Coming in 2023:
Trust and Confidence
The 1998 Battle Between the Secret Service and Ken Starr
Five minutes into my interview with Lewis Merletti, the former director of the United States Secret Service looked me in the eye and said unequivocally, “The way I’m going to tell you this is exactly the way it happened.”
In 1998, for the first time in our nation’s history, the director of the United States Secret Service was asked to testify against a sitting president. Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr wanted to question Director Merletti, as well as agents on the president’s protective detail, about President William Jefferson Clinton’s relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Based on alleged inside information, Starr issued a motion to compel agents on the president’s detail to testify as to what they may have seen or heard regarding Clinton’s intimate liaisons with Lewinsky.
In a declaration made in opposition to the motion, Merletti argued that if agents were permitted to testify about anything other than criminal acts, it would compromise the trust and confidence tenet critical to the mission of the Secret Service and thus jeopardize the safety of the presidency and the country.
“BEING WORTHY OF TRUST AND CONFIDENCE,” the declaration states, “is the absolute heart and soul of the United States Secret Service. This trust and confidence cannot be situational. It cannot have an expiration date. And it must never be compromised.”
With the support of all living former directors, the upper echelon of the Department of Justice (DOJ), the US solicitor general, and former president George H. W. Bush, Merletti battled the independent counsel for six months, taking his case all the way to the Supreme Court.
Even after the legal fireworks ended and Merletti had retired, one inexplicable twist remained to test the former director’s fortitude.
At the end of our first interview, which would become a series, little did I know that this would be the beginning of extensive research that would cover twelve years. That initial meeting led me to review documents from Merletti’s personal files as director; to speak to the special counsel charged with investigating claims of misconduct by the Office of Independent Counsel (OIC); to search for her report, which she was led to believe had been sealed by the court; to speak to several former Starr prosecutors; and to spend nine years searching DOJ and the Starr/Ray/Thomas independent counsel files in the National Archives.
During that time, I would not only be the first to uncover special counsel Jo Ann Harris’s investigation into the “brace” (confront for questioning) of Monica S. Lewinsky but would also locate a letter from Starr’s source inside the Secret Service signed “Deep Throat,” the pornographic metaphor that became synonymous with the secret source of information in Nixon’s Watergate scandal. Starr’s Deep Throat, however, was wholly false, part of one individual’s plan to discredit Merletti by alleging a deal between the director and President Clinton: in exchange for his silence on Lewinsky, Clinton would appoint Merletti Secret Service director.
As I left Merletti’s office, I realized I had possibly come across a story of integrity unlike anything I had ever heard before—one that would pit two factions of the Justice Department against one another: Starr’s OIC and the upper echelon of DOJ that supported Merletti’s argument.
This is about a fight between reason and rationalization, between moral integrity and moralistic righteousness. It’s a battle between one man standing on principle and another who believed the end justified the means.
“My powerful gratitude to you for that superb book! It covers a subject which has always fascinated me… Stand tall; Never quit; Drive on!” – Gen. Hal Moore, co-author, “We Were Soldiers Once… And Young”
“What Do You Stand For? is the Profiles in Courage of our time, providing a thought-provoking moral compass for our generation.”
– Nick Maffeo, Sr. VP Investments, Wachovia Securities, LLC
“…a witty 250-plus pages in which a bicycle-riding, Snapple-tea-drinking Lichtman has a series of campfire chats with the Lone Ranger and Tonto illustrating… qualities of character they consider most important.”
– USA Today
“…an entertaining and thought-provoking read.”
– Boston Herald
“…an attempt to ring the bells of ethics and courage once more.”
– Stanley Crouch, NY Daily News
Out of Print
“The unholy trinity of Coulter, Limbaugh and Beck is little more than egotistical, self-serving fear mongers who serve no purpose other than to further their own agendas and line their own pockets. Lichtman should be commended for taking on this oft-debated issue; ethics in politics is the proverbial needle in the haystack, which will, no doubt, continue to be a hot topic for years to come.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“Your book is excellent; troubling, but excellent. It stands as a beacon against the despair (my feeling) which currently passes for political discourse.
“The medium is both the problem and the solution and I found the last paragraph from Murrow for me to be the crux: The three “i’s” of ignorance, intolerance and indifference are passing for “truth.” Limbaugh, Coulter and Beck have no regrets in not playing by the rules, especially when the rewards are ratings and wealth.
“Your book is needed now more than ever, and should be required reading by anyone who cares about political discourse.”
– Steve Ambra, NH
“The sheer craziness that has somehow infected a segment of the media — and the public — has been laid bare by Jim Lichtman for what it is — a dangerous detour from everything that ever held itself up to be journalism.”
– Mike Jones, TX
“Lichtman’s plea for a return to civility is commendable and persuasive, but it is something I doubt will happen in my lifetime. As long as Beck, Coulter and Limbaugh make big money for their sponsors, I fear that they, and others like them, will be a permanent part of America’s political landscape, drowning out rational debate with their strident, ignorant clamor.”
– Terry Sunday, TX