This month marks the 20th anniversary of President Bill Clinton’s acquittal by the Senate in the Whitewater-Lewinsky bogus scandal. It was an attempt to criminalise political differences.
The Reagan-Bush era (1981-1993) was a Republican golden age. The party had three big presidential wins on the trot plus the economy was roaring and everywhere nations were embracing democracy and free enterprise. Americans were proud and Republicans especially so.
In 1991 top Democrats were weighing a presidential run the following year but in August the Soviet Union imploded. It was a glorious triumph for the Cold War hawks. Surely George H. W. Bush was now coasting to the GOP’s fourth win. Big name Democrats decided to skip the 1992 race but little known Governor Clinton of Arkansas took a punt.
Midway through 1992 the unexpected happened. Billionaire independent Ross Perot was in the lead. Perot then dipped in the polls and withdrew from the race but then re-entered. When the dust settled Clinton was in front and then won… but only with 43 per cent to Bush’s 37 per cent. Perot got 19 per cent.
Republicans were apoplectic. Perot was quirky but conservative so if he hadn’t run most of his 19 per cent would have voted for Bush and the golden age would have marched on. The focus of Republican fury was that womanising, draft-dodging governor from Hicksville who, the mantra went, only got 43 per cent!
After 12 years of running Washington DC Republicans had partisans across the public service. Months into Clinton’s presidency an investigation began into his business dealings. The public think Whitewater is opaque. It’s not. In 1978 Clinton invested $50,000 for a half stake in some vacant land named Whitewater. He was a passive investor. His partner Jim McDougal would build and then sell homes but a downturn forced the abandonment of the project. No-one lost money except the Clintons and McDougal.
In 1982 McDougal gained control of an Arkansas bank. It became a slush fund for McDougal and his associates to corruptly borrow for more property deals. This was criminal (McDougal would die in jail) but the Clintons weren’t involved except Hillary worked at the law firm that did the conveyancing.
From day one, President Clinton was bombarded with headlines and allegations about ‘Whitewater.’ It sounded like Watergate so stuck.
What turbo-charged everything was when Vince Foster was found dead in a DC park in mid-1993. Foster had worked at Hillary’s law firm and came to the White House as a staffer. A million theories erupted around Foster’s weird death. All assumed it was part of a sinister Whitewater cover-up.
In early 1994, the flabbergasted Clintons requested a special prosecutor to investigate Whitewater and Foster’s death. They wanted to clear the air but would rue the day. Six months later that special prosecutor exonerated the Clintons, so anti-Clinton judges simply appointed a more reliable investigator.
Ken Starr was a Republican lawyer who had been promoted into the judicial upper echelons. In mid-1994, Starr took over the Clinton investigation. Three months later, Republicans won big congressional majorities and launched endless Whitewater inquiries. Clinton was surrounded.
But for all the fuss Starr lacked a crime. The closest he came was when Hillary testified that while her law firm had done work for dodgy Jim McDougal, she personally never did. But then documents turned up showing she had billed McDougal for 60 hours. It was a tiny fraction of the work the firm had done for McDougal but Hillary had now misled investigators. It was likely an error. Starr was certain it was part of a cover-up.
Throughout Whitewater 15 associates of Clinton were convicted of crimes. Some were jailed. Nothing implicated the Clintons. Investigators examined everything and came up with minor crimes like overcharging clients. When one of those convicted won an appeal, the judge rightly said he was the victim of a ‘quintessential fishing expedition.’
In mid-1997, Clinton appeared to receive good news. Starr declared Foster’s death was a routine suicide caused by depression. But Starr was clearing the decks – he was now investigating Clinton’s sex life. Starr questioned Clinton under oath about Monica Lewinsky. Clinton lied and Starr finally had a crime. A perjury trap is when a prosecutor wants to get someone but lacking evidence asks them 1,000 questions until they slip up. Lying under oath is bad. It’s more sinister, however, to lay such a trap for an American president.
By the time the House voted to impeach Clinton for perjury, Starr had dropped all other allegations against Clinton. The senate failed to get the necessary two thirds majority and Clinton survived. Through the whole saga a high profile property developer was publicly backing Clinton – Donald Trump.
Democrats love President Obama and in 2016 Hillary was all set to continue his work but, in a shock result, lost. Democrats felt more pain and rage than Republicans in 1992. Trump was illegitimate, they claimed, because Hillary won the popular vote which is as unconstitutional and mean-spirited as the GOP’s claim about Clinton’s illegitimacy.
On 17 May 2017, an Obama partisan appointed Robert Mueller to investigate, ‘any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign.’ Two years in and Mueller has produced nothing but he too has stooped to investigating a president’s sex life.
Criminal proceedings have been initiated against seven of Trump’s associates. Several have been jailed but not because they’ve found Kremlin Whats-App messages ordering Trump to campaign in Wisconsin. They, too, are getting caught in perjury traps and so on.
If Mueller was sincere he would interview the key witness if collusion is not a delusion. He would ask Julian Assange a) did the Kremlin give you the anti-Hillary emails and b) were you the Trump-Kremlin middleman? He won’t.
Robert Mueller is the new Ken Starr.
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