The Cell Phone Records, Part 2

Chatterbox has been inundated by e-mails urging him to take another look at Betty Currie’s cell-phone records, which were brandished by Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., as evidence that it was Betty Currie, not Monica Lewinsky, who initiated contact regarding the retrieval of several gifts Monica had received from the president. (If Currie made the initial call, that looks more like obstruction. If Monica made the initial call, as Currie claims, it looks a bit less so, though it’s hard to understand why the secretary to the president of the United States would choose of her own accord to be quite this solicitous toward the president’s bratty former mistress.)

Chatterbox observed in this space last week (“What Cell Phone Records ?”) that the cell-phone records seemed to have attracted little attention when they first surfaced. Chatterbox said the cell-phone evidence appeared to support Monica’s claim that, a few hours after she talked to the president about what she should do with several gifts–including a brooch that revealed he thought of her as more than just an intern–Currie phoned her and said, “I understand you have something to give me,” or, possibly, “The president said you have something to give me.” That’s because the cell phone record shows that Currie phoned Monica on Dec. 28, 1997, the date in question, at 3:32 p.m.

Chatterbox saidat the time that there were some discrepancies between Monica’s recollection and the cell phone records, which were released after Monica and Currie testified before the grand jury. Chatterbox also mused that his failure to notice the cell-phone records before then suggested we’ve all become so sick of this scandal that we can’t absorb significant new information. Clearly that isn’t true for many of Chatterbox’s readers. Prompted by them to consult this week’s presentations by White House counsels Charles Ruff and Cheryl Mills, as well as the Jan. 13 White House trial memo (Section 5C3), Chatterbox is now prepared to concede that the cell-phone records aren’t as significant as he initially thought. Two of the White House arguments against the cell-phone records fail to convince Chatterbox, but the third one, he has to admit, is persuasive. Here are the details:

  1. Currie’s Dec. 28 phone call was at 3:32, but Monica had recalled the gift exchange occurred at 2. Either Monica is wrong that the gift exchange occurred at 2, or the phone call occurred after the gift exchange took place. If it’s the latter, of course, the phone records can’t support the claim that Currie initiated the contact. But Chatterbox thinks it’s entirely possible Monica was off by a couple of hours when she said the gift exchange occurred at 2.
  2. The cell-phone records show the phone call lasted a minute. Ruff said that means it could have been less than a minute, because phone records round up. And one minute or less, he suggested, wasn’t enough time to make the arrangements.Chatterbox thinks this is a phony argument. If you were having a phone conversation, over a cell phone, no less, that might implicate you in an obstruction of justice, would you be chatty? Even if you were a princess from Beverly Hills? Of course you wouldn’t be. Here’s an entirely plausible hypothetical exchange:Currie: “Hi, Monica, it’s Betty Currie. The president said you have something to give me.”Monica: “Oh, the gifts?” (Then, wising up): “Yes, I do.”Currie: “How about I swing by your place and pick them up in an hour.”Monica: “Fine. Uh, that’s fine.”Currie: “Where do you live?”Monica: “The Watergate, apartment [whatever]”Currie: “Great. See you in an hour. Bye.”Monica: “Bye.”Chatterbox got an officemate to time him while he recited this dialogue. It took 21 seconds. Granted, this does not allow for the “other chitchat” that also occurred during this phone call, according to Mills, who cited Lewinsky’s testimony. But Chatterbox doesn’t think it’s disproven that the additional chitchat occurred within the allotted 60 seconds. Remember, Chatterbox’s hypothetical conversation leaves 40 seconds to spare.
  3. Currie testified that she picked up Monica’s gifts on her way home from the White House. Okay, Chatterbox will concede this poses a serious problem. The cell phone records, Mills explained yesterday, showed that Currie’s call originated in Arlington, Va., where Currie lives. It is, of course, vaguely possible that Currie forgot she was supposed to pick up the packages, drove home, then slapped her forehead and said, “Jeez! I forgot Monica’s brooch! Better call her and say I’m swinging by right now!” But Chatterbox acknowledges that a more plausible explanation is that the cell phone call occurred after Currie carted the loot home.

–Timothy Noah