|by Ian Bonhotal '12 • October 23, 2008|
As Wabash men and professors gathered in Center Hall at seven o'clock on Wednesday night, a sense of irony permeated the air. For, the reason they all met in the same room was to hear a presentation from lawyer Jackie M. Bennett, Jr. Bennett was a prominent senior advisor to Kenneth Starr, who presided over the investigation and impeachment of the nation's 42nd President, William Clinton.
The irony lies in the fact that one of Wabash's most important, well-known alums is David E. Kendall, the summa cum laude Rhodes Scholar Wabash graduate who played a key role in the defense of President Clinton as his personal attorney in the Lewinsky scandal.
Bennett, now a partner at the Indianapolis law firm Taft, Stettinius, and Hollister, gave a presentation to those present regarding the Lewinsky scandal, his role in the investigation, and how he now views the affair in hindsight. "From 1995 to 1999 I worked for the Office of Independent Council," Bennett said, "and was involved in a number of high profile investigations, most notably the impeachment of President Clinton."
Bennett received the John Marshall Award in 1994 for legal excellence in prosecuting corruption, and is, if his presentation is any evidence, deserving of the title. "I hold uncompromising views regarding the criminality of President Clinton," he said. "Clinton explicitly violated Article II, Section III of the United States Constitution, which states, 'He [the President] shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.' For Clinton, the ends justified the means, and he deserved to be impeached."
The presentation began with extensive background information about the scandal. It all began, Bennett said, with the Paula Jones sexual harassment case. The case involved a young woman by the name of Paula Jones who was allegedly solicited by the President for sexual gratification. "At the time, Clinton was Governor of Arkansas," Bennett said. "He had state troopers who were traveling with him go out and look for his women. When they found one, they would escort her up to the suite Clinton was staying at, and leave the two. Clinton, by the way, would procure these suites by telling the hotel managers that he had to take an important call from Washington."
Jones, however, reacted negatively to Clinton's aggressive sexual advances and fled the scene. It would not be until some years later, when Clinton became President and rumors emerged that Jones would come forward. That, Bennett said, was the prelude to Clinton's eventual impeachment.
"Traditionally, the Clinton administration would react to threats with harsh intimidation and smear tactics," he alleged. "It had expended over $100,000 in fees to private investigators to shut the women up. Jones, though, proceeded with a civil suit, and a judge allowed for the pre-trial phase of discovery. That resulted in a list of women to be deposed, of which Monica Lewinsky was one."
Bennett and the Office of Independent Council was involved in the investigation from the beginning. Bennett personally received a call from one of Lewinsky's friends, Linda Tripp, who had inside information on the case as well as recordings of Lewinsky admitting in great detail to her affair with the President. The rest, as they say, is history.
To Wabash's great pride, Bennett acknowledged the incredible tenacity of his opponent in the defense of Clinton, the College's own David Kendall.
"He's brilliant," he said. "One of the greatest lawyers I've had the pleasure of sparring with. I've had a lot of dealings with Kendall."