December 1, 2023

But not forgotten. The Clinton case proved the template for the no-holds-barred style of political scandal warfare that has dominated Washington ever since, one that has no patience for waiting until an investigation can determine the facts before attacks and counterattacks are mounted.

“If you’re the opposition and the other party has committed a foul, pre-Clinton there was a hesitation to rush to judgment — the innocent-until-proven guilty sort of thing,” said C. Stewart Verdery Jr., a lawyer for the Senate Republican leadership during the Clinton impeachment trial. “And post-Clinton, everyone goes right to Defcon 1.”

While many of today’s political operatives in Washington were in elementary school at the time of the Clinton scandal — perhaps shielded from it by parents leery of all the talk of thongs, cigars and a sullied blue dress — some of the veterans of that era are still around and at the center of the current investigation.

Bob Bauer, Mr. Biden’s top personal lawyer, advised the House and Senate Democratic leaders during the impeachment and trial of Mr. Clinton. Ron Klain, the current president’s White House chief of staff (although he is expected to step down in coming weeks), served in the same role for Vice President Al Gore back then. Steven J. Ricchetti, now Mr. Biden’s counselor, was Mr. Clinton’s deputy chief of staff.

Some fellow Democrats complain that they have not applied the lessons of the Clinton era. Lanny J. Davis, who served as a White House lawyer for Mr. Clinton and a vocal defender, said the Biden White House should have proactively disclosed the discovery of papers in the president’s garage in Wilmington, Del., rather than waiting until the media reported it.

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“Been there, done that,” Mr. Davis said on Saturday. He expressed sympathy for the Biden team, saying he did not want to be an outside kibitzer and understood the arguments of lawyers who opposed premature public disclosure. “But they don’t counter the political damage if it’s coming out anyway.”

Others took different lessons from the Clinton case, though. Paul Begala, who was Mr. Clinton’s White House counselor, said Mr. Biden should remember that Mr. Clinton had made a point of leaving it to others to talk about the investigation while he appeared to focus on policy issues that were important to the public.

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