Russert gave Novak platform for discredited anti-Clinton stories

Syndicated columnist and CNN Crossfire co-host Robert Novak revived long-discredited allegations that former President Bill Clinton fondled White House volunteer Kathleen Willey and that Clinton was involved in mysterious deaths connected to the failed Arkansas land deal that came to be known as Whitewater. Novak's allegations came during a June 20 discussion of Clinton's forthcoming memoir, My Life, on NBC's Meet the Press.

From the June 20 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:

NOVAK: I don't think, from what I know of the book and from what I've heard on the interviews, that he's [Clinton] at all honest. He gives the impression that this Monica Lewinsky -- I wouldn't call it an affair -- this episode was an aberration, that it was something that -- he did it because he could do it, when his whole life was a life of lecherousness. He doesn't admit the conduct he had as governor, the conduct he had as president of the United States with other women. He can't. I mean, then he would really say that--then he would have to lay it all out on the table.

Novak's reference to “the conduct he had as president of the United States with other women” is apparently an allusion to Willey. But a formal report from independent counsel Robert W. Ray found that Willey was an unreliable witness whose testimony would be unusable in any attempt to prove that Clinton gave false testimony. That's because, as Ray's report explained, Willey's testimony was substantially contradicted not only by Clinton but also by White House staffer Linda Tripp and Willey's friend Julie Hiatt Steele. Moreover, Steele testified before a grand jury that Willey had asked Steele to lie in her initial grand jury testimony in order to corroborate Willey's claim that Willey had recounted to Steele the alleged incident with Clinton shortly after it allegedly occurred.

Moments later, Novak repeated another scurrilous charge against Clinton, implying that Clinton was involved in suspicious deaths connected to Whitewater. Novak's co-panelist, Time magazine senior writer Joe Klein, reacted with disbelief:

NOVAK: I don't believe that the Whitewater case was ever fully investigated. People died. The judge that was going to get information out was not questioned.

KLEIN: People died?

NOVAK: And as a matter of fact, Joe, I believe that Bill Clinton beat the rap on Whitewater and I think Ken Starr failed on that.

Novak appeared to be alluding to a collection of bizarre conspiracy theories according to which Clinton and his allies were responsible for the deaths of as many as 60 individuals dating back to his years as Arkansas governor. Among the most popular of these theories is that deputy Clinton White House counsel Vince Foster was murdered, though nearly a decade's worth of official government investigations have failed to substantiate this charge. Kenneth W. Starr formally declared in 1997 that Foster's 1993 death was a suicide. Starr spent more than four and a half years and more than $47 million as independent counsel investigating Whitewater.

In a June 21 "Fly Trap" item, Gadflyer executive editor Thomas F. Schaller remarked on Novak's comment that “People died”:

Accuse first, substantiate later. Whodathunk such behavior would come from the one reporter out of six who was leaked Valerie Plame's name by the White House and went ahead anyway to abet a federal crime? Of course, none of this stopped Tim Russert from pausing at the show's end to show a clip from Novak's first appearance on MTP 40 years ago this week.

Related Links