Amid the shifting sands of Christopher Hitchens’s accounts of and apologias for his bearing witness (deemed false witness by the man he still insists on calling his friend) against Sidney Blumenthal, let us take the rationale he offered in The Nation last week. Here he described how in February 1998 “my old friend Sidney Blumenthal emerged from the grand jury and…denounced the inquisitorial tactics of Judge Starr…: ‘Today I was forced to answer questions about my conversations, as part of my job, with, and I wrote this down, the New York Times, CNN, CBS, Time magazine, US News, the New York Daily News, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Observer….'”
Hitchens then narrates how this allocution on the courthouse steps prompted onslaughts on Starr and “suckered” The Nation. But, Hitchens continues, the transcripts of that grand jury session show that Blumenthal wasn’t asked any such questions, let alone forced to answer. Instead, he was asked if the White House had produced “talking points” about Lewinsky, in response to which question he answered that he had referred reporters to the Democratic National Committee to get the talking points, and that those reporters included people from “news organizations ranging from CNN, CBS, ABC, New York Times, New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, New York Observer, Los Angeles Times.”
The forewoman of the grand jury, Hitchens avers, “admonished [Blumenthal] in the strongest terms at the end of his subsequent appearance, expressing the anger of her fellows at the misrepresentation he had offered to the cameras.”
Here we come to the moment Hitchens claims he decided to embark on the course that led him to agree so readily to swear the famous affidavit that exposed Blumenthal to charges that he had perjured himself in his deposition to the House managers.
“When I found this out,” Hitchens writes, “I was depressed. It’s one thing to exaggerate in your own defense, but another to falsify your own rather cowardly testimony in order to pose as an upholder of the First and Fourth amendments.” The “grand jury transcript might never have been made public. I suppose Sidney assumed it wouldn’t be.” So he decided to show up Blumenthal.
But what did Hitchens actually find out? The answer is, nothing. Either from ABC’s Nightline, Murdoch’s Fox News or the New York Post he swallowed a concoction of lies put out by Starr’s people. Those stories presented the same distorted sequence later picked up by Hitchens. The Post article on November 15, by Brian Blomquist, quoted one Ronald Rotunda, identified as “a lawyer working for the Senate investigator Ken Starr.” Starr’s office, he said had been “vilified and lied about by Clinton aides like Blumenthal in their confidence that the truth would never come out.” “You remember,” Rotunda said, “last February, Blumenthal came out of the grand-jury room and announced how…he’d been asked [by investigators] who in the press he had been contacting…. [Blumenthal] was never asked that question and the next time he showed up in the grand-jury room, the grand-jury forelady said, ‘How could you say this to the press? It was just a lie.'”