Hitchens v. Blumenthal, Part Two

Chatterbox continues to be mesmerized by the “inside-Washington sideshow” (seeSlate’s “Today’s Papers” concerning Christopher Hitchens’ affidavit against Sidney Blumenthal and “Hitchens v. Blumenthal,” below, for the basic story). Chatterbox has now heard Hitchens’ side of the story, but not Blumenthal’s (apart from his public statement that “My testimony to the Senate was truthful. If someone is saying it’s not, they are mistaken”). But first, a minor correction to the previous dispatch: Hitchens’ affidavit was taken on Feb. 5, not Feb. 6, as Chatterbox previously reported.

Hitchens tells Chatterbox that his debut as a participant in the impeachment follies resulted from his merely wanting to write a column for The Nation “asking us to withdraw our pro-Sid editorial of last year in the light of what the grand jury material reveals about his lying to all of us on the courthouse steps.” Chatterbox pauses here to note that Chatterbox does not agree with Hitchens (and the New York Post, and the forewoman of the Starr grand jury, and quite a few others) that Blumenthal did lie in his comments on the courthouse steps. (For Chatterbox’s exegesis on this, see his earlier dispatch, “Sid Blumenthal Framed!“) Chatterbox will concede that certain other Blumenthal comments about the grand jury that appeared in Anthony Lewis’ New York Times column were at best an overheated version of what really happened–the Times ran an explication du text by James Bennett earlier this week after Matt Drudge kicked up a fuss about them–but of course it’s difficult to know which of the two participants in that telephone game, Blumenthal or Lewis, was at fault for the distortions. (Both have been known not to think very clearly when Flytrap is the subject.)

Anyway: Hitchens says that in his planned Nation column accusing Blumenthal of lying on the courthouse steps, he was also going to write about how Blumenthal had told him lies in March 1998 about Clinton being the victim of Monica the Stalker, “and to say how Clintonism poisons everyone it touches blah blah, as I’ve said before.” (We don’t know whether Blumenthal himself believed the lies at the time, but Chatterbox’s guess is that he did: Chatterbox has known Blumenthal to believe some pretty wild stuff in his time.) Hitchens supposes that in the course of asking around about grand jury material, it got back to the congressional impeachment team that Hitchens had been told about the “stalker” business by Sid. He says he got a call from the House Judiciary committee on Feb. 5, “and I told them what I’ve told everyone else.”

Hitchens also told the investigators that Blumenthal “told some version” of the stalker story “to almost everyone I know.” (To state what should be obvious by now: Blumenthal did not tell it to Chatterbox.) Hitchens said he would not reveal the names of these others, even if they tried to “compel the testimony.” But “it hasn’t taken long for someone to come forward and say that they remember me, and Carol [his wife], relating with shock the slanders against Lewinsky … the following day. I can’t say the name now, but it is that of someone who you would find convincing.” The account of all this in today’s Washington Post by Al Kamen mentions but does not identify a journalist who says more or less this.

Chatterbox is inclined to believe Hitchens and not Blumenthal in the factual dispute, though he doesn’t think it has any bearing on the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton. (We already know Clinton told Blumenthal the “stalker” story; that Blumenthal may have repeated it doesn’t really buttress the obstruction of justice charges, which, Chatterbox continues to believe, really depend on what went on between Bill Clinton and Betty Currie.) Did Hitchens violate a journalistic confidentiality agreement with Blumenthal? Hitchens doesn’t say, and presumably Blumenthal is not going to step forward now and say, “Sure, I said it, but I told him it was off the record!” True, Blumenthal’s lawyer had already said, “[I]f anybody in their mind thinks they have a pledge of confidentiality to Sidney … they’re released; let them come forward and say it.” However, the context there was slinging dirt about members of Congress, not slinging dirt about Monica Lewinsky.

[Correction, Feb. 8: Whoops. Blumenthal’s lawyer laid down this challenge twice–once last September in re leaking dirt about members of Congress, and again in early February in re leaking dirt about Monica the Stalker. Also, although Hitchens did not inform Chatterbox whether his March 1998 lunch was off the record, he did inform Tim Russert when asked on Meet the Press. His answer was no: Blumenthal did not explicitly place his lunch comments off the record.]

Timothy Noah