Predicting OIC's Next Move


    Needless to say, this column has never been initiated into the decision-making processes of the Office of Independent Counsel.
    I don't know the secret password and have never owned an OIC magic decoder ring, The official OIC handshake remains a mystery to me.
    Even so, after watching this hapless bunch in action for several years, it's possible to hazard a couple of modest predictions.
    Assuming that the OIC will operate according to the same bureaucratic imperatives it has followed since Kenneth Starr took charge in 1994, it will try to inflict maximum political damage upon Bill and Hillary Clinton at minimum risk to its members' professional careers. Also assuming the OIC's customary level of malign incompetence, that effort will fail.
    Last week's performance by Starr's understudy, Robert Ray, was absolutely in keeping with the OIC's tradition of obfuscation, deception and delay.
    First, Ray released a report admitting that after several years of investigation, he could find no laws broken in the so-called Filegate matter. Exactly as the White House claimed, the acquisition of some 900 confidential FBI security reports turned out to be a bureaucratic screw-up, an obvious likelihood to anybody who read the list of names published in the New York Post. It consisted mainly of gardeners, doormen, cooks and other everyday employees rather than Bush administration heavy-hitters.
    A few days later, Ray went on TV to say he hadn't yet ruled out prosecuting Bill Clinton after he leaves office for lying about Monica Lewinsky. Such mock ferocity is only to be expected from a prosecutor whose most notable case was his shameful attempt to send Tyson Foods spokesman Archie Schaffer to prison for writing a letter inviting Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy to the annual meeting of the Arkansas Poultry Federation. A bribe, Ray and his then-boss, independent counsel Donald Smaltz, tried to call it. 

If not so sad, it'd be funny.

    Anybody who finds the foregoing a bit cynical should have been with my partner Joe Conason and me in New York last week. To publicize our recently published book, "The Hunting of the President," we appeared on a couple of TV talk shows opposite former OIC prosecutors Sol Wisenberg and Robert Bittman.
    Both used the same debating tactic: railing fiercely against Clinton's lies while distorting the evidence. Caught red-handed, they blustered. To anybody familiar with the evidence--a minority of the TV audience, to be sure--the mystery of how the OIC, with all its advantages of budget and manpower, managed to lead Republicans into a futile impeachment crusade while losing three out of four jury trials must have been clear, because unlike on TV talk shows, a prosecutor who can't convince a jury normally loses.
    We encountered Wisenberg on CNN's "Burden of Proof." Showing no familiarity with our book, Wisenberg nevertheless disputed my contention that the Lewinsky matter came down to lies about sex--exactly where the president's bitterest enemies had started during the 1990 Arkansas governor's race. He asserted that Clinton had lied about his conversations with Vernon Jordan regarding Lewinsky's job search and her pending testimony in Jones vs. Clinton.
    Like the Starr Report, Wisenberg stated flatly that Jordan's efforts on Lewinsky's behalf were taken to influence her testimony, despite the fact, as Conason pointed out, that the job search had begun months earlier at Linda Tripp's urging. Undeterred by those exculpatory facts, not to mention Lewinsky's insistence that nobody ever asked her to lie, Wisenberg dug himself a deeper hole.
    "When he testified in the Jones deposition," Wisenberg said, "one of the many things the president told a lie about was the role of Vernon Jordan. If you look at his answers to the questions--he's asked, for instance, whether or not anybody has told you that they talked to Ms. Lewinsky in the last two weeks and he said, no. And, of course, Vernon Jordan ... did."
    Not surprisingly, Scaife-funded attorney L. Lynn Hogue makes this same assertion in his complaint to the Arkansas Supreme Court. The problem is that it never happened. Clinton wasn't asked that question in the Jones deposition, and he didn't give that answer. He freely admitted communicating with Jordan about the job search, but denied any conversations with him about Lewinsky's testimony. No evidence ever contradicted him.
    The distinction isn't subtle, and it's hard to believe Wisenberg doesn't understand it.
    Clearly, there were questions Jordan was too shrewd to ask Clinton and Clinton was too clever to answer. Lewinsky, too, skirted dangerous territory,
if for no other reason than that she was desperate to prevent Clinton from finding out how badly she'd compromised him by blabbing to Tripp.

    If anything, Bittman made an even worse advocate. On Court TV's "The Crier Report," he mocked as "ridiculous" my assertion that OIC prosecutor Ray Jahn's closing argument in the 1996 Tucker-McDougal trial depicted
poor Jim McDougal as having flimflammed and lied to the Clintons about Whitewater. This, despite the fact that Jahn's thunderous oration (quoted at length on pages 243-4 of "The Hunting of the President" for those inclined to test the book's credibility without buying it) concluded by urging the jury to convict McDougal on the grounds that: "The office of the Presidency of the United States can't be besmirched by people like Jim McDougal."
    Bittman also goes in for the deplorable tactic of guilt by association and doesn't mind twisting facts to do so. He falsely asserted that convicted Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and Bill Clinton were close friends and business partners, and that Tucker "was the recipient and a participant in loans that benefited Whitewater Development Corporation."
    Without unnecessarily piling on Tucker, whose conviction by OIC prosecutors may look very different to historians than to contemporary editorial writers, Bittman's statement was fiction. Tucker and Clinton's mutual dislike is well-known. They had no business or financial ties. Both did business with McDougal, period. So did scores of other people who don't even know each other.
    In fairness, I had the clear impression that Bittman, the genius who insisted upon taping Clinton's grand jury testimony so the whole country could watch OIC prosecutors grill him about his sex life, inadvertently turning him from cad to victim, simply didn't know what he was talking about.
    In which case, he'd be well-advised to avoid confrontations with people who do.

  ha ha
 Go get 'em, Gene!

Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award. His column appears on Wednesdays.

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