transcript of Hitchens on Meet the Press

Peter Kilander peterk at
Sun Feb 7 14:22:48 PST 1999

Meet the Press, February 7, 1999

MR. RUSSERT: But first, before we get to Monica Lewinsky’s video and the final outcome of the president’s trial, there has been another twist in this strange saga. White House aide Sidney Blumenthal has testified under oath he never spread negative stories about Monica Lewinsky. But now a veteran journalist has stepped forward to directly challenge Mr. Blumenthal. Joining us is Christopher Hitchens, who writes for The Nation and Vanity Fair magazines.

Mr. Hitchens, welcome.

MR. HITCHENS: Good morning.

MR. RUSSERT: You have a signed affidavit which says that on March 19th you and your wife had lunch with Mr. Blumenthal and that Mr. Blumenthal said that Monica Lewinsky had been a stalker and that the president was the victim of a predatory—an unstable, sexually demanding young woman. I now want to show you and our audience an exchange that Mr. Blumenthal had this very week with Congressman Lindsey Graham under oath in a deposition for the Senate:


REPRESENTATIVE LINDSEY GRAHAM: Do you have any idea how White House sources are associated with statements such as, "She’s known as the stalker?" Do you have any idea how that got in the press?

MR. SIDNEY BLUMENTHAL: I have no idea how anything came to be attributed to a White House source.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Hitchens, is Mr. Blumenthal telling the truth?

MR. HITCHENS: Well, he could be telling the truth if he says he has no idea how things attributed to White House sources. But the fact of the matter is that when I saw him for the first time since the scandal broke, that’s what he said to me and to my wife and has said to many other people, that Monica Lewinsky was a stalker and that this was an aspect of the matter that had eluded people’s attention. And so I’m afraid to say that when I was rung by the House committee, I didn’t know what Mr. Blumenthal was going to say or what he had said. But I said what I’ve said to everyone since that day, which is that as far as I could see, there was only one reason that that story was in print and it was because the White House wanted it to be.

MR. RUSSERT: Did Mr. Blumenthal tell any other reporters that you know about Monica Lewinsky being a stalker?

MR. HITCHENS: Yes, he did.

MR. RUSSERT: How many?

MR. HITCHENS: Well, I don’t know a number. I would say of most of the people I know in the profession who heard that story, they knew it either directly or indirectly from Mr. Blumenthal.


MR. HITCHENS: I’ve had to say to the House staffers who—now I know why they call me. I mean, as I say, I’m not going to not say something because I get called by the Congress, where I’ve said that I’m not going to say who anyone else was. They’ll have to find that out for themselves.


MR. HITCHENS: But I don’t expect anyone to come and contradict me.

MR. RUSSERT: Was Mr. Blumenthal’s lunch with you off the record or for background? Are you violating any agreement that you had with Mr. Blumenthal by coming public?

MR. HITCHENS: No. I understand, in any case, his lawyer has released everyone. There seems to be some kind of challenge from any confidentiality agreement they might have had. We knew each other too well to have, so to speak, ground rules. I just was telling him as I’ve been telling him since ’ 92 I think he’s working for a crooked president. And he said, "Well, there’s some stuff you don’t know," and he also added some, I thought, unpleasant things about poor Katherine Willey, saying, "Well, her numbers are high now after the accusations she had made but they won’t be so high later on." I was upset that he would try and, as it were, shock me with such a vulgar story.

MR. RUSSERT: You are convinced that Mr. Blumenthal was trying to plant with you the fact that Monica Lewinsky was a stalker.

MR. HITCHENS: Well, let me put it like this. I mean, he has known since at least 1992 that I have nothing but contempt for President Clinton. So I don’ t think he can possibly have expected that I would do him this favor. When I ’ve reflected upon it afterwards, I thought perhaps he was, so to speak, honing the story or trying it out. But I then heard he’d told it to a number of other people, too. And it seems to me that that was the White House strategy. I was astonished to find that he told it to the grand jury. If you take the case that he told it to only his immediate family and only to the grand jury, though believing it to be exculpatory of the president, you have to believe the following, that Sidney Blumenthal, well-known to be a very, very fluent and assiduous defender of the president, went around town with evidence that would make Bill Clinton look good and kept it to himself. I submit to you that’s not believable.

MR. RUSSERT: His attorney, William McDaniel, has just called NBC News and read the following statement on behalf of Mr. Blumenthal. "I was never a source for any story about Monica Lewinsky’s personal life. I did not reveal what the president told me to any reporter. As I testified to the Senate, I talked every day about the stories appearing in the news about Monica Lewinsky to my friends and family, as everyone else was doing. Though I do not recall the luncheon with my ‘then’ friend of 15 years, the notion that I was trying to plant a story with this rabid anti-Clinton friend is absurd."

MR. HITCHENS: Well, the last bit is true. If he thought—I can’t believe he would have ever thought I would pass it on. But my view is if you tell someone who is, as he somewhat exaggeratedly says, or through his lawyer—I don’t have a lawyer—says, "rabidly anti-Clinton." If he tried on me, who wouldn’t he have tried on? The point is, you have to believe that otherwise that he thought he knew something that put the president in a better light than most people saw him in on this matter and didn’t give utterance to it. That, I again submit, isn’t a believable line of argument.

MR. RUSSERT: You refer to William McDaniel, Sidney Blumenthal’s attorney’s, comments on Tuesday—and let me put them on our screen—talking to the media, and it says here, "When Blumenthal heard the stalker comment from the president, he didn’t spread it, he didn’t peddle it, he didn’t urge people to write about it, he didn’t tell people about it, he wasn’t the source for that," attorney William McDaniel said.

"I don’t believe such a person exists in the news media, but if anybody in their minds thinks they have a pledge of confidentiality to Sidney on the topic of the stalker comment, they’re released. Let them come forward and say it."

Will you now urge your colleagues in the press who you said have heard this from Mr. Blumenthal to come forward and so state, Mr. Hitchens?

MR. HITCHENS: Well, I mean, I don’t want it to be a he said-he said. I don’t think anyone who knows either of us is likely to come forward and say that I ’m a liar. Can I call attention to something that I think is important and made me feel that I have no choice but to tell what I already told other people when the House called me? It’s the following: You may have noticed Cheryl Mills’ deposition in favor of the president, her argument in favor of him where she says that in order to tamper with a witness it’s not enough just to induce or perhaps offer them things. You also are supposed have been proved to have threatened them. I’m told that that’s not true. You don’t have to prove both things. But what has occurred to me since this story was told and since it got into the press and since it certainly was not me, as Sidney knows, who put it in, so there may have been other White House people putting this around. We are not saying only Sidney did so. That was the threat. That’s the moral equivalent, or immoral equivalent, if you like, of the president’s neckwear signals. He’s telling Ms. Lewinsky that, "This is what will happen to you, darling, if you don’t stay perjured. We will morally destroy you," and this is, I’m afraid, not inconsistent with what we know otherwise of what the president has done with women who no longer suit his fancy or serve his term.

MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, lying to Congress has a penalty of five years in prison, up to five years in prison, if proven. If the president is acquitted, but Congress decides to charge Mr. Blumenthal with lying under oath, will you, Christopher Hitchens, testify against Mr. Blumenthal?

MR. HITCHENS: As far as I saw from your tape, Sidney has not lied to Congress. I mean, what he said was he had no idea how that got into print. That’s notionally possibly true. If Mr. Clinton is acquitted and allowed to walk and a separate case is brought against Sidney, that would be a scandal and a disgrace. And no, I would not. I would rather be held in contempt than support such a scandalous outcome. I won’t testify if it’s just against him. The point is, the president made sure, some way or another, that that story got into print. It was a threat against a potential witness, a very vulgar and crude one, very, very typical of his modus operandi. I still hope Sidney was not an accomplice to it, but I can’t have him say that he never said to anyone this was so.

MR. RUSSERT: Christopher Hitchens, we thank you very much for joining us.


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