Sid Blumenthal Framed!

Chatterbox thinks Sid Blumenthal is getting a bum rap. The papers have gleefully been reporting that Blumenthal, concluding his final appearance before the Flytrap grand jury on June 25, got a scolding from the foreperson for lying to the press about a previous appearance. Here is what the foreperson said: “We are very concerned about the fact that during your last visit that an inaccurate representation of the events that happened were retold on the steps of the courthouse. We would hope that you will understand the seriousness of our work, and not in any way use it for any purpose other than the purpose that is intended, and that you would really represent us the way that events happened in this room.”

The New York Post, the Washington Post, the Washington Times and the St. Petersburg Times all seized on this as a rebuke to Blumenthal for making a speech on the courthouse steps on Feb. 26 in which he said the prosecution team “demanded to know what I had told reporters and what reporters had said to me about Ken Starr’s prosecutors. If they think they have intimidated me, they have failed.” A New York Post editorial this week said the grand jury transcript from Feb. 26 proves Blumenthal a “liar.” The other papers mostly suggested the same thing more delicately (the Washington Post was noncommittal). In fact, though, the grand jury that day did ask Blumenthal a lot of questions that were clearly aimed at establishing whether Blumenthal was leaking nasty information about the Starr prosecutors to the press. Here’s an example:

Q: Did you distributeit [i.e., a videotape of a Los Angeles local news broadcast that made nasty allegations about a member of Starr’s prosecution team] to anyone outside the White House?

A: If reporters called me or I spoke with reporters, I would tell them to call the DNC to get those talking points, and those included news organizations ranging from CNN, CBS, ABC, New York Times, New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, New York Observer, L.A. Times.

The New York Post’s editorial said that Blumenthal rattled off the list of publications “voluntarily,” which is technically true. But a reading of the full transcript makes clear that this is precisely the information the Starr prosecutors were after, and that if Blumenthal had answered the above question with a prim “Yes,” the certain follow-up question would have been, “To whom did you distribute it?” In his courthouse-steps peroration, Blumenthal also said he was grilled about his contacts with U.S. News, when in fact he was asked where he got a certain bit of information and he answered that he’d read it in U.S. News; but Chatterbox chalks this up to honest confusion.

In any case, it isn’t clear that when the foreperson scolded Blumenthal his behavior on Feb. 26 was at issue. The foreperson made reference to Blumenthal’s “last visit,” which had been not on Feb. 26, but rather on June 4. Chatterbox suspects that the foreperson was pissed off not at anything Blumenthal said that day–scanning archives for the New York Times and the Washington Post, Chatterbox finds no evidence that Blumenthal said anything to reporters that day–but at what Blumenthal’s lawyer, William McDaniel, was quoted saying in the Washington Post on June 5. To wit: “What we had was two hours of questions about, ‘Up there at the White House, do they talk about us as prosecutors? And up there at the White House, do you talk about Starr’s investigation?’” Which, though clearly an exaggeration, is a decently accurate description of what happened in the grand jury the day before.

Timothy Noah