Tales from the Inquisition The Prosecutor

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Most of the news reports concerning Monica Lewinsky have thus far been based on second- or third-hand sources. Much of the information – and disinformation – has been leaked by the independent counsel's office and by the attorneys representing Paula Jones. The many conflicting accounts have made it impossible at this point to know what actually happened. But the close relationships among many of the key figures surrounding Starr's investigation imply a good deal of discreet collaboration. Or perhaps it's just a coincidence that the Lewinsky story broke a few days before the president's 1998 State of the Union address.

The available evidence suggests that Kenneth Starr and the attorneys representing Paula Jones have been working closely together since the summer of 1997, if not longer. In July, Starr's office conceded that Vincent Foster had committed suicide, a blow to conspiracy theorists on the right. At about the same time, FBI agents employed by Starr began to investigate Bill Clinton's sex life in Arkansas – a subject irrelevant to the independent counsel's official mandate but of enormous interest to the attorneys trying to establish a pattern of sexist behavior in Paula Jones' civil suit. Starr's FBI agents even hunted for information about Clinton and Paula Jones. The president of the United States was going to be interrogated about his sexual history during the Jones case. Her civil trial would provide ample opportunity to embarrass the president and confront him with any lies about his sex life.

Linda Tripp has known Kenneth Starr since at least 1994, when she met him during the Vincent Foster investigation. Tripp happens to be a friend of Unlimited Access author Gary Aldrich, the FBI agent who claimed to have seen the cock rings on the Clinton Christmas tree. Aldrich's publisher, Alfred Regnery, has been friends with Kenneth Starr since their days together at the Reagan Justice Department. Tripp's attorney, James Moody, attended meetings of the Federalist Society and did work for the Landmark Legal Foundation, as did Kenneth Starr. Tripp's literary agent, Lucianne Goldberg, has known Alfred Regnery for years. None of these facts proves the existence of any hidden conspiracy. Nevertheless, when it comes to the far right, it's an awfully small world.

One of the crucial questions that Kenneth Starr will have to answer is, How did the independent counsel's office learn what Monica Lewinsky said in her affidavit for the Paula Jones civil suit? This affidavit was sealed by order of the court. How did Starr learn that Lewinsky had denied under oath having an affair? On January 16th, Starr detained Lewinsky for questioning. A day later, Clinton gave his deposition in the Paula Jones case. Without having direct knowledge of what Lewinsky and Clinton said under oath, Kenneth Starr had little basis for launching a perjury investigation. Charges of perjury are rarely considered before a case has gone to trial. Starr's actions suggest an ongoing exchange of information between the independent counsel's office and the attorneys representing Paula Jones. The timing of President Clinton's deposition makes the whole thing seem like a trap: If Clinton denied the affair with Lewinsky under oath, Starr could charge him with perjury – and if Clinton admitted to the affair, the attorneys representing Paula Jones could embarrass him with that admission in court.

John Whitehead, one of the lead attorneys in the Jones case, is shocked, absolutely shocked, that anyone would make accusations about any collusion or conspiracy. "As far as us being partisan . . . that's the spin . . . just the spin that people are putting on it," Whitehead told Geraldo Rivera in a recent interview. "We're not playing politics . . . And no one – no one sat around and planned, 'Well, we're going to go out and do something to Bill Clinton,' you know? No one wanted to see this happen." John Whitehead is president of the Rutherford Institute, which is paying Paula Jones' legal expenses. The Rutherford Institute calls itself "a civil-liberties group." Whitehead used to be the head of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority Legal Defense Fund. When Falwell disbanded the Moral Majority in 1989, he promised that its work would be carried on by other organizations, such as the American Family Association and the Rutherford Institute. The Rev. Falwell has sold tens of thousands of copies of a video called The Clinton Chronicles, which claims that Bill Clinton has in the past been a drug addict, a drug smuggler and a murderer. Falwell has also distributed literature to his followers that warns: "Bill and Hillary Clinton have a dirty little secret . . . Clinton-appointed bureaucrats are using your tax funds to promote deviant homosexuality – In every major branch of the federal government! . . . Homosexuals training as FBI agents! . . . Taxpayer-funded gay research! . . . For your gift of any amount . . . I will send you the entire 'Special Report' on this Homosexual Invasion of our government!"

It is difficult to predict how this latest presidential scandal will end. Many of the facts of the case have yet to come out. By focusing on allegations regarding the president and oral sex – allegedly performed by one woman, refused by another – the independent counsel has sacrificed a great deal of bipartisan support that could have been put to better use investigating allegations of much more important crimes. The charges of Clinton-administration influence-peddling and illegal fund-raising have been largely forgotten amid the media frenzy about the president's sex life. Unless the independent counsel can establish presidential wrongdoing more serious than adultery and an effort to conceal it, Kenneth W. Starr will most likely retire to his Scaife-financed deanship at the Pepperdine University Law School, in Malibu, California, as a figure of ridicule and disgrace. The political discourse of this country has already been lowered a few more notches. The Deep Throat now haunting the White House is not a pseudonym but the real thing. And all the sad, sordid details of this fin de siècle Watergate – with friends secretly recording one another and a Sunday-school-teaching independent counsel who uses the FBI to interrogate women about their sex lives – seem to confirm that at least one theory of Karl Marx's might be true. History always repeats itself, Marx wrote, "the first time as tragedy; the second time, as farce."

This story is from the March 19th, 1998 issue of Rolling Stone.

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