Breach: Inside the Impeachment and Trial of William Jefferson Clinton
By Peter Baker
A Berkley Book, 472 pp, 2000
This is a nitty-gritty, behind-the-scenes
look at Congress and the White House during the House impeachment and
Senate trial. It's a fascinating display of the way the major parties
practice politics. Contrary to most appearances, Republicans and
Democrats don't hate each other, at an institutional level. And rarely
do their public words and utterances match their private beliefs and
Peter Baker covered the White House for
the Washington Post from 1996 to 1999, so he witnessed many of
the events he describes. He's talked to the players, obtained private
memos and other documents, and analyzed government transcripts of the
major proceedings. This book is reporting at its finest - rarely does
Baker write what he thinks or how he feels about his subject matter.
The book opens on the eve of the
impeachment vote in the House of Representatives. Bob Livingston is the
designated Speaker, following the disappointing (for Republicans) 1998
elections that forced Newt Gingrich to resign. Livingston is having
second thoughts about impeachment, and considers allowing a censure
vote. But an aide talks him out of it.
This isn't an easy vote for Livingston,
because he reveres the institutional traditions of government, and
cannot imagine any president being impeached. It horrifies him, though
he is convinced it is the right thing to do. And, if he pushed for
censure, he could lose the support of conservative Republicans in his
Speaker bid. Can't risk that. The problem is, his Speakership may
already be doomed because he heard from a White House lobbyist ally that
Larry Flynt found a woman who claimed she and Livingston had an affair,
but if Livingston dropped impeachment and backed censure, Flynt wouldn't
publish the story in his porn rag Hustler. So what to do?
Henry Hyde faced similar tough decisions
a month before, when the impeachment inquiry was conducted by the
committee he chaired. The Democrats, which talked of cooperation while
practicing none of it, pushed for their own impeachment inquiry plan,
which was too limited for Republicans. But if Hyde rejected the Dems'
plan and pushed his own, he'd look like a rabid partisan, and he didn't
want that. For impeachment to be legitimate, it had to be bipartisan. So
what to do?
Dick Gephardt faced a tough choice. He
hated what Clinton did and at one point wondered if he and Senate
Minority Leader Tom Daschle would have to go to the White House and tell
Clinton to resign. But too many Democrats in his caucus were supportive
of Clinton, not because they necessarily loved him, they just didn't
want Republicans to impeach a Democratic president. Other Democrats,
more moderate and conservative ones, were actually leaning toward voting
for impeachment. Somehow, Gephardt had to keep both sides happy and hold
his caucus together. So what to do?
Once impeachment passed and hit the
Senate, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Daschle faced more
problems. They wanted to work together to avoid partisanship, yet had to
keep their people happy. If the rank-and-file in both parties though
their leaders were caving to the other, they'd revolt and fracture the
Senate. But they had to hold a trial and come up with some process that
everyone could live with. And they had other worries. Daschle had to
keep the White House happy and Lott had to keep the House managers
happy. Inevitably, what senators liked the Clinton team or managers
didn't. So what to do?
Read the book to find out. I won't give
it away here, but it may surprise you. What you've heard about the
Clinton impeachment may not be true.
I'll give you one example. You may recall
that Democrats constantly criticized Republicans for acting partisan and
ramming Republican proposals down Democratic throats. Dems consistently
implored Republicans to be more bipartisan.
You shouldn't have believed them. They
didn't mean it. The truth was, Republicans in both the House and Senate
bent over backwards to accommodate the Dems, and the Dems repaid them by
drudging up proposals they knew Republicans couldn't accept and then
complaining about Republican partisanship. The Dems did this repeatedly.
Gephardt called it winning by losing. Sure, the Dems didn't have the
votes to stop anything, but by concocting phony partisanship issues,
they could label the whole process partisan and therefore illegitimate.
It was smart politics, and they won the public relations battle, but it
was also fundamentally dishonest.
So, if you like down and dirty political
battles, and want a glimpse of the inner workings of the politicians
that you vote for and support, read the book. You'll learn a lot. I
can't promise that you'll like what you learn.