The Clinton Wars’: A Correction

To the Editors:

Joe Conason, a journalist who has written extensively on the theme of inaccuracy and excess in the coverage of President Clinton, has nailed me in his column in on some errors in my review of The Clinton Wars by Sidney Blumenthal [NYR, May 29]. So the following corrections are in order:

  1. I was wrong to describe Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan as the biggest thrift in the state. I should have called it, as the original New York Times report on the Whitewater transaction did, “one of the largest state-chartered associations in Arkansas.” There were federally chartered savings and loans in the state that were much larger but if there was an issue of propriety, it had to do with the governor being a business partner of the head of a state-chartered institution. I left out the distinction (as did Conason).

  2. I misconstrued Sidney Blumenthal’s reference to the late R.J. Rushdoony, a religious zealot and Holocaust denier. He was a founding board member of the right-wing Rutherford Institute and an ideological godfather. But he was not involved in Rutherford’s decision to underwrite the Paula Jones suit and so his name did not belong on a roster of the “vast right-wing conspiracy.”

  3. Reacting to a potted biography of Senator Joseph Lieberman on page 725 of this 822-page book, I noted that Blumenthal had neglected to mention a factor in Al Gore’s choice of him as a running mate that others thought highly pertinent: his speech on the Senate floor decrying the President’s conduct in the case of the intern. Blumenthal doesn’t mention the speech in that context. He simply says that Lieberman “had a streak of moral censoriousness.” I leaped to the conclusion that he was writing around the subject, somehow forgetting that a mere 247 pages earlier he had summarized the speech, in another context, in a single sentence.

I’m happy to stand corrected. But I don’t think a correction is warranted on another matter cited by Conason. Commenting on Blumenthal’s description of a phone conversation he had with Clinton following a televised speech in which the President apologized for misleading people in the Lewinsky business, I made the point that Blumenthal never received a personal apology for the lies he had been told in the Oval Office. Conason mentions another passage in the book in which Clinton privately tells Blumenthal, “He was sorry about what everybody had been through because of the scandal. He was apologetic that he had given ammunition to our enemies.” I can understand that the underling didn’t need to hear his President sound even more abject but this still strikes me as something less than a personal apology. Such an apology would have had to touch on the conversation that placed an especially onerous burden on Blumenthal, twice enmeshing him with a grand jury: once when he refused to disclose the conversation on grounds of executive privilege; the other time when he acknowledged that the President had lied to him. As far as we can tell from the book, Clinton never spoke to Blumenthal about that in their remaining two years in the West Wing.

Joseph Lelyveld
New York City