Television

What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in the Impeachment Episode With Brett Kavanaugh

The future Supreme Court justice was a principal author of the Starr report.

A black-and-white photo of Brett Kavanaugh from the 1990s and Alan Starzinski as Kavanaugh in the show.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images and FX.

Episode 9 of Impeachment: American Crime Story, which covers Monica Lewinsky’s and Linda Tripp’s grand jury depositions, is a bit like the obligatory recap episode of an America’s Next Top Model season, a catch-up on the story so far with a bit of extra material, since we see Tripp and Lewinsky answering questions about events we’ve already seen take place in previous episodes. However, the episode reinforces how both women were put under the microscope and made the villains of the piece while the men involved escape relatively unscathed.

9 out of 10 Don’t Like Linda Tripp

Linda sees herself as a courageous whistleblower who has been unfairly punished for her devotion to truth and ethics, so she’s shocked to see the conservative literary agent Lucianne Goldberg claim during a television interview that only 1 in 10 Americans view her sympathetically.

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According to a July 1998 CNN/Time poll, only 12 percent of Americans had a favorable view of Tripp, with 52 percent unfavorable and 36 percent “unfamiliar” with her. Tripp may have taken some consolation from the fact that Lewinsky’s favorability rating, at 12 percent, was no better. And both may have drawn some consolation from Starr’s unfavorability rising from 42 percent in March to 51 percent in June. Clinton’s approval, meanwhile, remained steady, with 56 percent viewing him favorably and only 38 percent unfavorably.

Did Bill Wear a Tie Monica Gave Him?

Bill Clinton in the Rose Garden and Clive Owen as Clinton in the show, with his hand raised.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by William Philpott/AFP via Getty Images and FX.
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Monica sees Bill appear on television the day of her grand jury testimony, notices he’s wearing one of the ties she gave him, and wonders if it’s a message of solidarity.

Clinton did indeed wear a tie given to him by Lewinsky for a Rose Garden speech on gun control the day of her testimony. However, it was unlikely to have been a message. For one thing, Lewinsky would only have been able to see the footage that evening after she came back from appearing before the grand jury and had already given her testimony. A couple of weeks later, Ken Starr’s prosecution team showed the president a photo of the Rose Garden event and asked if the tie had a special meaning. Clinton’s response was amused mystification, and the matter was dropped.

Brett Kavanaugh and the Starr Team’s Focus on Sex

The grand jury is presented with a chart outlining what sexual contact occurred between Monica and Bill organized by date. However, Starr’s team, pushed by young member Brett Kavanaugh, feels the descriptions of the sexual encounters are too vague and Monica’s answers too general. Kavanaugh insists she be reinterviewed under oath and forced to be more specific. In a grueling interview with the lone female member of Starr’s team, Monica is subject to questioning about the most intimate details of her love life, questions she must answer to retain her immunity deal. Starr’s rationale is that Clinton claimed he had not lied under oath when he said he “never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky” in his Paula Jones deposition because he was using the definition of sexual relations submitted by Jones’ lawyers. Accordingly, to build their case, Starr’s prosecutors have to determine if the sexual acts performed fell inside this definition or outside, in which case Clinton could be charged with perjury.

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The Starr Report, of which now-Justice Kavanaugh was a principal author, notably combined sanctimony and prurience; its introduction noted, “Many of the details reveal highly personal information; many are sexually explicit. This is unfortunate, but it is essential.” Kavanaugh himself wrote a memo to the Starr team arguing for a sexually explicit line of inquiry with the president. However, this approach may not have been legally essential so much as politically desirable, going into detail about behavior that was sleazy but not criminal and offering innuendo in place of substantive charges.

That Starr had a highly selective approach to moral outrage became more apparent when, as president of Baylor University, he failed to address accusations of gang rape against the university’s football team. He went on to be part of the legal team that negotiated a sweetheart deal that let Jeffrey Epstein serve only 13 months in jail with daily 12-hour passes. These actions led one of his former advisers, Judi Hershman, to reveal that she had had a “fond, consensual” yearlong affair with the publicly uxorious Starr.

Paula’s Marriage in Trouble

Paula Jones in a crowd of reporters and Annaleigh Ashford as Jones in the show, wearing a similar camel-colored outfit.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Luke Frazza/AFP via Getty Images and Tina Thorpe/FX.
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Paula Jones returns from the hospital after getting a nose job to trouble on the domestic front. Her husband, Steve, blames her lawsuit for his losing his job as an airline ticket agent and, worse, feels it was all for nothing, since a judge threw out Paula’s suit and they haven’t received any money. She retorts that she only brought the suit to prove to him she hadn’t led Bill on.

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Paula Jones did get a nose job in July 1998, at an estimated cost of $9,000. At the time, it wasn’t clear where the funds had come from, but Jones later said she “started getting calls from plastic surgeons all over the country, wanting to give me anything I wanted done because they thought I was being unfair[ly treated] and it wasn’t right.” She ultimately chose a New York plastic surgeon who offered to throw in a “boob job [but I] decided not to.”

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In April of that year, her lawsuit against Bill Clinton alleging sexual harassment was dismissed by a federal judge, Susan Webber Wright, who wrote that while Clinton’s alleged behavior, if true, was “certainly boorish and offensive … the Governor’s alleged conduct does not constitute sexual assault.”

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Steve Jones, who had lost his job, didn’t move out of the family one-bedroom apartment until March 1999. As with Paula Jones’ nose job, it was unclear where the funds for paying the rent on the apartment in Long Beach, California, were coming from.

Did Linda Have a Criminal Record?

Linda is determined to return to work at the Department of Defense and storms in to question her manager about why she is not being sent the documents she needs to do her job from home. He replies that a New Yorker profile has reported that she was arrested as a teenager, and since she didn’t mention this arrest on her security clearance form, she is open to being charged by the Department of Justice and her security clearance has been revoked. Linda maintains the arrest was just the result of a teen prank and takes this dismissal as evidence that her fears of being persecuted by the White House are justified.

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Tripp was in fact arrested on a grand larceny charge in 1969, although a high school friend, Kevin Milley, said she was a victim of a prank gone wrong, not an instigator. Tripp and about two dozen other teenagers were out together when two boys in the group took a watch and money from hotel rooms in Greenwood Lake, New York, and stuffed them into Tripp’s purse without her knowing. They then called police and reported a theft. “She was entirely innocent in this affair,” Milley said. The charge against Tripp was reduced to loitering. She pleaded guilty and was given an unconditional release without being sentenced or fined. As loitering is less serious than a misdemeanor and would not have appeared on her permanent record, it is questionable that it needed to be declared on the security form.

In 2003, Tripp received more than $595,000 from the Defense Department to settle a lawsuit over the release of her confidential personal information to the New Yorker. During discovery, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, Ken Bacon, admitted he released information from her personnel file. But Bacon maintained that “the issue here is whether it was appropriate to answer a reporter’s question about how Linda Tripp answered one question about a matter of public record.”

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