Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on the underreported disclosures made by Monica Lewinsky in her recent interviews with A&E. Even with the Clintons starting a popular 13 city speaking tour, there has been little coverage of the fact that Lewinsky implicated Bill Clinton in a myriad of possible federal crimes. Indeed, the interview by Frank McKenna, the former Canadian Ambassador to the United States, conspicuously avoided any questions about Clinton’s alleged sexual assaults or the new disclosures by Lewinsky about his alleged encouragement for her to lie to federal investigators. The disconnect is mystifying. Democrats continue to line up to hear Bill Clinton who was accused of multiple women of sexual assault and only last week was implicated in crimes by Lewinsky. That disconnect could come back to haunt Democrats if they seek to hold Trump accountable for conduct that they have dismissed by Clinton.
Here is the column:
The Wall Street Journal and other new outlets report that Democrats are preparing to investigate the alleged hush money payments and efforts by Donald Trump to cover up his past affairs. There are clearly some legitimate areas of investigation, including possible campaign finance violations. But any such effort could face strong arguments against such inquiries or impeachment from none other than Democrats themselves.
Many of the incoming Democratic House committee leaders opposed such efforts during the Bill Clinton impeachment 20 years ago. Worse yet, the criminality of Clinton, along with the absence of real accountability, has only become more glaring with time, as shown by the recent interview of former White House intern Monica Lewinsky in the new A&E docuseries. Among other details, Lewinsky said Clinton encouraged her to lie to the independent counsel, an allegation raising the possibility of a variety of crimes having been committed by Clinton, including the false statement offense used rather extensively by special counsel Robert Mueller.
The disclosures by Lewinsky reinforce what was previously alleged against Clinton while highlighting that he could have been charged with a number of other crimes. The impeachment centered on the question of whether a president could be impeached for perjury. I appeared in Congress with other experts to debate that question and maintained that lying under oath clearly was an impeachable offense. I disagreed with the other professors at the hearing that there is some subject matter exception for lying about sexual relationships. Federal prosecutors regularly charge people for making false statements without any subject matter limits. The last person you want to give such a license to lie is the president, who heads the executive branch that enforces such laws against all citizens.
While the evidence of perjury was overwhelming, and a federal court affirmed that Clinton committed perjury, Democratic House members voted as a bloc and refused to impeach or convict him. Indeed, many of the lawmakers calling for the investigation and impeachment of Trump previously fought to shield Clinton from such accountability. Back then, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi opposed not only the impeachment but even the investigation of Clinton, insisting that American women viewed his affair with a White House intern to be a private matter and opposed the “uncontrolled power” of independent counsel Ken Starr. Maxine Waters insisted that Clinton was only “guilty of certain indiscretions in his private life.” Jerrold Nadler, the incoming House Judiciary Committee chairman, at the time declared that “perjury regarding sex is not a great and dangerous offense against the nation.”
Putting aside that perjury is a crime for which other citizens go to jail, the culpability of Clinton was far broader than just his denial. Clinton, much like Trump, was accused of actively trying to influence witnesses and testimony. He arranged for Lewinsky to meet with attorney Vernon Jordan, who was one of his closest friends and political allies. Jordan then arranged for Lewinsky to be represented by his chosen counsel Frank Carter, who drafted a false affidavit denying any affair. That affidavit was notably delayed in being filed as the scandal grew. Lewinsky, who had virtually no work history or relevant background, was offered a job with Revlon, where Jordan was a powerful member of the board of directors.
Lewinsky said, “Frank Carter explained to me if I signed an affidavit denying having had an intimate relationship with the president it might mean I would not have to be deposed in the Paula Jones case.” If Carter knew that the affidavit was false, he committed a deeply unethical act. Lewinsky does not say if Carter knew that she had a sexual relationship with Clinton, but she is clear about one other fact. She stated that Clinton encouraged her to lie to investigators. That would be a federal crime and could be viewed as subornation of perjury and witness tampering.
All of this may seem like ancient history, but history has a way of repeating itself in the most inconvenient ways. None of those four alleged crimes were ever charged against Clinton, and now that the statute of limitations has passed, he will never have to answer for such acts. Yet his alleged crimes could weigh heavily in any consideration of the allegations about Trump and his dealings with Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, as well as some of the obstruction allegations. The comparisons between the allegations against Clinton and Trump creates some striking similarities.
Clinton used Jordan, whose company offered Lewinsky a well paid job in public relations. Trump allegedly used David Pecker, owner of the National Inquirer, to give former Playboy bunny Karen McDougal a well paid job as a writer. Clinton allegedly used the lawyer Carter to draw up a false affidavit from Monica Lewinsky that was used in court to deny a sexual relationship. Trump allegedly used lawyer Michael Cohen to draw up a false affidavit from porn star Stormy Daniels to deny a sexual relationship.
Clinton isolated Attorney General Janet Reno over her ordering of an independent counsel investigation. The New York Times and other papers reported how Clinton left Reno “twisting in the wind” and wanted her resignation because “she had been too willing to refer cases” involving his close associates to independent prosecutors. Trump publicly denounced Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself and facilitating the “witch hunt” of the investigation into possible Russia collusion. Trump went further in demanding that Sessions resign.
Clinton is accused of directly encouraging a key witness, Lewinsky, to lie to federal investigators. Trump is accused of encouraging people not to “rat” in cooperation with Mueller. Clinton denied an affair with “that woman” while Hillary Clinton and his surrogates attacked the accusers. Trump drafted the infamous statement on the Trump Tower meeting with Russians that misrepresented its purpose. Clinton and his surrogates relentlessly attacked Starr and demanded the closure of his investigation as unlimited and part of what Hillary Clinton called a “vast right wing conspiracy.” Trump and his surrogates have relentlessly attacked Mueller and demanded the closure of his investigation as unlimited and baseless.
The fact is that both Clinton and Trump warranted the investigations that unfolded during their presidencies. Thus far, however, the clearest evidence of criminal conduct related to the cover up of the affairs runs against Clinton. The account by Lewinsky offers an overwhelming case for criminal conduct by Clinton, a consistent pattern including his alleged encouragement of her lying to investigators, the supply of a Clinton ally for legal advice, the job offer from Revlon, and his own act of perjury.
Does this mean Republicans should now feel free to engage in the same willful blindness and hypocrisy that the Democrats exhibited during the Clinton investigation? Of course not. If Trump lies under oath or suborns perjury by others, the president should be impeached, no question. There can be no exceptions for a nation committed to the rule of law, even if the most powerful politicians are exceptionally gifted at inventing them.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. He testified on the Bill Clinton impeachment standard, represented former attorneys general in that litigation, and served as the lead defense counsel in the last impeachment trial.