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An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of President Clinton [Paperback]

Richard A. Posner
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 1 2000

President Bill Clinton's year of crisis, which began when his affair with Monica Lewinsky hit the front pages in January 1998, engendered a host of important questions of criminal and constitutional law, public and private morality, and political and cultural conflict.

In a book written while the events of the year were unfolding, Richard Posner presents a balanced and scholarly understanding of the crisis that also has the freshness and immediacy of journalism. Posner clarifies the issues and eliminates misunderstandings concerning facts and the law that were relevant to the investigation by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and to the impeachment proceeding itself. He explains the legal definitions of obstruction of justice and perjury, which even many lawyers are unfamiliar with. He carefully assesses the conduct of Starr and his prosecutors, including their contacts with the lawyers for Paula Jones and their hardball tactics with Monica Lewinsky and her mother. He compares and contrasts the Clinton affair with Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, exploring the subtle relationship between public and private morality. And he examines the place of impeachment in the American constitutional scheme, the pros and cons of impeaching President Clinton, and the major procedural issues raised by both the impeachment in the House and the trial in the Senate. This book, reflecting the breadth of Posner's experience and expertise, will be the essential foundation for anyone who wants to understand President Clinton's impeachment ordeal.


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Richard Posner is a top-ranking member of the United States judiciary and one of the most highly respected legal theorists and philosophers. In An Affair of State, he turns his attention to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, which stemmed from charges of perjury and obstruction of justice regarding statements about his adulterous relationship with former White House staffer Monica Lewinsky. While Posner focuses on the actual legal issues involved rather than attempt to make a case for Clinton's or any of his Republican adversaries' being evil incarnate, he does not treat the president with kid gloves. Not only does Posner claim that Clinton is a brazen liar who "flaunts his religiosity, but gives religion a bad name," he makes a strong case that the charges of perjury against the president were valid, "that [he] in several instances obstructed justice in a legal sense, and that he has never admitted lying about his relationship with Lewinsky." Along the way, Posner considers several fascinating topics, including whether the president can pardon himself--theoretically, except in cases of impeachment, he can--and even, on occasion, displays a subtle dry wit. (Among the best one-liners: "[Alan] Dershowitz criticizes Clinton, but largely for the blunders he committed in trying to conceal his affair ... and implicitly for not having retained Dershowitz as legal advisor.") An Affair of State is the smartest, most level-headed book written to date about what Posner calls "the whole Clinton-Lewinsky-Starr-impeachment business"; it is likely to retain that status for some time to come. --Ron Hogan --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

By far the most legally sophisticated account of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal yet published, Posner's book brings scholarly rigor to a saga so far dominated by journalistic accounts. As Chief Judge of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Posner is more than qualified to wade through the 8000-page Starr Report. Indeed, he brandishes acumen, wit and a practical and theoretical understanding of the legal and constitutional issues involved. Posner writes, at times, like a judge composing an appellate court opinion. He's very critical of the House Judiciary Committee for, among other perceived lapses of judgment and intellect, failing to understand the technical distinction between perjury and obstruction of justice. But he's harsh on President Clinton, too, and generally exhibits an ability to expose the arguments generated by Republicans, Democrats, the press and Starr's office as inconsistent, politically motivated or simply fallacious. Posner anticipates criticisms that his book creates certain tensions between his position as one of the most influential judges in the U.S. and the censorious quality of his appraisal of l'affaire Clinton. Readers can be thankful that he dismissed any scruples and proceeded to write this welcome analysis of the constitutional, moral, philosophical, and political questions the case raised. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Judge Posner does it again!!! Feb. 3 2001
Format:Paperback
Judge Posner has written a concise and accurate analysis of the impeachment and trial of President Clinton, and included thorough and accurate assessments of all parties involved. Judge Posner concludes that the articles of impeachment filed against the President were indeed within the realm of high crimes and misdemeanors; additionally, Judge Posner argues that, contrary to popular spin, the actions of the President went beyond that of a private matter, bringing shame, disgrace, and disruption to the executive office -- actions which by themselves supported impeachment. Of most interest, however, is Judge Posner's excoriating portrayal of all parties involved. A president, who deliberately lied to the nation, his family, his cabinet, and his supporters, in a blatant effort to obstruct justice. A prosecutor, who failed in his effort at developing a strong case against the president, provided an overly lurid account of the case, and then buried the record in mountains of evidence. A house of representatives, incapable of developing accurate articles of impeachment, and then failing miserably in the prosecution of the case in the senate. A senate, so inept as to have never developed appropriate rules for an impeachment trial. And finally, partisan groups from both sides, who in the urge to defend or defeat the president, daily set forth on a path of lies and insinuations, often with the sole purpose of damaging the characters of individuals under media glare. The book is well worth reading, and is an excellent reminder of the damage an impeachment trial can do. Readers who are further interested in impeachment generally should consider Michael J. Gerhardt's The Federal Impeachment Process: A Constitutional and Historical Analysis.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent on the Law, but falls short of its goal Jan. 29 2001
Format:Paperback
Posner promises to rip the cover off the impeachment process by sorting through the spin and uncovering the truth of what Clinton was charged with, what he did, and how the impeachment process worked.
As a judge, he does a magnificent job (especially as he completed this book within days of the final vote) of cutting to the quick of the legal charges against Clinton, and examining the evidence that pretty undisputably proves Clinton "guilty".
But, and this is a very big but, his strength as a judge is Posner's weakness as a historian. He assumes, without proving, that the true issue in impeachment is (or should be) the legal issue. He virtually ignores the competing view, that the key issue is (and should be) political. Only by reading this book in combination with Rhenquit's history of the Samuel Chase and Andrew Johnson impeachments can you get a more rounded view.
As a matter of law, Clinton was guilty. However, we were not involved in a criminal trial. We were deciding whether to remove this country's highest elected official. This is a highly political question, to which the legal issues are relevent, but hardly decisive.
By failing to grapple honestly with this dichotomy, Posner's book ultimately falls short of being the definitive work on impeachment it could have been, given his incisive analysis of th elegal issues and the evidence.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Promises more than it delivers Jan. 14 2001
Format:Paperback
Judge Posner promises a far-reaching analysis of the impeachment and trial of President Clinton. In his introduction, he notes that the "ordeal" presented numerous axes of analysis: issues of law, issues of jurisprudence, issues of morality, theories of conflict, issues of political and cultural sociology. (p. 3)
In applying these analytical perspectives to the particular issues raised within the context of President Clinton's impeachment, I think Judge Posner does an excellent job at cutting through the political spin and identifying the essential legal points. He deftly exposes "it's all about sex" as the dishonest mantra that Clinton supporters, such as James Carville, used to divert the public's attention away from the basic legal issues. His discussion of the relevant legal charges--obstruction of justice and perjury--is clear and accessible. Once the political spin is redacted, the conclusion is inescapable--Clinton committed perjury and thus violated the law.
Yet Judge Posner's book is ultimately dissatisfying. His book promises more than it delivers, and what I think is a significant issue--the nature of impeachment as it has been understood and used within the American constitutional order--remains relatively untouched by Posner's book. This is frustrating.
Beyond passing references to Samuel Chase and Andrew Johnson, Judge Posner never discusses their impeachment or their resulting trials. He notes the distinction between impeachment standards for judges versus the President, but he never discusses in any detail the impeachment and conviction of any judges. (The only discussion is Judge Posner's reference to Judge Nixon's impeachment and conviction for perjury in 1989, but this is made in a single-sentence footnote on page 103.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Promises more than it delivers Jan. 11 2001
Format:Paperback
Judge Posner promises a far-reaching analysis of the impeachment and trial of President Clinton. In his introduction, he notes that the "ordeal" presented numerous axes of analysis: issues of law, issues of jurisprudence, issues of morality, theories of conflict, issues of political and cultural sociology. (p. 3)
In applying these analytical perspectives to the particular issues raised within the context of President Clinton's impeachment, I think Judge Posner does an excellent job at cutting through the political spin and identifying the essential points. He deftly exposes "it's all about sex" as the dishonest mantra that Clinton supporters, such as James Carville, used to divert the public's attention away from the basic legal issues. His discussion of the relevant legal charges--obstruction of justice and perjury--is clear and accessible. Once the political spin is redacted, the conclusion is inescapable--Clinton committed perjury and thus violated the law.
Yet Judge Posner's book is ultimately dissatisfying. His book promises more than it delivers, and what I think is a significant issue--the nature of impeachment as it has been understood and used within the American constitutional order--remains relatively untouched by Posner's book. This is frustrating.
Beyond passing references to Samuel Chase and Andrew Johnson, Judge Posner never discusses their impeachment or their resulting trials. He notes the distinction between impeachment standards for judges versus the President, but he never discusses in any detail the impeachment and conviction of any judges. (The only discussion is Judge Posner's reference to Judge Nixon's impeachment and conviction for perjury in 1989, but this is made in a single-sentence footnote on page 103.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Best of all impeachment books
After reading all of the impeachment books, and I mean all of them, including Benedict's fabulous book on Johnson's impeachment trial, this is the best. Read more
Published on Jan. 23 2001 by Andrew M. Strnad
5.0 out of 5 stars No Better Legal Analysis of The Clinton Impeachment
I know of no book which cuts so surely to the meat and potatoes of the entire Clinton impeachment business and with such deadly aplomb as Judge Posner's book (he is chief judge of... Read more
Published on Dec 23 2000 by BluesDuke
5.0 out of 5 stars A Level-Head Examination
This brief book is a well written level-headed examination of the mess created by President Clinton as a result of his lack of ethics. Read more
Published on Nov. 24 2000 by Book Happy
4.0 out of 5 stars The Scholarly Approach
Readers seeking another saucy expose on the President's personal affairs will be disappointed with "An Affair of State. Read more
Published on Nov. 2 2000 by Steven M. Leonard
4.0 out of 5 stars The judge speaks, but judges not.
Anyone interested in the affairs of President Clinton's last two years, will find this book of value. Read more
Published on May 5 2000
5.0 out of 5 stars Posner gives his view and damns prior restraint by ABA
The ABA prohibits judges from speaking out about 'live' cases. This has nothing whatever to do with law and everything to do with keeping the faith within the increasingly... Read more
Published on April 22 2000 by "appalachianson"
5.0 out of 5 stars pragmatic, not partisan
This book is not partisan as some reviewers have claimed. Itis pragmatic.
It also seems strange to judge the book solely bythe highly debatable point of whether or not Posner... Read more
Published on April 6 2000
1.0 out of 5 stars An ethical and intellectual meltdown
Richard Posner is highly respected legal scholar and Federal Judge, so it comes as a surprise that his latest book is such an ethical and intellectual disaster. Read more
Published on Feb. 27 2000 by Paul Gottlieb
5.0 out of 5 stars Still Excellent
I have read Professor Dworkin's review of this book in the New York Review of Books, and Dworkin, while critical of the book, hardly exposes it as a "sham" and a... Read more
Published on Feb. 25 2000
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