosecutor's Office about various things. One of them was the wire tapping of
Linda Tripp. Now, Eric Holder, who's now the attorney general, figures into
this part of the story. He was an assistant attorney general during the
investigation. And so one of the things he said to you was that he didnât think
that the Office of the Independent Counsel really got the permission they
needed from the attorney general to wire tap Linda Tripp.
Prof. GORMLEY: Well, certainly Eric Holder, who was number two in command
after Janet Reno, believed it would've been better if Ken Starr's office came
and asked permission before going and doing the wiring of Linda Tripp. So that
was a point of concern from the start. There was secondly a concern because, at
the time, Ken Starr's office pushed hard to expand into the Monica Lewinsky
matter, and Eric Holder came up with notes that he shared with me that clearly
showed from their discussions that Starr's office was pushing hard. They
weren't simply asked to do this, that they did not disclose a lot of
preexisting connections with the whole Paul Jones case.
If they had known - if the Justice Department had known about that, Eric Holder
told me, they never would've appointed Ken Starr as the person to investigate
this matter. They would've gone to someone else and appointed a wholly new
GROSS: Why would they have not gone to Ken Starr and appointed a new
Prof. GORMLEY: Well, because the independent counsel law is all about
appearances. You donât even have someone in the job in the first place unless
the public has trust in that person. And so when you have someone like Ken
Starr, in this case, who had actually publicly gone on television talking about
the ability to sue the president in the Paula Jones case, had been prepared to
write briefs in that case, when you had the Office of Independent Counsel
having conduits with Paula Jones' lawyers in terms of some of the folks helping
the Paula Jones lawyers, if the Justice Department knew about any of that, that
would've just set red flags up all over the place and they never would've
appointed Ken Starr because the country couldnât possibly have the confidence
that this person could be neutral on that matter.
GROSS: There was another point of disagreement between the Justice Department
and the Office of the Independent Counsel. And I'm thinking of the disagreement
over whether the Office of the Independent Counsel could subpoena Secret
Service members who guarded President Clinton and question them. What was this
Prof. GORMLEY: That, to me, was one of the most fascinating, unexpected little
stories in this book, because it turned out there was a fierce battle that we
didnât know about between the Justice Department on one hand and the Office of
the Independent Counsel and the FBI on the other, in terms of whether Secret
Service agents should be brought before the grand jury and subpoenaed to talk
about what they had seen and heard in protecting President Clinton. And
specifically, Ken Starr's lawyers were trying to get evidence that the Secret
Service agents had witnessed, you know, these liaisons with Monica Lewinsky,
and there were stories abounding at the time that Secret Service agents had
seen the president and Monica in compromising positions and all of these sorts
The Justice Department agreed with Secret Service director Lew Merletti that
for 100 years, the reason Secret Service agents hadn't been forced to testify
is that their job was to protect the president, and any - if they were forced
to be, you know, moles in essence and to rat on the president, that presidents
would push away, that they would endanger themselves because they would be
afraid of the Secret Service agents watching them.
Even President George H.W. Bush, to his credit, supported the Secret Service
position in this, understanding the danger posed to the president and
presidents in the future if Secret Service agents were brought in to testify.
But ultimately, the Secret Service lost that battle, and Ken Starr succeeded in
bringing them before the grand jury.
GROSS: Another thing that you learned is that Lew Merletti, who was then the
head of the Secret Service, was also furious that the FBI was spending so much
time investigating sexual questions, sexual allegations, when Merletti knew
that al-Qaida was a serious threat. In fact, Merletti helped prevent an
assassination attempt on President Clinton in Manila during a conference there.
Prof. GORMLEY: That's correct. And this is the first time, I believe, that that
fact has been disclosed. But Lew Merletti told me that story to emphasize the
fact that the Secret Service is not going to go along with the president, who
tells them to do something if they think it is going to be harmful to the
president. And in this case, there was information that possibly they had
picked up information in their earpieces using the words wedding and bridge,
and there was - in terrorist lingo, that could indicate an assassination. And
so he refused to let the presidential limousine go over a bridge in Manila to
his next destination, even though it made Clinton far, far later for his next
appointment that he wanted to be. And they had a heated exchange, but Merletti
made the car go in another direction.
They went and looked under the bridge, and there were explosives significant
enough to blow up the whole presidential entourage, and it turned out this was
linked to a little-known at that time terrorist name Osama bin Laden. But the
point was, first of all, the Secret Service was not going to do the bidding of
a president if it endangered him in any way. And second of all, it was, as one
looked back on it, just a terrible, terrible thing for the country, that the
FBI and law enforcement was running around interviewing women in Arkansas about
possible sexual relationships with the president when there were terrorists who
were already beginning to stalk the United States and were already developing
GROSS: My guest is Ken Gormley, author of the new book "The Death of American
Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr."
We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If youâre just joining us, my guest is Ken Gormley. His new book is
called "The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr," and it's about the
Starr investigation into President Clinton, which led to his impeachment in the
House. Ken Gormley is the interim dean at the Duquesne University Law School.
Let me quote something else you write in your book "The Death of American
Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr." You write: There were unanswered questions about
the Office of the Independent Counsel's handling of the Lewinsky sting on which
its whole case against Clinton was built. These uncomfortable secrets about
OIC's conduct would be locked in a government archive for a decade, but they
would not be lost altogether.
Did you get access to this information?
Prof. GORMLEY: Well, I got access to Jo Ann Harris, who was the individual who
had worked in Janet Reno's Justice Department, and then left the Justice
Department to be a law professor and practitioner in New York, who was hired by
Ken Starr's successor to look into the many, many charges of misconduct by
Starr's office. And the one that really seemed to stick that was the most
serious had to do with their handling of Monica Lewinsky during the sting at
the Ritz Carlton Hotel.
Jo Ann Harris, who was viewed as a straight-shooter, called them down middle,
interviewed all of the participants, and this did not come out looking very
good for Ken Starr's office. Her conclusion was that they should've gone
nowhere near Monica Lewinsky, especially after she made clear she wanted to
talk to her lawyer, who was Frank Carter at the time. They should've, at that
point, have ceased right there, allowed her to meet with Carter.
And so the Office of the Independent Counsel at this stage really did, in her
view, cross a line. Itâs one the pieces of the story that was kind of swept
under the carpet. She felt it was very important, even though it was under
seal, to let the American public know about this, and I agreed. I thought that
so much came out about so many people's lives in this whole saga, it seemed
wrong to hide the one piece of information that was really a very significant
blemish on Ken Starr's investigation, as she concluded that their handling of
the Monica Lewinsky matter from start to finish was really very, very poorly
GROSS: So Starr didnât let Monica Lewinsky talk with her lawyer when she asked
Prof. GORMLEY: Well, the question in this case and the defense of the Starr's
team was, was this her lawyer for this purpose? Frank Carter is the person who
had drafted that affidavit. As Monica said to me, this was the only lawyer she
had. Most people donât have five or six lawyers for every particular matter. So
there was a legal issue under the Department of Justice regulations in terms of
whether this was permissible.
But Jo Ann Harris' point was in a situation like this, you air on the side of
allowing the person to talk to their lawyer. And ironically, Frank Carter was
an excellent, highly respected criminal defense lawyer, former public defender
from Washington, D.C. And many think if he had stepped in at this early stage,
things could've been resolved in a very professional, low-key manner, and the
country may have been spared the, you know, the scandals that erupted over the
GROSS: Well, what could've happened differently if she had his representation
when she asked for it early on?
Prof. GORMLEY: Well, you know, one of the things that is - that Frank Carter
told me is, donât forget, the affidavit that Monica Lewinsky signed hadn't even
been filed yet. One thing he could've done is to...
GROSS: This is the affidavit in which she said she did not have sexual
relations with the president.
Prof. GORMLEY: Correct. He could've called Judge Susan Webber Wright's office
in Arkansas and said please donât open that. Send that back to me. He could've
sat down with her, perhaps she would've decided to cooperate. That's why people
have a chance to talk with their lawyers.
And the other thing that could've happened, and a number of judges and
prosecutors who I interviewed, both Democrats and Republicans said this, you
know, it is not the job of federal prosecutors or of the Office of the
Independent Counsel to get any individual, including President Clinton, to lie.
If this had all come out in advance and President Clinton found out that they
knew about the relationship with Monica Lewinsky, and if he went into that
Paula Jones deposition and told the truth, that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
I mean law enforcement isn't supposed to try to encourage lying. So a whole
bunch of things potentially could've fallen into place differently if she had
been given a chance to meet with the lawyer as she requested.
GROSS: I'm going to ask you to explain what you mean when you say that the
Office of the Independent Counsel wanted to time things so that President
Clinton would lie in the Paula Jones deposition. They wanted him to lie. What
are you referring to?
Prof. GORMLEY: Well, I'm not prepared to say that they wanted him to lie. They
wanted him to have the opportunity to do that if he was going to do that and
not to be tipped off in advance. What was hanging over their head was a
deadline that had been established by Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff.
Isikoff told the Office of the Independent Counsel that he knew about Monica
Lewinsky, that he had the story, he had talked to Linda Tripp, and he was going
to publish the story, or at a minimum he was going to contact Monica Lewinsky
and Vernon Jordan to let them know the version of events he was going to
publish and give them a chance to respond.
If that happened, clearly, President Clinton would find out about it before he
walked into the deposition in the Paula Jones case on that Saturday. So there
was this sense of pressure, of wanting to get all of this buttoned down with
Monica Lewinsky and to have her cooperating before Clinton walked into the
deposition. So if he decided to lie, which they fully expected that he would do
and deny this relationship with Monica Lewinsky, that would be the end. He
would be caught red-handed at that moment. Finally, as Jackie Bennett said,
they would be ahead of the curve and they would have him dead to rights.
GROSS: So if Clinton lied in the Paula Jones investigation, then the OIC could
accuse him of perjury and they could nail him, which is how it played out.
Prof. GORMLEY: That's correct. And donât forget, by this point the Office of
the Independent Counsel believed that President Clinton had lied and, you know,
kind of dodged bullets in every direction with respect to their other
investigation, so they felt justified in essence nailing him on this one that
was very clear cut and would be simple to prosecute.
GROSS: So it was the Paula Jones case that actually led to the impeachment
charge of perjury and obstruction of justice.
Prof. GORMLEY: It was one of the charges in the impeachment articles.
Ironically, it was one of the ones that failed in the House of Representatives.
The two that passed had to do with Clinton's subsequent alleged lying in his
grand jury testimony that had - it was a follow-up to the Paula Jones
testimony, in essence, and also obstruction of justice, allegations that he was
trying to get witnesses to lie as well, not only Monica Lewinsky, but his
secretary, Betty Currie, for instance.
GROSS: You spoke to Sam Dash before he died, and he was an ethics counsel to
Ken Starr's investigation, and also - what was his role in Watergate?
Prof. GORMLEY: He was the special counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee. He
became a hero during Watergate because he had kind of led the Congress through
this very difficult period that led ultimately to the resignation of President
GROSS: Okay, so when asked about lessons learned from the Starr investigation,
he said: My personal view is that it's not as much a lesson learned as a
suspicion confirmed, and that is that there are those in the name of acquiring
greater power in this republic are prepared to use whatever means available to
them. And by that he was referring to the Ken Starr investigation.
I wonder what you think of that statement.
Prof. GORMLEY: Well, you have to put it in context. I have to tell you that Sam
Dash, who I interviewed extensively, really defended Ken Starr throughout most
of the interviews. He believed that he was an honorable person, that he had
really tried to do the right thing in the Whitewater investigation. He didnât
think it was - Dash didnât believe it was as significant as Ken Starr and his
prosecutors believed, but he really thought Ken was sincerely trying to do an
honest job and that he was most troubled by Ken Starr's decision prompted, I
think, by those in his office to go into the House Judiciary Committee after
the Starr Report was published and to take a public stand really in essence in
favor of impeachment.
For him, that was just crossing the line. That was going way beyond what a
neutral prosecutor was supposed to do in getting into the political process of
impeachment, and that's why Sam Dash resigned.
GROSS: My guest is Ken Gormley, author of the new book "The Death of American
Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr."
We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with Ken Gormley. His new book, "The
Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr," is about how an investigation
into a land deal became an investigation into President Clinton's affair with
Weâve talked a lot about Ken Starr's investigation. What surprised you most
about President Clinton's behavior?
Prof. GORMLEY: Well, I think there was certainly an element of recklessness
that was evident from the start. When you look at everything in context and you
look at the fact that when Paula Jones went up to that hotel room in the
Excelsior Hotel, President Clinton had just announced that he was running for
When he begins his relationship with Monica Lewinsky in the White House, the
Supreme Court had just granted certiorari, had just agreed to take the case of
Clinton v. Jones, and the Jones lawyers were publicly saying on television and
in the media that they intended to go after the issue of other women. So
President Clinton was on notice that all of this could come back to haunt him,
yet he pursued it anyway. And I think that that element of recklessness was
certainly a part of the ingredient here of this collision that took place in
Washington, and the lack of balance on both sides is what set it up for this
GROSS: Youâve written extensively about, you know, the Office of the
Independent Counsel, special prosecutors. After the Ken Starr investigation,
the law authorizing the Office of the Independent Counsel was not renewed and
that whole special prosecutor thing - the whole the Office of the Independent
Counsel was over. Is that a good thing, do you think? You know that office and
its function very well.
Prof. GORMLEY: Well, I was one of the last human beings to testify in the
Senate that it was worth reauthorizing that independent counsel, only because I
had studied it since its inception during Watergate. And I think that the key
thing is there has to be some mechanism to deal with these crises at the
highest level of the executive branch.
During Watergate, Archibald Cox and the attorney general, Elliott Richardson,
literally had to kind of make up the rules on cocktail napkins, they told me,
and scribble down how they were going to set up this thing, because it hadn't
been put in place in advance.
I think itâs essential for our country to be equipped to deal with these crises
when they come along. I do think even though the independent counsel expired,
that we came up with a good compromise, which is that this is handled within
the Department of Justice and special prosecutors can be appointed by the
attorney general and then just kind of walled off from the Justice Department's
operations, and I think that that seems to be working pretty well. But I do
think it is essential to have some mechanism to have investigations of the
president and other high level executive officials just for in terms of public
confidence in the system of government in the United States.
GROSS: In some ways it seems the impeachment of President Clinton is almost
like the prequel to the divisions in our country today; the government is kind
of at a standstill. The divisions between Democrats and Republicans are so deep
now; the country is so divided now.
Having spent nine years investigating the Ken Starr investigation, has that
affected the way you see America's political landscape today?
Prof. GORMLEY: It has. I do believe that this was the beginning of the division
of Americans into almost two camps. You know, the red and blue states that we
talk about, literally different news stations and media outlets that are viewed
as liberal or conservative - this was the beginning of that sharp division and
distrust, I think, among Americans. And it's a tragic story for me, to tell you
the truth, Terry. And itâs one of the things - one of the reasons I worked for
nine years on this, is it is a story that needs to be told. I think it's
essential that we do not let something like this happen again in our country.
I think it's essential that both sides exercise restraint when it comes to
these matters and realize that it is not worth burning down the house and
trying to win at all costs for the sake of ones own view of what American
virtue is, that it is essential to work together. And I think this was a low
point in many ways for our country. I think Americans work much better when
they work together than when they are put into warring camps like this. And I
believe that we still need to learn that lesson in America today.
GROSS: Ken Gormley, thank you so much for talking with us.
Prof. GORMLEY: Thank you so much, Terry.
GROSS: Ken Gormley's new book is called "The Death of American Virtue: Clinton
vs. Starr." You can read an excerpt on our Web site, freshair.npr.org. Or you
can also download podcasts of our show. Author Ken Gormley is professor and
interim dean at Duquesne University Law School.
Clinton and Starr have both in the news in the past few days, Clinton because
of the two stents inserted last week to open a clogged artery; Starr because he
was just named the new president of Baylor University.
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