John Podesta, a White House Deputy Chief of Staff, appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sept. 20 and was grilled by Tim Russert about the pro-Clinton Internet magazine, Salon, breaking the story that Henry Hyde, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, had an extramarital affair 35 years ago. Podesta was swallowing hard and stammering as he insisted that the White House had nothing to do with this story but not denying that Salon had close ties to White House hatchet man, Sidney Blumenthal.
Russert brought up an article that Salon had published on August 5. It said (quote): “Sources within the Clinton camp say they are focusing not only on issues of marital infidelity, but also on issues of character. Among those under scrutiny, these sources say, are House Speaker Newt Gingrich and House Majority Leader Richard Armey. Another known target is Dan Burton, one of Clinton’s most outspoken Republican critics. The Clinton camp’s hunt for dirt also could extend to Henry Hyde, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the man who will be responsible for holding impeachment hearings, knowledgeable sources told Salon.”
The article went on to say, “The theory behind this scorched earth policy is simple. Who among the congressmen is pure enough to pass judgment on the president’s private life? The theory is that if Chairman Hyde and other Republicans on the committee know that, metaphorically speaking, their arms will be broken, they will be much less likely to raise them in a vote favoring impeachment hearings.”
Since that article appeared, stories about old extramarital affairs by both Henry Hyde and Dan Burton, as well as Representative Helen Chenoweth, have received wide publicity. House Republican Whip Tom DeLay has called for Clinton’s resignation, but Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey have been very restrained in their comments. It was also left to DeLay to announce that the Republican leadership had asked the FBI to investigate to determine if the White House was behind the Henry Hyde story, fueling suspicions that the others have been intimidated by White House threats.
It turns out that a liberal Democrat had heard the 35-year-old story from the ex-husband of Henry Hyde’s paramour and had tried to sell it for money to over fifty different reporters and news outlets without success. Salon, which is funded by wealthy Clinton supporters and whose reporters were brought into the White House by Sidney Blumenthal to meet Clinton, was happy to oblige. The editor of Salon claims that this was justified because this was war.
John Podesta denied that the White House had anything to do with getting this story published. He told Russert, “We have a zero tolerance policy for dealing with this kind of information about people’s private lives. Anybody in the White House who has done anything in that regard will be fired.” That pledge would be a lot more credible if Assistant Secretary of Defense Kenneth Bacon and his aide, Clifford Bernath, who illegally leaked derogatory information about Linda Tripp from her confidential personnel files, were not still holding down their cushy jobs in the Pentagon.