‘The Human Ferret’ Emerges

“Sid, the Human Ferret” was the late, great, Michael Kelly’s preferred term for Sidney Blumenthal. Many younger readers may not know much about Blumenthal, probably one of the most deservedly detested human beings in Washington in the late 1990s. He’s kept a low profile in recent years, which makes sense given his gift for gutter work. If Hillary Clinton answered questions from the press, one good place to start would be whether or not Blumenthal would get a job in a Clinton White House. After all Mrs. Clinton claims to be a truth-teller and yet relies on perhaps Washington’s most infamous professional liars. 

For those interested, here’s an excerpt from Michael Isikoff’s review of Blumenthal’s elephantine memoir of the Clinton years in Slate:

Consider one small example: Blumenthal’s effort to extricate himself and Hillary Clinton from a clumsy attempt to build a White House dossier on Susan Schmidt, theWashington Post’s most aggressive reporter on Whitewater. Blumenthal’s role in this vaguely Nixonian exercise was first reported five years ago in a story by the Post’s media reporter, Howard Kurtz. When Michael McCurry, who was then press secretary, learned of the project, he proclaimed it ”crazy” and killed it. Instead of admitting his involvement, Blumenthal pretends that he was a passive party. After hearing “constant complaints” about Schmidt’s reporting from White House legal aides, he writes, he suggested they “should present the facts to the Post to correct any errors. Beyond that, I never knew about a study of Schmidt’s reporting. I asked Hillary Clinton, and she had no memory of anything either.”

But others do remember—quite differently, as it turns out. Mark Fabiani, the White House lawyer who ran the counsel offices’ “damage control” team, said he recalls getting a phone call from Blumenthal strongly urging him to do a report on Schmidt. When Fabiani didn’t follow up, he then got a call from Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff instructing him to get moving on the job. This led to the preparation of a lengthy dossier (one that did little to effectively discredit Schmidt, according to Fabiani) and a series of meetings—including one with Hillary Clinton—about what to do with it. The White House lawyers knew exactly what had happened, says Fabiani. “We all laughed about it. We knew [Blumenthal] had called Hillary and told Hillary this should be done. … He was sort of the brooding, omnipresence over the whole thing.” 


Another more serious example of Blumenthal’s malleable relationship to the truth involves his testimony before Kenneth Starr’s grand jury. 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. 


That wasn’t even the worst of it. After his second grand jury session, on June 4, 1998, Blumenthal called up his friends Anthony Lewis and James Bennet [Correction, May 22, 2003: Bennet is not a friend of Blumenthal’s] at the New York Times and fed them another set of outlandish questions that he said Starr’s prosecutors had forced him to answer, including “Does the president’s religion include sexual intercourse?” and “Does the president believe that oral sex is sex?”—each of which showed up in Lewis’ column. But the transcripts later showed that none of those questions were asked. No prosecutor ever brought up Clinton’s religion. …

Read the whole thing here.

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