Finally, on policy grounds, it is abundantly clear that however weak Clinton’s invocation of the privilege was (and I think it was not well founded), it was systematically stronger than that of President Trump today. To begin with, however ill-founded the claims might have been, Clinton’s privilege invocation was related to core presidential communications between him and his immediate advisers—a type of claim that merits a higher degree of protection. By contrast, Trump’s invocation has wandered much further afield, to include the protection of law-enforcement information and even the personal privacy of nonexecutive individuals.
More importantly, Clinton’s invocation was related to his own personal conduct with an intern. Those were events that, while significant, were of little systematic import to the nation, and thus, arguably, of less importance to Congress. By contrast, the investigation of Russian interference in our elections that is at the bottom of the special counsel’s investigation is a crucial matter for the nation, and so Congress has greater justification for inquiring into the matter.
In short, Clinton’s efforts to resist a review of his actions—efforts which were, in my judgment, properly rejected—were on a stronger footing than Trump’s efforts to evade congressional oversight today.
Quinta Jurecic: All of the impeachable offenses
One anecdote from the investigation of Clinton’s assignation with Lewinsky shows how, even in his most desperate moments, Clinton understood that norms of lawful behavior applied to himself. One of his close advisers, Paul Begala, recently told me that even Clinton, whose efforts to avoid responsibility for his actions were, at times, almost laughable in their extremity, understood that in the end, the rule of law must prevail.
You may consider Begala’s characterization as somewhat self-serving, but the evidence from the denouement of the investigation, in the summer of 1998, supports his claim. The Starr investigation had been circling Clinton for months. Toward the end the investigation, Starr got a dress from Lewinsky that she had saved—and he wanted a DNA sample from Clinton to match to stains on the dress.
And so it came to pass, in a rather remarkable turn of events, that Clinton sat still one evening while the White House physician drew his blood, in the presence of an FBI agent and a prosecutor from Starr’s office. Imagine how that must have looked and felt from Clinton’s perspective—his very own blood being taken. And Clinton must have understood—he simply must have—that the blood would prove the connection to Lewinsky, in effect condemning him from his own body. And yet he sat there and did it. He didn’t refuse—and Begala says he never considered it—even though, from his perspective, it may well have meant the end of his presidency.
Clinton gave his blood. Not willingly, but he gave it nonetheless. Why? We can’t ever know for sure, but in some sense, it must have reflected a commitment to following the rules, even when they hurt.
In the meantime, don’t accept the argument that “Trump is cooperative.” Call me when he gives blood.