New York Times intelligence reporter Peter Baker did all he could to minimize the scandal that resulted in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, and maximize the danger President Trump is now in, in Sunday’s “Trump Turns to Familiar Playbook: Clintons’.”
Baker, who is usually a little more balanced, attacked special prosecutor Ken Starr and cited Democratic attack-dog James Carville as an authority to defend the integrity of Trump special counsel Robert Mueller. Baker soft-pedaled any journalistic criticism of the Clintons’ fierce assault on oversight, on the way to President Clinton's impeachment over lying under oath about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
Much as the Clintons did, Mr. Trump is assembling a team of lawyers both inside and outside the White House to draw issues related to the investigation away from the rest of the West Wing. And he has embarked on a campaign to discredit the investigators before they can even get very far in their investigation, hoping to do to Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, what the Clintons did to Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel.
That Clinton campaign against Ken Starr was one that the Times and the rest of the media avidly participated in! It was a team effort.
Whether Mr. Trump can do to Mr. Mueller what the Clintons did to Mr. Starr remains an open question. The Clintons did not go on the attack when the first special counsel, Robert Fiske, was picked to look into their land dealings. They shifted strategy only after Mr. Starr was named to replace Mr. Fiske by a three-judge panel led by a conservative judge who, shortly before the appointment, had lunch with two Republican senators who were harsh critics of the Clintons.
Though Mr. Starr, a former solicitor general and appeals court judge, was widely respected before becoming independent counsel, he was seen as a conservative whose partiality was immediately questioned. Over the course of his investigation, he made judgment choices that gave ammunition to the Clintons as they assailed his handling of the case.
Starr’s “partiality was immediately questioned” by the mainstream media, prodded along by vengeful Clintonoids like Carville. Baker bolstered Mueller's purportedly non-partisan reputation.
Mr. Mueller, by contrast, is not seen as a political figure. A Marine veteran decorated for combat in the Vietnam War, he was a career prosecutor who worked his way up to head the F.B.I., appointed by Mr. Bush and reappointed by Mr. Obama. Known as a straight arrow, he led the bureau for 12 years, making him the longest-serving director other than J. Edgar Hoover.
“Your political options are kind of limited -- rally your base and do what you can to question the credibility of the investigation,” said James Carville, the longtime adviser to Mr. Clinton who led the attacks on Mr. Starr.
But he said he doubted it would work against Mr. Mueller. “The other thing is, Starr was kind of self-righteous, inexperienced, clearly partisan,” Mr. Carville said. “Mueller is none of these things.”
The Clintons largely went after Mr. Starr through surrogates like Mr. Carville. Their lawyers filed complaints in various courts attacking Mr. Starr’s conduct of the investigation and accusing him of illegal leaks. But unlike Mr. Trump, the president himself largely avoided engaging directly, with the main exception being the night after he testified to a federal grand jury in August 1998 and went on television with a blistering, angry attack on Mr. Starr. Aides and independent analysts widely concluded that the speech was a mistake.
Some Republicans said that a strategy of attacking Mr. Mueller was, at best, premature and, at worst, unwise. “The easy answer is Clinton got impeached. How well did that work?” said Rich Galen, a longtime Republican strategist. “If anyone’s looking for a lesson in how not to do it, that would be it.”
Moreover, Mr. Galen added, the subject of this investigation is far more serious than Mr. Clinton’s deceptions about sex, making it harder to marginalize in the public mind.
“This is not about sex and is not silly,” he said. “This is about whether or not the Trump family, friends, amigos, whether or not they were actively reaching out to a foreign government that is not a friendly foreign government to do dirty work on their behalf against Hillary Clinton.”