Hitchens v. Blumenthal, Part 4

Clearly, nobody in the United States Congress reads the Independent of London. If anyone did, someone would have phoned Christopher Hitchens last fall to find out what he meant when he wrote there, on Sept. 13, “I’ve forgiven a good friend of mine, who sincerely lied for Clinton before a grand jury, for looking me in the eye last March and telling me that Monica was a ‘stalker.’ If he can forgive Bill–hey. It’s healing time.”

It would have been obvious to anyone with the vaguest knowledge about Flytrap that the “good friend” was Sid Blumenthal. But it wasn’t till Feb. 4–nearly five months later–that Sen. Arlen Specter, according to Joe Conason in Salon, phoned Gene Lyons, the pro-Clinton writer for the Arkansas Gazette, to quiz him about whether Sid Blumenthal had passed along to Lyons Clinton’s “Monica the Stalker” line. (If you have no idea what Chatterbox is talking about, consult “Hitchens v. Blumenthal” parts one, two, and three.) Lyons told Specter he hadn’t. Conason thinks the idea that senators would be quizzing reporters about their conversations with Sid Blumenthal is nefarious. Chatterbox thinks it mostly shows that Arlen Specter doesn’t know how to do a Nexis search.

Hitchens flags his Independent piece today in a “why I did all this” op-ed in the Washington Post. “I had already told a recognizable version of the story in the Independent of London last Sept. 13, before this matter had acquired its current toxicity,” Hitchens writes. So why the big ruckus when he told Congress the same thing last Friday? Hitchens is right that if you believe that Blumenthal’s “Monica the Stalker” spiel really buttresses the obstruction charge, as the impeachment managers (and Hitchens himself) apparently do, Hitchens’ affidavit didn’t change a thing. Chatterbox, however, thinks the obstruction charge remains unbuttressed by Hitchens’ affidavit (as if all it took to mount a criminal conspiracy was to bullshit a reporter over lunch!). On the other hand, there was no reason to believe Sidney Blumenthal had committed perjury as of Sept. 13. (Hitchens’ construct in his Independent piece–“sincerely lied for Clinton before a grand jury”–accuses Blumenthal of being Clinton’s dupe, not of being a perjuror.) Indeed, Chatterbox spent last night rereading Blumenthal’s grand jury testimony (while watching NBC’s terrible The 60s miniseries), and is prepared to give Blumenthal a clean bill of health: No apparent perjury there. However, a new affidavit from Hitchens’ wife, Carol Blue, apparently tightens the perjury noose concerning Blumenthal’s Senate testimony by saying Blumenthal made explicit at the March lunch that it was Clinton who’d told him about “Monica the Stalker.” (See “Hitchens v. Blumenthal, Part Three ” for the relevant testimony; and Chatterbox must pause here to extend kudos to Lloyd Grove of the Washington Post for getting this last detail, and more generally for being all over this story like a cheap suit.)

Perhaps the person who should be kicking himself the most for not reading the Independent is Sid Blumenthal. If he had, he might have chosen his words more carefully when he was grilled on Capitol Hill last week. Fortunately for Sid, and more generally for the cause of common sense, Hitchens is now pledging to withdraw his affidavit if Sid is put on trial for perjury. (He’d already pledged not to be a witness.) That means the only real consequences of Hitchens’ actions this week will likely be more publicity for Hitchens’ forthcoming anti-Clinton book, Ask Not, Tell Not: The Triangulation of Bill Clinton–and the sad destruction of Hitchens’ friendship with Blumenthal.

–Timothy Noah