Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Guard Your Diary; Government Wants to Know Your Secrets

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Guard Your Diary; Government Wants to Know Your Secrets

Article excerpt

What are you thinking?" the witness before the Senate committee was asked. "What is in your head at this moment and what are your most personal thoughts regarding the president of the United States?"

This scene, out of Kafka and Joe McCarthy, but mostly out of my imagination, is not possible under our system. The government is constrained from asking such questions just as its ability to search our homes and rummage through our files is limited by the Constitution.

But the other day, at yet another Whitewater hearing, a former government investigator named L. Jean Lewis was asked by the Democratic counsel, Richard Ben-Veniste, whether she has ever called President Clinton a "lying bastard." She said she could not recall.

With that, Ben-Veniste produced a letter Lewis had written in which she scoffed at Clinton's denial that he had ever interfaced with Gennifer Flowers. "I never slept with that woman . . . quoth the illustrious Governor Bill Clinton! Everybody in Arkansas knows he did, the lying bastard, and then he puts her on the state payroll!"

As anyone can see, this is awful stuff - too many exclamation marks, for one thing.

Her memory refreshed, Lewis conceded she had indeed written such a letter but had purged it from the computer disk she'd given the committee. Ah yes, Ben-Veniste conceded, but in ways that he could not begin to understand, in ways both nefarious and magical, technicians were able to bring the letter back from the dead, snatch it out of the ether, and reassemble it for the Senate of the United States.

"I hate it when that happens," Ben-Veniste said, "but there it is."

Well, I hate it, too - and so should we all. It's not that I don't think Democrats are entitled to wonder if Lewis, an insistent Whitewater investigator and a self-confessed conservative Republican, is not an avid Clinton-hater.

It's rather that a letter that was supposedly gone and destroyed, digitally shredded and turned back into the computer dust of zeroes and ones, a letter sent to a friend, an expression of a private thought, ought not to come back, on some sort of reverse breeze, and slam the writer in the face.

It is as if Lewis was being compelled to testify about a matter that, really, she could not otherwise be compelled to testify. …

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