W ithin a week of the election, two high-profile Washington politicians announced they wouldnt run again, and we were in the teeth of a new crisis with Saddam Hussein. Newt Gingrich stunned us all by announcing that he was resigning as Speaker and from the House. Apparently, he had a deeply divided caucus, was facing an assault on his leadership because of the election losses, and didnt want to fight anymore. After several moderate Republicans made clear that, based on the election results, impeachment was a dead issue, I had mixed feelings about the Speakers decision. He had supported me on most foreign policy decisions, had been frank about what his caucus was really up to when the two of us talked alone, and, after the government shutdown battle, had shown flexibility in working out honorable compromises with the White House. Now he had the worst of both worlds: the moderate-to-conservative Republicans were upset because the party had offered no positive program in the 98 elections, and for a solid year had done nothing but attack me; his right-wing ideologues were upset because they thought he had worked with me too much and demonized me too little. The ingratitude of the right-wing cabal that now controlled the Republican caucus must have galled Gingrich; they were in power only because of his brilliant strategy in the 1994 election and his years of organizing and proselytizing before then.
Newts announcement got more headlines, but the retirement of New York senator Pat Moynihan would have a bigger impact on my family. On the night Moynihan said he wouldnt seek reelection, Hillary got a call from our friend Charlie Rangel, the congressman from Harlem and ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, urging her to run for Moynihans seat. Hillary told Charlie she was flattered but couldnt imagine doing such a thing.
She didnt completely close the door, and I was glad. It sounded like a pretty good idea to me. We had intended to move to New York after my term ended, with me spending a fair amount of time in Arkansas at my library. New Yorkers seemed to like having high-profile senators: Moynihan, Robert Kennedy, Jacob Javits, Robert Wagner, and many others had been seen as representatives of both the citizens of New York and the nation at large. I thought Hillary would do a great job in the Senate and that she would enjoy it. But that decision was months away.
On November eighth, I brought my national security team to Camp David to discuss Iraq. A week earlier Saddam Hussein had kicked the UN inspectors out again, and it seemed almost certain that wed have to take military action. The UN Security Council had voted unanimously to condemn Iraqs flagrant violations of UN resolutions, Bill Cohen had gone to the Middle East to line up support for air strikes, and Tony Blair was ready to participate.
A few days later the international community took the next big step in our bid to stabilize the global financial situation with a $42 billion aid package to Brazil, $5 billion of it in U.S. taxpayers money. Unlike the aid packages to Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia, and Russia, this one was coming before the country was on the brink of default, consistent with our new policy of trying to prevent failure and its spread to other nations. We were doing our best to convince international investors that Brazil was committed to reform and had the cash to fight off speculators. And this time, the IMF loan conditions would be less stringent, preserving programs to help the poor and encouraging Brazilian banks to keep making loans. I didnt know whether it would work, but I had a lot of confidence in President Henrique Cardoso, and as Brazils major trading partner, the United States had a big stake in his success. It was another of those risks worth taking.
On the fourteenth, I asked Al Gore to represent the United States at the annual APEC meeting in Malaysia, the first leg of a long-scheduled trip to Asia. I couldnt go, because Saddam was still trying to impose unacceptable conditions on the return of the UN inspectors; in response, we were preparing to launch air strikes at sites our intelligence indicated were connected to his weapons program, as well as other military targets. Just before the attacks were launched, with the planes already on their way, we received the first of three letters from Iraq addressing our objections. Within hours, Saddam had backed down completely, and had committed to resolving all outstanding issues raised by the inspectors, to giving them unfettered access to all sites without any interference, to turning over all relevant documents, and to accepting all UN resolutions on weapons of mass destruction. I was skeptical, but I decided to give him one more chance.
On the eighteenth, I left for Tokyo and Seoul. I wanted to go to Japan to establish a working relationship with Keizo Obuchi, the new prime minister, and to try to influence Japanese public opinion to support the tough reforms necessary to end more than five years of economic stagnation. I liked Obuchi and thought he had a chance to tame the turbulent Japanese political scene and serve for several years. He was interested in American-style hands-on politics. As a young man in the 1960s, he had come to the United States and talked his way into meeting with then attorney general Robert Kennedy, who became his political hero. After our meeting Obuchi took me to the streets of Tokyo, where we shook hands with schoolchildren who were holding Japanese and American flags. I also did a televised town hall meeting in which the famously reticent Japanese surprised me with their open, blunt questions, not only about Japans current challenges but also about whether I had ever visited victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; how Japan could get fathers to spend more time with their children, as I had with Chelsea; how many times a month I ate dinner with my family; how I was coping with all the pressures of the presidency; and how I had apologized to Hillary and Chelsea.
In Seoul, I supported both Kim Dae Jungs continuing efforts to move beyond the economic crisis and his outreach to North Korea, so long as it was clear that neither of us would allow the proliferation of missiles, nuclear weapons, or other weapons of mass destruction. We were both concerned about the recent North Korean test launch of a long-range missile. I had asked Bill Perry to head a small group to review our Korea policy, and to recommend a road map to the future that would maximize the chances of North Korea abandoning its weapons and missile programs and reconciling with South Korea, while minimizing the risks of its failure to do so.
At the end of the month Madeleine Albright and I hosted a conference at the State Department to support economic development for the Palestinians, with Yasser Arafat, Jim Wolfensohn of the World Bank, and representatives of the European Union, the Middle East, and Asia. The Israeli cabinet and the Knesset had supported the Wye River accord, and it was time to get some investment into Gaza and the West Bank to give the beleaguered Palestinians a taste of the benefits of peace.
While all this was going on, Henry Hyde and his colleagues kept pushing their agenda, sending me eighty-one questions that they demanded be answered with admit or deny, and releasing twenty-two hours of the Tripp-Lewinsky tapes. Tripps taping of those conversations without Lewinskys permission, after her lawyer explicitly told her the taping was criminal and she should not do it again, was a felony under Marylands criminal law. She was indicted for it, but the trial judge refused to allow the prosecutor to call Lewinsky as a witness to prove the conversations occurred, ruling that the immunity Starr had given Tripp to testify about her unlawful violation of Lewinskys privacy prevented Lewinsky from testifying against her. Once more, Starr had succeeded in protecting lawbreakers who played ball with him even as he indicted innocent people who would not lie for him.
During this period Starr also indicted Webb Hubbell for a third time, claiming that he had misled federal regulators about work he and the Rose Law Firm had done for another failed financial institution. It was Starrs last, almost desperate attempt to break Hubbell and force him to say something damaging about Hillary or me.
On the nineteenth of November, Kenneth Starr appeared before the House Judiciary Committee, making comments that, like his report, went far beyond the scope of his responsibility to report the facts he had found to Congress. The Starr report had already been criticized for omitting one big piece of evidence helpful to me: Monica Lewinskys adamant assertion that I never asked her to lie.
Three surprising things came out of Starrs testimony. The first was his announcement that he had found no wrongdoing on my part or Hillarys in the Travel Office and FBI file investigations. Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts asked him when he had reached those conclusions. Some months ago, replied Starr. Frank then asked him why he waited until after the election to exonerate me on these charges, when he had submitted his report with a lot of negative stuff about the President before the election. Starrs brief response was confused and evasive.
Second, Starr admitted he had talked to the press, on background, a violation of the grand jury secrecy rules. Finally, he denied under oath that his office had tried to get Monica Lewinsky to wear a wire to record conversations with Vernon Jordan, me, or other people. When confronted with the FBI form proving that he had, he was evasive. The Washington Post reported that Starrs denials . . . were shattered by his own FBI reports.
The fact that Starr had admitted violating the law on grand jury secrecy and had given false testimony under oath didnt slow him or the committee Republicans down a bit. They thought different rules applied to the home team.
The next day Sam Dash resigned as Starrs ethics advisor, saying that Starr had unlawfully injected himself into the impeachment process with his remarks at the congressional hearing. As my mother used to say, Dash was a day late and a dollar short: Starr hadnt cared about the lawfulness of his behavior for a long time.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, the House Republicans returned to Washington to elect Bob Livingston of Louisiana, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, as the new Speaker of the House. He would take office in January when the new session of Congress began. At the time, most people thought the movement to impeach me was stalled. Several moderate Republicans had said that they were opposed to it, and that the election had been a clear message that the American people wanted the Congress to reprimand or censure me and get on with the publics business.
In the middle of the month, I settled the Paula Jones case for a large amount of money and no apology. I hated to do it because I had won a clear victory on the law and the facts in a politically motivated case. Joness lawyers had appealed her case to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, but the governing case law was clear: if the Court of Appeals followed its own decisions, I would win the appeal. Unfortunately, the three-judge panel assigned to hear the case was headed by Pasco Bowman, the same ultra-conservative judge who had removed Judge Henry Woods from one of the Whitewater cases on the basis of spurious newspaper articles after Woods had rendered a decision Starr didnt like. Pasco Bowman, like Judge David Sentelle in Washington, had shown that he was willing to make exceptions to the normal rules of law in Whitewater-related cases.
Part of me almost wanted to lose the appeal so that I could go to court, get all the documents and depositions released, and show the public what my adversaries had been up to. But I had promised the American people I would spend the next two years working for them; I had no business spending five more minutes on the Jones case. The settlement took about half our life savings and we were already deeply in debt with legal bills, but I knew that if I stayed healthy, I could make enough money to take care of my family and pay those bills after I left office. So I settled a case I had already won and went back to work.
My promise to leave the Jones case behind would be tested once more, and severely. In April 1999, Judge Wright sanctioned me for violating her discovery orders and required me to pay her travel costs and the Jones lawyers deposition expenses. I strongly disagreed with Wrights opinion but could not dispute it without getting into the very factual issues I was determined to avoid and taking more time away from my work. It really burned me up to pay the Jones lawyers expenses; they had abused the deposition with questions asked in bad faith and in collusion with Starr, and they had repeatedly defied the judges order not to leak. The judge never did anything to them.
On December 2, Mike Espy was acquitted on all charges brought against him by independent counsel Donald Smaltz. Smaltz had followed Starrs playbook in the Espy investigation, spending more than $17 million and indicting everybody he could in an effort to force them to say something damaging against Mike. The jurys stinging rebuke made Smaltz and Starr the only two independent counsels ever to lose jury trials.
A few days later, Hillary and I flew to Nashville for a memorial service for Al Gores father, Senator Albert Gore Sr., who had died at ninety at his home in Carthage, Tennessee. The War Memorial Auditorium was full, with people from all walks of life who had come to pay their respects to a man whose Senate service included his role in building the interstate highway system, his refusal to sign the segregationist Southern Manifesto in 1956, and his courageous opposition to the Vietnam War. I had admired Senator Gore since I was a young man, and always enjoyed the chances my association with Al gave me to be with him. Senator and Mrs. Gore had campaigned hard for Al and me in 1992, and I got a big kick out of hearing the Senator give his old-fashioned stump speeches full of fire and brimstone.
The music at the memorial service was moving, especially when we heard an old tape of Senator Gore as a rising young politician playing the fiddle in Constitution Hall in 1938. Al delivered the eulogy, a loving and eloquent tribute to the father, the man, and the public servant. After the service I told Hillary I wished everyone in America could have heard it.
In mid-month, just as I was about to leave for Israel and Gaza to keep my commitments under the Wye River accord, the House Judiciary Committee voted, again along straight party lines, in favor of impeaching me for perjury in the deposition and the grand jury testimony, and for obstruction of justice. They also passed a fourth count accusing me of giving false answers to their questions. It was a truly bizarre proceeding. Chairman Hyde refused to set a standard for what constituted an impeachable offense, or to call any witnesses with direct knowledge of the matters in dispute. He took the position that a vote for impeachment was simply a vote to send the Starr report on to the Senate, which could determine whether the report was factually accurate and whether my removal from office was warranted.
A bipartisan group of prosecutors told the committee that no normal prosecutor would charge me with perjury on the evidence in this case, and a panel of distinguished historians, including Arthur Schlesinger of City University of New York, C. Vann Woodward of Yale, and Sean Wilentz of Princeton, said that what I was alleged to have done did not meet the framers standard of impeachmentthat is, a high crime or misdemeanor committed in the exercise of executive power. This had long been the accepted understanding, and their interpretation was backed up by an open letter to Congress signed by four hundred historians. For example, in the Watergate case, the House Judiciary Committee voted against impeaching President Nixon for alleged income tax evasion because it had nothing to do with his performance in office. But all this was entirely irrelevant to Hyde, to his equally hostile counsel, David Schippers, and to the right-wingers who controlled the House.
Ever since the election, Tom DeLay and his staff had been firing up the right-wing networks to demand my impeachment. The radio talk shows were pushing it hard, and moderates were beginning to hear from anti-Clinton activists in their home districts. They were convinced they could get enough moderate members of Congress to forget about the popular opposition to impeachment by making them fear the retaliation of disappointed Clinton haters.
In the context of this strategy, the Hyde committees vote against a censure resolution was as important as its votes for the impeachment articles. Censure was the preferred option of 75 percent of the American people; if a censure motion were to be presented to the House, the moderate Republicans would vote for it and impeachment would be dead. Hyde claimed that Congress didnt have the authority to censure the President; it was impeachment or nothing. In fact, Presidents Andrew Jackson and James Polk had both been censured by Congress. The censure resolution was voted down by the committee, again on a partisan vote. The full House would not be able to vote on what most Americans wanted. Now it was just a question of how many moderate Republicans could be persuaded.
After the committee vote, Hillary and I flew to the Middle East. We had a meeting and dinner with Prime Minister Netanyahu, lit candles on a menorah for Hanukkah, and visited Rabins grave with his family. The next day Madeleine Albright, Sandy Berger, Dennis Ross, Hillary, and I helicoptered into densely populated Gaza to cut the ribbon on the new airport and have lunch with Arafat in a hotel overlooking Gazas long, beautiful Mediterranean beach. And I gave the speech to the Palestinian National Council that I had pledged to deliver at Wye River. Just before I got up to speak, almost all the delegates raised their hands in support of removing the provision calling for the destruction of Israel from their charter. It was the moment that made the whole trip worthwhile. You could almost hear the sighs of relief in Israel; perhaps Israelis and Palestinians actually could share the land and the future after all. I thanked the delegates, told them I wanted their people to have concrete benefits from peace, and asked them to stay with the peace process.
It wasnt an idle plea. Less than two months after the triumph at Wye River, the negotiations were in trouble again. Even though Netanyahus cabinet had narrowly approved the agreement, his coalition didnt really favor it, making it virtually impossible for him to proceed with troop redeployment and prisoner releases, or to move on to the even more difficult final status issues, including the question of Palestinian statehood and whether the eastern section of Jerusalem would become the capital of Palestine. The previous days amendment of the Palestinian charter helped Netanyahu with the Israeli public, but his own coalition was a much harder crew to convince. It looked as if he would either have to form a more broad-based government of national unity or call elections.
On the morning after my speech to the Palestinians, Netanyahu, Arafat, and I met at the Erez border crossing to try to energize the implementation of Wye River and decide how to move to the final status issues. Afterward, Arafat took Hillary and me to Bethlehem. He was proud to have custody of a site so holy to Christians, and he knew it would mean a lot to us to visit it close to Christmas.
After we left Arafat, we joined Prime Minister Netanyahu for a visit to Masada. I was impressed that so much work had been done since Hillary and I had first been there in 1981 to recover the remains of the fortress where Jewish martyrs had fought to the death for their convictions. Bibi seemed somewhat pensive and subdued. He had gone beyond his political safety zone at Wye River, and his future was uncertain. There was no way to know whether the chances he had taken would bring Israel closer to lasting peace or bring an end to his government.
We bid the prime minister farewell and flew home to another conflict. Six days earlier, on just the second day of renewed UN inspections in Iraq, some inspectors had been denied access to Saddams Baath Party headquarters. On the day we returned to Washington, the chief UN weapons inspector, Richard Butler, reported to Kofi Annan that Iraq had not kept its commitments to cooperate with him and had even imposed new restrictions on the inspectors work.
The next day the United States and the United Kingdom launched a series of attacks from airplanes and with cruise missiles on Iraqs suspected chemical, biological, and nuclear lab sites and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors. In my address to the American people that evening, I noted that Saddam had previously used chemical weapons on Iranians and Kurds in northern Iraq and had fired Scud missiles at other countries. I said I had called off an attack four weeks earlier because Saddam had promised full compliance. Instead, the inspectors had repeatedly been threatened, so Iraq has abused its final chance.
At the time the strikes were launched, our intelligence indicated that substantial amounts of biological and chemical materials that had been in Iraq at the end of the Gulf War as well as some missile warheads were still unaccounted for, and that some elementary laboratory work toward acquiring a nuclear weapon was being done. Our military experts felt that unconventional weapons might have become even more important to Saddam because his conventional military forces were much weaker than they had been before the Gulf War.
My national security team was unanimous in the belief that we should hit Saddam as soon as the Butler report was issued, to minimize the chances that Iraq could disperse its forces and protect its biological and chemical stocks. Tony Blair and his advisors agreed. The Anglo-American assault lasted four days, with 650 air sorties and 400 cruise missiles, all carefully targeted to hit military and national security targets and to minimize civilian casualties. After the attack we had no way to know how much of the proscribed material had been destroyed, but Iraqs ability to produce and deploy dangerous weapons had plainly been reduced.
Although they talked about Saddam as if he were the devil himself, some of the Republicans were in a snit over the attacks. Several of them, including Senator Lott and Representative Dick Armey, criticized the timing of the attacks, saying I had ordered them in order to delay the House vote on impeachment. The next day, after several Republican senators had expressed support for the raid, Lott backed off his comments. Armey never did; he, DeLay, and their minions had worked hard to get their more moderate colleagues in line, and they were in a hurry to vote on impeachment before some of them started thinking again.
On December 19, not long before the House began to vote on impeachment, Speaker-designate Bob Livingston announced his retirement from the House in the wake of public disclosure of his own personal problems. I learned later that seventeen conservative Republicans had come to him and said he had to quit, not because of what he had done, but because he had become an obstacle to my impeachment.
Barely six weeks after the American people had plainly sent them a message against impeachment, the House passed two of the four articles of impeachment approved by the Hyde committee. The first, accusing me of lying to the grand jury, passed 228206, with five Republicans voting against it. The second, alleging that I had obstructed justice by suborning perjury and hiding gifts, passed 221212, with twelve Republicans voting no. The two charges were inconsistent. The first was based on the perceived differences between Monica Lewinskys description of the details of our encounters in the Starr report and my grand jury testimony; the second ignored the fact that she also had testified that I never asked her to lie, a fact supported by all the other witnesses. The Republicans apparently believed her only when she disagreed with me.
Shortly after the election, Tom DeLay and company began roping in the moderate Republicans. They got some votes by depriving moderates of the chance to vote for censure, then telling them that since they wanted to reprimand me in some way, they should feel free to vote for impeachment, because Id never be convicted and removed from office since the Republicans couldnt get the required two-thirds vote for removal in the Senate. A few days after the House vote, four moderate Republican House membersMike Castle of Delaware, James Greenwood of Pennsylvania, and Ben Gilman and Sherwood Boehlert of New Yorkwrote to the New York Times saying that their votes for impeachment didnt mean they thought I should be removed.
I dont know all the individual carrots and sticks that were used on the moderates, but I did find out about some of them. One Republican committee chairman was plainly distraught when he told a White House aide that he didnt want to vote for impeachment but he would lose his chairmanship if he voted against it. Jay Dickey, an Arkansas Republican, told Mack McLarty he might lose his seat on the Appropriations Committee if he didnt vote to impeach me. I was disappointed when Jack Quinn, a Buffalo, New York, Republican who had been a frequent guest at the White House and who had told several people, including me, that he was opposed to impeachment, did an about-face and announced that he would vote for three articles. I had carried his district by a large majority in 1996, but a vocal minority of his constituents had apparently put a lot of heat on him. Mike Forbes, a Long Island Republican who had supported me in the impeachment battle, changed when he was offered a new leadership position on Livingstons team. When Livingston resigned, the offer evaporated.
Five Democrats also voted for impeachment. Four of them came from conservative districts. The fifth said he had wanted to vote for censure, then bought the argument that he was doing the next best thing. The Republicans who voted against impeachment included Amo Houghton of New York and Chris Shays of Connecticut, two of the most progressive and independent House Republicans; Connie Morella of Maryland, also a progressive whose district had voted overwhelmingly for me in 1996; and two conservatives, Mark Souder of Indiana and Peter King of New York, who simply refused to go along with their partys leadership in converting a constitutional question into a test of party loyalty.
Peter King, with whom I had worked on Northern Ireland, withstood weeks of enormous pressure, including threats to destroy him politically if he did not vote for impeachment. In several television interviews, King made a simple argument to his fellow Republicans: Im against impeachment because if President Clinton were a Republican, youd be against it, too. The pro-impeachment Republicans who appeared on the programs with him never had a good response to that. The right-wingers thought every person had a price or a breaking point, and more often than not they were right, but Peter King had an Irish soul: he loved the poetry of Yeats; he was not afraid to fight for a lost cause; and he was not for sale.
Although the pro-impeachment forces were said to have had prayer meetings in DeLays office to seek Gods support for their divine mission, the impeachment drive was fundamentally neither about morality nor the rule of law, but about power. Newt Gingrich had said it all in one phrase; they were doing it because we can. My impeachment wasnt about my indefensible personal conduct; there was plenty of that on their side, too, and it was beginning to come out, even without a bogus lawsuit and a special prosecutor to do the digging. It wasnt about whether I had lied in a legal proceeding; when Newt Gingrich was found to have given false testimony several times during the House Ethics Committee investigation into the apparently unlawful practices of his political action committee, he got a reprimand and a fine from the same crowd that had just voted to impeach me. When Kathleen Willey, who had immunity from Starr as long as she told him what he wanted to hear, lied, Starr just gave her immunity again. When Susan McDougal wouldnt lie for him, he indicted her. When Herby Branscum and Rob Hill wouldnt lie for him, he indicted them. When Webb Hubbell wouldnt lie for him, he indicted him a second and a third time, and indicted his wife, his lawyer, and his accountant, only to drop the charges against the three of them later. When David Hales first story about me was disproved, Starr let him change it until Hale finally came up with a version that was not disprovable. Jim McDougals former partner and my old friend, Steve Smith, offered to take a lie-detector test regarding his assertion that Starrs people had prepared a typewritten statement for him to read to the grand jury and kept pressuring him to do so, even after he had told them repeatedly that it was a lie. Starr himself didnt tell the truth under oath about trying to get Monica Lewinsky to wear a wire.
And the House vote certainly wasnt about whether the House managers accusations constituted impeachable offenses as historically understood. If the Watergate standard had been applied to my case, there would have been no impeachment.
This was about power, about something the House Republican leaders did because they could, and because they wanted to pursue an agenda I opposed and had blocked. I have no doubt that many of their supporters out in the country believed that the drive to remove me from office was rooted in morality or law, and that I was such a bad person it didnt matter whether or not my conduct fit the constitutional definition of impeachability. But their position didnt meet the first test of all morality and just law: The same rules apply to everyone. As Teddy Roosevelt once said, no man is above the law, but no man is below the law either.
In the partisan wars that had raged since the mid-1960s, neither side had been completely blameless. I had thought the Democrats wrong to examine the movie tastes of Judge Bork and the drinking habits of Senator John Tower. But when it came to the politics of personal destruction, the New Right Republicans were in a class by themselves. My party sometimes didnt seem to understand power, but I was proud of the fact that there were some things Democrats wouldnt do just because they could.
Shortly before the House vote, Robert Healy wrote an article in the Boston Globe about a meeting that had occurred between Speaker Tip ONeill and President Reagan in the White House in late 1986. The Iran-Contra story was out; White House aides John Poindexter and Oliver North had broken the law and lied about it to Congress. ONeill did not ask the President if he had known about or authorized the lawbreaking. (Republican senator John Towers bipartisan commission later found that Reagan did know about it.) According to Healy, ONeill simply told the President that he would not permit an impeachment proceeding to go forward; he said he had lived through Watergate and wouldnt put the country through such an ordeal again.
Tip ONeill may have been a better patriot than Gingrich and DeLay, but they and their allies were more effective in concentrating power and using it to whatever extent they could against their adversaries. They believed that, in the short run, might makes right, and they didnt care what they put the country through. It certainly didnt matter to them that the Senate wouldnt remove me. They thought if they trashed me long enough, the press and the public would eventually blame me for their bad behavior, as well as for my own. They badly wanted to brand me with a big I, and believed that for the rest of my life and for some time thereafter, the fact of my impeachment would loom far larger than the circumstances of it, and that before long no one would even talk about what a hypocritical farce the whole process had been, and how it was the culmination of years of unconscionable conduct by Kenneth Starr and his cohorts.
Just after the vote, Dick Gephardt brought a large group of the House Democrats who had defended me to the White House so that I could thank them and we could show unity for the battle ahead. Al Gore gave a stirring defense of my record as President, and Dick made an impassioned plea to the Republicans to stop the politics of personal destruction and get on with the nations business. Hillary commented to me afterward that the event almost had the feel of a victory rally. In a way it was. The Democrats had stood up not just for me but, far more importantly, for the Constitution.
I certainly hadnt wanted to be impeached, but I was consoled by the fact that the only other time it had happened, to Andrew Johnson in the late 1860s, there were also no high crimes and misdemeanors; just like this case, that was a politically motivated action by a majority party in Congress that couldnt restrain itself.
Hillary was more upset about the partisan political nature of the House proceedings than I was. As a young lawyer, she had served on John Doars staff for the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate, when there was a serious, balanced, bipartisan effort to fulfill the constitutional mandate of defining and finding high crimes and misdemeanors in the official actions of the President.
From the beginning, I had believed that the best way to win the final showdown with the Far Right was for me to keep doing my job and let others handle the defense. During the proceedings in the House and Senate, thats what I tried to do, and many people told me they appreciated it.
The strategy worked better than it might have. The release of the Starr report and the determination of the Republicans to proceed with impeachment brought with them a marked shift in the media coverage. As Ive said, the media was never a monolith; now even those who had previously been willing to give Starr a free ride began to point out the involvement of right-wing groups in the cabal, the abusive tactics of the OIC, and the unprecedented nature of what the Republicans were doing. And the TV talk shows began to show more balance, as commentators like Greta Van Sustren and Susan Estrich, and guests like lawyers Lanny Davis, Alan Dershowitz, Julian Epstein, and Vincent Bugliosi made sure that both sides of the case were heard. Members of Congress also made the case, including Senator Tom Harkin, House Judiciary Committee members Sheila Jackson Lee, and Bill Delahunt, himself a former prosecutor. Professors Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago and Susan Bloch of Georgetown released a letter on the unconstitutionality of the impeachment process signed by four hundred legal scholars.
As we headed into 1999, the unemployment rate was down to 4.3 percent and the stock market had rebounded to an all-time high. Hillary had hurt her back while making a Christmas visit to employees in the Old Executive Office Building, but it was getting better, after her doctor told her to stop wearing high heels on the hard marble floors. Chelsea and I decorated the tree and went on our annual Christmas shopping spree.
My best Christmas presents that year were the expressions of kindness and support from ordinary citizens. A thirteen-year-old girl from Kentucky wrote me to say that Id made a mistake, but I couldnt quit, because my opponents were mean. And an eighty-six-year-old white man from New Brunswick, New Jersey, after telling his family he was going to Atlantic City for the day, instead rode the train to Washington, where he took a cab to the Reverend Jesse Jacksons house. When he was greeted by Jesses mother-in-law, he told her he was there because the Reverend Jackson was the only person he knew of who talked to the President, and he wanted to send me a message: Tell the President not to quit. I was around when the Republicans tried to destroy Al Smith [our presidential nominee in 1928] for being a Catholic. He cant give in to them. The man got back in his cab, returned to Union Station, and took the next train home. I called that man to say thank you. Then my family and I went to Renaissance Weekend and into the new year.