A new talking point has arisen on the Left in recent weeks — that independent counsel Robert Mueller is scoring victory after victory while the Republican-led Whitewater and Benghazi probes came up empty.
It has been repeated by journalists, entertainers — even members of Congress.
Take Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who, at a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week, praised the work of Mueller’s probe into Russian election meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign — “22 people and businesses have been charged with 75 criminal charges” — and negatively contrasted it with the Whitewater investigation led by special prosecutor Ken Starr during Bill Clinton’s administration.
“Compare that to the Ken Starr Whitewater investigation, which lasted four years and produced nothing,” Raskin said. “Or the seven congressional committees that went after the Benghazi holy grail and came back with nothing, including our beloved Mr. [Rep. Trey] Gowdy.”
Jonathan Landay, a national security correspondent for Reuters, made the same point on Thursday.
“Ken Star’s Whitewater investigation lasted 4 years, produced nothing. 7 congressional committees, including Gowdy’s, investigated Benghazi from 2013-2016, found nothing. Mueller has charged 20 people/entities, won five guilty pleas since May 2017,” he tweeted.
Actor Jason Alexander, aka George Costanza from “Seinfeld,” tweeted Thursday that Starr “was hired for Whitewater investigation and 4 years later all he had was a sex scandal.”
It is true that Starr’s probe — which began as an investigation of a shady Arkansas land deal and ended with a stained blue dress — wandered far afield of its original purpose. In fact, it is Exhibit A of the dangers of appointing independent counsels with large staffs, nearly unlimited budgets, and as much time as they deem necessary.
But it’s a puzzling assertion to insist that Starr’s investigation produced “nothing.” In fact, it netted 15 convictions, toppled a sitting governor, and led to the impeachment of a president.
The Whitewater convictions. The convictions included:
- Jim Guy Tucker, Clinton’s successor as governor of Arkansas, convicted on three fraud counts and removed from office.
- John Haley, Tucker’s attorney, convicted of tax evasion.
- William J. Marks Sr., Tucker’s business partner, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud.
- Stephen Smith, an aide to Clinton when he was governor, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of conspiracy to misapply funds. Clinton later pardoned him.
- Webster Hubbell, a Clinton political supporter who was a partner at the Rose Law Firm, where Hillary Clinton worked, and later served as associate attorney general. He pleaded guilty to embezzlement and fraud in connection to phony billing records at the law firm.
- Jim and Susan McDougal. Jim McDougal was a banker and Clinton supporter convicted of 18 felonies who served time in prison until his death in 1998. His wife, also a Clinton supporter, went to prison on multiple fraud convictions. She famously sat in a jail cell for 18 months on a contempt charge, refusing to answer questions from Starr’s team about whether Clinton lied in his testimony during her Whitewater trial. Clinton pardoned her just before leaving office in 2001.
- David Hale, a banker and Clinton supporter who was a key witness in the Whitewater case. He pleaded guilty to defrauding the Small Business Administration in an unrelated case.
The Whitewater probe obtained convictions against seven others — a bank president who embezzled funds for Clinton’s campaign; a pair of real estate brokers who committed loan fraud; an appraiser; a bank CEO; and two others who committed bribery.
Clinton never faced charges related to the land deal, but years later Starr pursued perjury allegations related to the president’s testimony in a sexual harassment suit filed by former Arkansas state worker Paula Jones. Clinton claimed in a deposition that he’d never had sex with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. She kept a stained blue dress that proved otherwise.
The House of Representatives impeached Clinton, but the Senate did not convict him.
The Mueller probe — which Rep. Raskin praised as “remarkably productive in its work” — has produced similar results. It has brought charges and induced guilty pleas — but nothing against the president.
Mueller’s indictments so far. The Mueller team obtained indictments against 13 Russians and three Russian firms. Aside from the remote possibility that any of the Russian citizens ever will answer to the charges in an American court, it is noteworthy that the indictment does not allege that they conspired with an American or accuse them of the most significant Russian interference — the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) or the iPhone of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign chairman.
Instead, the Russians stand accused of violating campaign finance law by purchasing advertising on social media platforms to influence the election.
The other indictments all involve process crimes — such as lying to the FBI — or financial crimes that predate the Trump campaign. No one has yet been charged with conspiring with Russian agents.
As for the Benghazi investigations, it is true that no government official ever faced charges related to the 2012 terrorist attack that led to the deaths of four Americans at the U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya. But the Select Committee on Benghazi uncovered plenty of mistakes, errors in judgment, and outright lies after the fact.
The 2016 report detailed the failure to scramble military planes to respond to the ongoing attack, which raged for seven hours. It described crew members who sat for three hours in a grounded plane in Rota, Spain, changing in and out of their uniforms four times as superiors vacillated on minute details of the mission. The State Department insisted the military respond in civilian clothing and in vehicles without military markings — out of an apparent concern over offending the Libyan government.
Back in Libya, meanwhile, outgunned U.S. personnel begged for help. The report quotes a diplomatic security agent on a phone call: “If you guys don’t get here, we’re all going to f***ing die.”
A pair of Republican congressmen issued a separate report highlighting the extent to which then-President Barack Obama’s administration went in order to pin blame for the attack on a supposedly spontaneous protest that erupted in response to an obscure anti-Muslim internet movie.
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told daughter Chelsea the truth on the night of the attack in an email obtained by the committee: “We know that the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack — not a protest.”
Yet Clinton and other members of the administration kept up the false narrative for days.