[This review appeared in The St. Croix Review, June 2001, pp. 60-2.]
Sellout: The Inside Story of President Clinton's Impeachment
David P. Schippers, with Alan P. Henry
Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2000
One of the questions this book doesn't answer is just why it was that David Schippers, a long-time Democrat from Chicago who had once been head of the Justice Department's Organized Crime and Racketeering Unit under Attorney General Robert Kennedy, was moved to become so eloquent a spokesman for the impeachment of President William Clinton at a time when virtually no other Democrat at any level was willing to break ranks. Schippers accepted an invitation from Chairman Henry Hyde of the House Judiciary Committee to conduct an investigation of the Justice Department, and when Independent Prosecutor Kenneth Starr's referral came to the committee relative to impeachment Schippers was asked to drop that investigation to take on the job of Chief Counsel for the Republican majority on Hyde's committee. He went on to serve as Chief Counsel for the House Impeachment Managers as they prepared and presented their case to the Senate. One of the unforgettable episodes in the impeachment process was Schippers' presentation of the case to the House committee before its vote on the impeachment articles.
Coming from such a source, Sellout itself takes its place as an historic document that gives the inside story as seen by one of the central figures. It provides an excellent summary of the entire process from the time of Starr's referral to Clinton's acquittal by the Senate on February 12, 1999. The full text of Schippers' first report to the House committee, and 48 pages of excerpts from his detailed presentation of the case, are included. An appendix gives photocopies of several documents relating to the scandal that Schippers was first investigating involving the Justice Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service's actions in 1996 to naturalize "more than a million aliens... in time to vote in the 1996 election." Significantly, this rush to bring in immigrant voters was headed by then-Vice President Al Gore. The rush involved irregularities that ranged from truncated interviews, manipulated testing to assure a passing grade, and the failure to act on fingerprint checks to determine aliens' criminal backgrounds. This information itself makes the book important.
The title "Sellout" is explained when Schippers says that "the Republican leadership in the Senate and House sold out the House [Impeachment] Managers... Democrats in both Houses sold out basic principles of law and decency... But, most distressingly, the President and his White House water boys sold out the American people." He might as well have included the cabinet, the Democratic Party, the major media, and most of all the millions of amoralists among the public whose studied indifference and readiness to be manipulated drove the whole process.
More than anything else, the book should be pored over in graduate seminars for centuries as a prime case study in the decadence that looms so large as a central fact of American life at the turn of the new millennium. Lessons from this Aesop's Fable of actual history: how one of the two main political parties had evolved into what was in effect a Leninist-style party with iron-clad discipline, abundant sophistries and no abiding sense of public decency; how the other party, and especially its leadership, was so timorous that it vacated its role in favor of equivocation, in effect depriving the American people of a two-party system; how the mass media spread this spirit of equivocation to a large segment of the electorate; how by consensus information of vital importance was withheld from the public, a fact that in itself raises serious questions for seminars about "democratic theory"; and how the overturn of sexual morality that was part of the counterculture of the 1960s had by the end of the century so widely changed attitudes in the United States that there was little sense of outrage about Clinton's behavior even in and about the Oval Office.
There are reasons to place evidence of scandal under seal, withholding it from the public for a number of years. One is if the information will place in jeopardy the lives of secret agents overseas whose identity would be revealed; another is if the information would cause a diplomatic or military crisis with another country. Prima facie, however, there is no reason why "a great deal of evidentiary material... will remain under seal for fifty years unless the House Judiciary Committee releases it." From whom is the information being hidden except the American people? Why would a Republican majority on the Judiciary Committee want to seal it? Why is there no hue-and-cry to have it released?
Sellout is intrinsically important, certainly easily readable, and an excellent summary of a complex process the details of which necessarily escape us as time passes. But it falls short of what this reviewer had hoped it would amount to as an "insider's revelation" of information we have not had before. Schippers, perhaps as an aberration brought on by his own decency but no doubt to some extent also by Schippers' own absorption of some of the equivocation, accepts the remarkable shibboleth that Clinton's sexual misconduct was his private business, so that only his lies and obstruction of justice were important. This means that there is no explanation of the censoring out of Monica Lewinsky's testimony about oral-anal sex and of why, inconsistently with that censorship, reference to that sex was included in the footnotes to the Starr Report. It means also that there is no detail about the DNA test on the blue dress, even though Schippers acknowledges briefly that the results of that test were what forced Clinton to abandon his infamous insistence that he had had "no sex with that woman."
There is more to the story. It is interesting to speculate what our great-grandchildren will think of us when they come to know it.
Dwight D. Murphey