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Tales from the Inquisition The Prosecutor

Kenneth W. Starr in the tangled web of right-wing extremists, paranoids and big money

President Bill Clinton during a press conference in Washington, DC.
Diana Walker/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
March 19, 1998

I mean, just . . . convict the son of a bitch in the press. That's the way it's done.
Richard Nixon, July 1st, 1971 to Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, on Daniel Ellsberg

According to Webster's, to "conspire" means "to plot or contrive." Ever since Bill Clinton announced his intention to run for the presidency in 1992, there has been no shortage of people contriving his downfall. The secret recordings made by Gennifer Flowers were simply the first in a long series of dirty tricks that have been committed against Clinton, tricks that his own personal weaknesses have encouraged. For decades, the right wing has complained about a "liberal establishment" that controls the media, the courts, the universities, the large philanthropic institutions. With the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency, the far right began to build its own establishment a powerful network of journalists, scholars, publishers, lawyers and former government officials who could support one another's efforts. Today, groups like the Heritage Foundation, the Christian Coalition, the Federalist Society and the American Enterprise Institute wield enormous influence within the Republican Party. Interlocked through common board members and sources of funding, these groups have a variety of agendas. But for the past six years they have shared at least one goal and have eagerly collaborated to achieve it. They have sought to destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The American right has always demonized its political opponents, accusing them of being not just wrong, but traitorous and un-American. You would think, on the basis of the anti-Clinton literature, that the man was the Antichrist, the head of the American Communist Party or even a liberal. In reality, Bill Clinton has been the most conservative Democratic president since Grover Cleveland. He has cut welfare, built new prisons, expanded the death penalty, escalated the war on drugs and offered the nation's first balanced budget in thirty years. His policies have more closely resembled those of Ronald Reagan than those of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The right-wing war against Bill Clinton has been driven by anger at his liberal past, by outrage at how the slogans and policies of the Republican Party have been usurped. Most of all, it has been fueled by an obsession with his sex life. From the filing of a civil suit by Paula Jones to the use of Linda Tripp's secret recordings, the far right has waged a well-funded and well-organized campaign to bring down the president. With varying degrees of enthusiasm, Kenneth W. Starr has helped implement the right wing's dirty tricks.

While an army of photographers was waiting for Monica Lewinsky to emerge from her mother's Watergate apartment in Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago, the twenty-fifth annual Conservative Political Action Conference was being held at a Marriott not far from the Pentagon. The event featured appearances by Newt Gingrich, Jesse Helms and Charlton Heston, among many others. Oliver North sat at a table near the escalators, broadcasting his radio show live and posing for photographs with his fans. At booth after booth in the exhibition rooms, President Clinton's fíercest opponents distributed literature that outlined his sins. The Christian Action Network handed out a pamphlet warning that the year 2000 is the "target date" for the establishment of a One World Government, as foretold in the Book of Revelation, and that "some kinds of birth control, such as Norplant" might in fact be the mark of the beast. The Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times gave away copies of its weekly magazine. The Federalist Society had a booth manned by earnest-looking young men in suits and ties. The society was founded as an alternative to the "liberal" American Bar Association. "One of the reasons people join the organization," its executive director, Eugene Meyer, later told me, "is to meet other likeminded individuals." At an upcoming Federalist Society conference in New York, one of the main topics of discussion will be "Undoing the New Deal."

I bought a copy of Gary Aldrich's best seller, Unlimited Access, at the Regnery Publishing booth, as well as The Secret Life of Bill Clinton, by British reporter Ambrose Evans-Pritchard. Aldrich is a former FBI agent who worked at the White House. In Unlimited Access, he claims that Hillary Rodham Clinton constantly shouted at her husband and ruthlessly bossed him around. Aldrich describes the first lady's hiring practices as "an affirmative-action program that favored tough, minority and lesbian women, as well as weak, minority and gay men." He claims the first lady ordered her staff to decorate the White House Christmas tree with crack pipes, syringes, heroin spoons, roach clips, cock rings and clay figurines with "large erections." He claims that gay male staff members were caught screwing in a White House office; that lesbian staffers were having sex in the White House showers; and that "Clinton staffers . . . [passed] bad checks to the handicapped man who ran the Secret Service gift shop." The new Evans-Pritchard book alleges that Bill Clinton battled an addiction to cocaine, covered up the murders of at least half a dozen people in Arkansas, secretly helped the CIA to arm the Nicaraguan Contras alongside Oliver North, and frequently visited the apartment of a former Miss Arkansas, where Clinton liked to "smoke a joint of marijuana and play old songs from the 1950s on the saxophone . . . [and] cavort around wearing her black nightdress."

Many of the right-wing groups have names with a slightly Orwellian quality. The Independent Women's Forum, for example, is an anti-feminist organization. Another thing these groups share is a wealthy and reclusive benefactor who seems like the villain of an Oliver Stone movie: Richard Scaife, a sixty-five-year-old billionaire and an heir to the Mellon fortune, who lives in Pennsylvania. His three nonprofit foundations dispersed almost $113 million between 1988 and 1994 (the years for which I have seen records), most of the money flowing to right-wing causes. Two years ago the Wall Street Journal hailed Scaife as "the conservative movement's most valuable asset . . . nothing less than the financial archangel for the movement's intellectual underpinnings." Scaife provided the funds that helped launch the Heritage Foundation in the 1970s. He has bankrolled the major groups that are seeking to destroy the Clintons. And he has become fixated on the idea that White House lawyer Vincent Foster did not commit suicide in 1993 but was murdered.

Between 1988 and 1994, the Carthage, Sarah Scaife and Allegheny foundations, controlled by Richard Scaife, gave $695,000 to the Federalist Society, more than $2 million to the American Enterprise Institute and more than $7 million to the Heritage Foundation. During that same period, Scaife's foundations contributed $1.6 million to the nonprofit entity that publishes The American Spectator. The magazine is known for its vicious attacks on the Clintons, including a notorious article that claimed Bill Clinton had once received oral sex on the playground at his daughter Chelsea's elementary school. Scaife recently cut off funding for the Spectator, angered that its editor would no longer promote the theory that Foster's suicide had been faked. Scaife's newspaper, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, has published dozens of articles raising questions about Foster's death. The author of these articles, Christopher Ruddy, now thinks that Ron Brown, the secretary of commerce who died in a 1996 plane crash, may have been murdered, too.

Although groups funded by Richard Scaife have expressed moral outrage at some of Clinton's fund-raising practices, the behavior of their secretive patron has not been above reproach. During the 1972 presidential campaign, Scaife was one of the largest individual donors to Richard Nixon's Committee to Re-elect the President. Scaife gave more than $1 million to CREEP, providing the money in 334 separate gifts of $3,000 in order to avoid campaign-finance reporting laws. Scaife also secretly donated $47,000 to the Townhouse Operation, a slush fund that President Nixon established in 1970 to blackmail candidates in his own party. Nixon hoped to gain political leverage over Republicans who accepted these illegal contributions; a Texas senatorial candidate named George Bush received $112,000 from the fund. Richard Scaife has worked hard to avoid the sort of public scrutiny that his organizations devote to others. In 1981, Karen Rothmyer, then a teacher at New York's Columbia University School of Journalism, approached Scaife outside a Boston club and asked why he supported so many right-wing outfits. Richard Scaife had a blunt answer: "You fucking communist cunt – get out of here."

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