Hitchens v. Blumenthal, Part 3

It seems unfair that the House impeachment managers are no longer even trying to prove that President Clinton committed perjury (which Chatterbox believes he did) while they rub their hands together in gleeful anticipation of prosecuting Sid Blumenthal for perjury. Even Christopher Hitchens, Blumenthal’s accuser and erstwhile friend, thinks so. On Meet the Press yesterday , Hitchens said, “If Mr. Clinton is acquitted and allowed to walk and a separate case is brought against Sidney, that would be a scandal and a disgrace.” Asked if he would testify against Blumenthal in a perjury trial, Hitchens said, “I won’t testify if it’s just against him.” Nonetheless, the House impeachment managers are now trying to get the Senate to issue subpoenas to Hitchens and his wife, Carol Blue, who also attended the fateful March 1998 lunch. (If you’re just catching up to this story now, see “Hitchens v. Blumenthal” and “Hitchens v. Blumenthal, Part Two.”)

Setting aside the fairness of all this, Chatterbox continues to wonder: Did Blumenthal lie under oath? It’s a particularly interesting question because, if he did, it was so glaringly unnecessary. Imagine, dear reader, that you were Sid Blumenthal being cross-examined about having told people that Monica Lewinsky was a stalker. Wouldn’t you be inclined to say, “Yes, I told people Monica was a stalker, because the president had told me that and I believed him”? (Even if the believing-him part were a lie? It would certainly be a more efficacious lie than “No, I did not tell people Monica was a stalker,” since there were many people who could call you on that.) Presumably Blumenthal didn’t want to fess up because the House managers were using Blumenthal’s alleged leaks to build their obstruction case against Clinton. But the case was never going to get very far if it depended on this sort of stuff. Blumenthal spreading nasty gossip about Monica Lewinsky isn’t very nice, but it’s hardly strong evidence of an obstruction plot.

But back to the question at hand. Did Blumenthal lie under oath to the Senate?

It’s starting to look like he did. In a statement Blumenthal issued Sunday, he said, “I did not reveal what the President told me to any reporter. As I testified to the Senate, I talked every day about the news stories about Monica Lewinsky to friends and family just like everyone else in the country.” Blumenthal also said “I don’t remember the luncheon with my then-15-year friend Christopher Hitchens and his wife that he describes ….” These would appear to be the first stirrings of a perjury defense, and they aren’t particularly convincing.

Let’s revisit the troublesome exchange cited by Chatterbox in his first item on this controversy. (Chatterbox is going to ignore the much-publicized exchange culminating in Blumenthal’s pronouncement that “I have no idea how anything [about Monica the Stalker] came to be attributed to a White House source,” because as yet there is no evidence to contradict that; Hitchens didn’t write up the stalker accusations.) Anyway, let’s go to the Senate testimony:

Q. So, when you talk to your mother and your friends and [Gene] Lyons about Ms. Lewinsky, are you telling us that you have these conversations, and you know what the President has told you and you’re not tempted to tell somebody the President is a victim of this lady, out of his own mouth?A. Not only am I not tempted, I did not.

Conceivably the last clause in the question, “out of his own mouth,” could save Blumenthal’s hide. If Blumenthal is now admitting he did talk about Monica the Stalker to Hitchens, but denying he attributed that characterization to its source–Clinton–it could save him. Unfortunately for Blumenthal, Hitchens is quoted in today’s New York Times saying, “There was no room in my mind for any doubt that he wanted to leave us with the impression that the president had told him this story.”

Which leaves Blumenthal with his “I don’t remember” defense. But if he doesn’t remember the lunch with Hitchens, how can be so sure when he says he never revealed what Clinton said about Monica the Stalker to “any reporter”?

Incidentally, Chatterbox was wrong when he reported earlier that Hitchens may have violated a confidentiality agreement with Blumenthal. Hitchens said on Meet the Press that Blumenthal had not explicitly placed his comments off the record. Also, Chatterbox earlier said that Blumenthal attorney William McDaniel’s previous invitation to reporters to consider themselves released from any confidentiality agreements was irrelevant here, because that was issued in the context of accusations that Blumenthal had leaked dirt about members of Congress, not Monica. But Chatterbox was wrong. Amazingly, McDaniel issued this challenge twice–first, in September, in connection to allegations that Blumenthal was leaking dirt about members of Congress, and then, last week, in connection to allegations that Blumenthal had leaked dirt about Monica. Memo to Sid: Get a new lawyer.

–Timothy Noah