Get our free newsletter
“Mr. Hitchens, your table on the terrace will be ready in a moment.”
“I had no idea the Palm had a terrace.”
“We do now. Please go back out the front door and your table will be there presently.”
Christopher Hitchens, every Washington dinner party’s cuddly outlaw, took a flying leap into pariahhood last weekend. In a signed affidavit, he said that when his pal, presidential aide Sidney Blumenthal, testified to the House managers that neither he nor the president had been involved in any effort to trash Monica Lewinsky, he was, well, lying his ass off.
Oops. That’s it for you, Hitchens. So what if your left-flanking maneuvers on Clinton in The Nation and Vanity Fair are galaxies more interesting than the jejune bilge Washington journalists manufacture by the tanker? There will be no more late nights discussing your boldly transgressive views on the fate of Kosovians over aperitifs in Georgetown. Expect death by a thousand whispered cuts from the gilded butter knife that is Washingtonians’ weapon of choice.
“I guess my calendar has cleared up quite a bit, that’s true. I’m not expecting a lot of invitations down the road,” said Hitchens, managing to sound a wee bit wistful about all the stiff repartee he will no longer be able to enliven. All because Hitchens, who has a book on Clinton coming out this spring, trashed a long-standing tradition of Beltway omerta any time a familiar is involved.
Part of the reason that his former patrons in the ruling class are ready to hoist Hitchens’ ample noggin on a cocktail fork is that he has provided one last gasp of oxygen to those unmanageable managers on the Hill. He has some explaining to do, but since the story broke, Hitchensa journalist who writes in real time on live television spotshas suddenly unraveled into a flummoxed, inarticulate naif.
Is he a great orator in possession of a bad set of facts? Or is Truth’s own vigilante simply worn out by the grind of explaining why he threw his buddy onto the pyre of perjury? On CNN, Hitchens looked more like Ted Kaczynski than the charming and pitiless Clinton-hunter his adopted city has come to know and love/hate. It’s as if his last friend had turned him over to the rapacious fangs of the House managers, instead of the other way around.
Hitchens defends himself by saying that he’s not the one who told Blumenthal to adopt the duplicitous MO of his White House keepers. “If he is in a perjury trap of any kind, he was put in it by Clinton and his attorneys, not by me. And I will not appear in court against Sidney, especially if they let the perp [that would be the leader of the free world] slip the noose. I would go to jail first, and that’s no bluff. Starr could still end up proceeding against Sidney, making him yet another of Clinton’s victims. I think it would be very educational for the whole of society if this whole thing ended with both myself and Sidney going off to jail. It would be a most wonderfully symmetrical exercise.”
Because Hitchens is believed to have transgressed the bonds of both friendship and confidentiality, the rest of Washington is withdrawing (anonymously, of course, because one never knows) the welcome mat for him, not his would-be cellmate. Forced to choose, colleagues all over the city are picking Blumenthalthis epic’s Kato Kaelin, a man with an adjacency to great evil who nonetheless sees a conspiracy from without. And Hitchens, who once wrote a book attacking Mother Teresa, has been banished for whacking a revolving-door journocrat who served up the Clinton-concocted back-story in huge, heaping piles.
Blumenthal’s lawyer, of course, made the famously grand gesture of releasing reporters everywhere from any oath of confidentiality. But in the best tradition of Washington manners (to which Hitchens now pleads ignorance), Blumenthal doubtlessly calculated that the code of journalistic repressionsomething he never seemed to have much use for back in his ink-stained dayswould keep him out of the frying pan.
Besides, he argued in a deposition before the House managers, going tactical on Monica would have been off-message: “[W]e felt very firmly that nobody [at the White House] should ever be a source to a reporter about a story about Monica Lewinsky’s personal life.” All of those stories calling her “Elvira” and “the Stalker” that were attributed to White House sources? Well, they just emerged from the mists coming up off of Foggy Bottom.
But Republican investigators found out that Hitchens knew better. When they called, he volunteered that Blumenthal had bandied about Lewinsky’s name in unflattering ways over lunch last March. Hitchens would seem to be the last person you’d dump the stalker angle withit was already clear from his writing that he would choke the life out of Clinton with his bare hands if given a chance. But the conversation at the Occidental Grill was reportedly reflective of a pattern of patter that Blumenthal was engaging in at the time.
Blumenthal will likely maintain that it was all just chitchat among friends about what happened to be in the paper that day, but that kind of banter takes on a little more resonance when it comes off of “a highly placed White House source,” now doesn’t it?
“He didn’t have to draw me a picture on the tablecloth,” says Hitchens, who hadn’t seen Blumenthal for a while because of a six-month tour teaching at Berkeley. “When I came back, he didn’t seem to be the same person. He was talking in this very sort of rugged manner about what was happening to the president, and I responded much more mildly than I probably should have and told him that this was no longer politics, that he shouldn’t get mixed up in rubbishing these women….In retrospect, I should have told him that you will rue the day that you ever went to work with this thug.”
Hitchens maintains that he had already revealed the Clintonistas’ dirty war on Monica in a column for the Independent of London back in September, so he doesn’t see why everybody is in such a dither. Of course, there’s a world of difference between a flaming column and a legal affidavit. When it comes to the fundamental question of why he threw up on somebody he sat at Seder with, Hitchens goes all gooey and naivecharacteristics you wouldn’t impute to the glibbest member of Washington’s cocktail nation. In an Op-Ed piece for the Washington Post, he sounds as if he’s expecting a call from Blumenthal the day after tomorrow asking him to dinner. The dinner will presumably take place between Blumenthal’s strategy sessions with his recently retained and very expensive phalanx of personal lawyers.
Blumenthal’s sad fate, Hitchens believes, has nothing to do with him, even if the thermonuke he aimed at Clinton hit Blumenthal instead. “He was already involved in a world of this before I came into the picture. He was intimately involved in a strategy to bodyguard the president’s rash strategy of deception, and then he expects all of his friends to protect him. I don’t think a friend can ask you to do that.”
Presidential tours are not the only things subject to term limits in D.C.when the terms of engagement change, friendships frequently evaporate. What a chum can and cannot do in the context of this blood sport between Washington’s various estates was defined better by Tennessee Williams: “We have to distrust each other. It is our only defense against betrayal.” David Carr
E-mail Paper Trail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (202) 332-2100.