At least now we've settled the question of whether Ted Olson lied about his involvement with the Arkansas Project.
Even his official surrogates now concede the point. Their new gambit is simply to diminish the importance of the underlying question.
"What if he [Olson] did have an involvement in the Arkansas Project? Is there something illegal about that?" Trent Lott said yesterday on Meet the Press.
Or how about Ken Starr, on This Week, who dismissed complaints about Olson's evasiveness as "flyspecking"? "This [the Arkansas Project controversy] is an awfully narrow part of a man who's 60 years old, [with] a very long career."
So let's just review where we are on the Olson nomination.
As information in this article and many others have made abundantly clear, Ted Olson lied when he told Pat Leahy that he was not involved in the Arkansas Project, and had in fact been instrumental in shutting it down. (That his defenders now concede the point amounts to what the lawyers call a stipulation.)
And this is actually the second time Olson has intentionally deceived a congressional committee. In the first instance, an independent counsel found that Olson's statements were technically true, and thus incapable of sustaining a perjury prosecution.
As I once wrote in a profile of Maureen Dowd, "there was always something odd and paradoxical about Dowd's endless array of anti-Clinton zingers: if Clintonism was defined by an abundance of talent, appetite, and ambition at the expense of any real purpose or direction, then Dowd was the ultimate Clintonite."
So too with Ted Olson. If 'Clintonian' is now shorthand for lawyerly evasion or lying to achieve a greater purpose, then Ted Olson was Clintonian long before they coined the term.
Trent Lott and company want to say: "So what if he's lying. Look at the underlying question. It doesn't matter."
To which I can only say: hey, that's our comeback to having our guy get caught fibbing. Get your own!
And besides, with Bill Clinton the question was whether he'd get indicted or removed from office -- very high standards to meet. Ted Olson's trying to get confirmed by Senate. He's got no similar presumptions in his favor.
And, finally, let's not forget about Ken Starr. Much of the justice of Ted Olson's current predicament is seeing him hoisted on his own petard, skewered by his own sharp knife -- on multiple levels. And so too with Mr. Starr.
The best defense for Starr's zealousness during the independent counsel investigation was that he was a sort of truth fanatic. The mere hint of evasion or deceptiveness under oath was just too much for him to handle. And it drove him on a crusade for revelation.
Clearly that's not true.
For Ted Olson, this may simply be 'live by the sword, die by the sword.' Play rough and your enemies hit back. Starr is a different matter. He's defending Olson with an argument more or less identical to that which Clinton's defenders used to defend him. Before you could say that Starr was just a prig, or an obsessive, or a hidebound moral absolutist. But no more. He's now revealed himself as the rankest sort of hypocrite.
And that's rather satisfying to see.
It almost makes up for the tax cut.