cover image The Breach: Inside the Impeachment and Trial of William Jefferson Clinton

The Breach: Inside the Impeachment and Trial of William Jefferson Clinton

Peter Baker. Scribner Book Company, $27.5 (464pp) ISBN 978-0-684-86813-4

Baker covered the Lewinsky brouhaha and the impeachment of Clinton for the Washington Post; this very absorbing and very thorough volume tells the complicated story of both, from the president's admission in August 1998 that he had ""misled people"" to the Senate's votes in February 1999 to acquit him. Previous scandal chronicles have focused on the president's personality and his (real or alleged) misdeeds, or else on his most dedicated opponents (like independent counsel Ken Starr). Baker admirably concentrates instead on the day-to-day doings of White House staff and on members of Congress. He shows the conflicts between Clinton's political strategists and his legal team, the mixed reactions of congressional Democrats and the infighting among House Republicans, who went through three speakers (Gingrich, Livingston, Hastert) inside a month. He looks at the effects of the Starr report and at its impact on members of the media, like Larry Flynt and Christopher Hitchens. Finally, Baker shows how, in the trial itself, minority and majority leaders Tom Daschle and Trent Lott ""labored together... to keep the Senate from coming apart."" In addition to his Post reportage, Baker has used all manner of further research, interviews and documents, many of them (unsurprisingly) not for attribution. As a result, he describes many scenes and conversations he could not have heard, all reconstructed from participants' statements and notes. His story is less about Clinton than about the moral, political and practical judgments all the other folks in the process had to make. As such, it's a tale with continuing relevance: Clinton will leave office soon, but many of Baker's other players will stay. Hardly salacious and nearly without prurience, Baker's detailed narration will delight would-be historians; politics junkies will find it the book of the season. First serial to the Washington Post. (Sept. 18)