At the birth of birtherism

Sidney Blumenthal is one of Hillary Clinton’s closest confidants. His leading quality is reflected in the well-earned moniker Sid Vicious, though his viciousness is reflected most acutely in his lies. Students of ancient history may recall Blumenthal’s dramatic flood of lies about his appearance before a grand jury investigating Clinton scandals in 1998. As reported by the New York Times, Blumenthal emerged from the private grand jury proceedings to attack independent counsel Ken Starr in what we later learned was a blizzard of lies:

Mr. Blumenthal professed outrage at being called before the grand jury, but he clearly relished his chance to flay Mr. Starr.

“For nearly 30 years I was a working journalist and for six months I have been an assistant to the President,” said Mr. Blumenthal, 49, a former writer for The Washington Post, The New Republic and The New Yorker.

“I never imagined that in America I would be hauled before a Federal grand jury to answer questions about my conversations with members of the media. But today, I was forced to answer questions about conversations, as part of my job, with The New York Times, CNN, CBS, Time magazine, U.S. News, The New York Daily News, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Observer and there may have been a few others.”

The voluble Mr. Blumenthal continued: “Ken Starr’s prosecutors demanded to know what I had told reporters and what reporters had told me about Ken Starr’s prosecutors. If they think they have intimidated me, they have failed. And if any journalist here or elsewhere wants to talk to me, I’ll be glad to talk to you.”

Reviewing Blumenthal’s doorstop of a book on what Blumenthal called The Clinton Wars after the truth had come out, Michael Isikoff recalled this episode as a serious example of Blumenthal’s malleable relationship to the truth (as Isikoff wryly called it):

It was during the early days of the Lewinsky scandal, and Starr’s prosecutors were convinced that Blumenthal was at the center of an organized campaign—complete with private detectives—to dig up dirt about their pasts. So, the prosecutors subpoenaed Blumenthal. After a brief session with Starr and his prosecutors, Blumenthal emerged on the courthouse steps and, as if mimicking Joseph Welch before Joe McCarthy, indignantly portrayed himself as a First Amendment martyr. “I never imagined that in America I would be hauled before a federal grand jury … and forced to answer questions about my conversations, as part of my job” with news organizations, he proclaimed. He then named eight of the news organizations he was “forced” to answer questions about, including the New York Times, CNN, and CBS. Months later, the transcript of the Feb. 26, 1998, grand jury session became public as part of Starr’s impeachment report. It showed that Blumenthal wasn’t asked about any news organizations at all. He was asked if he had ever leaked to the press DNC “oppo research” about two members of Starr’s team. It was Blumenthal, not the prosecutors, who brought up the names of the news organizations—apparently so he could later claim that the questioning was more sinister than it really was.

Blumenthal returned to the news last week with respect to his disputed (by him) role in the birth of birtherism in service of Hillary Clinton as she sought the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2008 campaign. Mark Hemingway delivers a devastating account of Blumenthal’s sayings and doings then and now in the Weekly Standard column “Someone isn’t telling the truth about Sidney Blumenthal and the Clinton campaign.” Hemingway’s column seems to me some kind of a masterpiece that warrants the attention of all serious observers of the current campaign.