For nearly four decades, Richard Ben-Veniste has been one of Washington’s most dependable liberals, playing a key role in momentous events from the Watergate prosecution of Richard Nixon to the 9/11 Commission, of which he was a member and where he made claims that the Bush administration hadn’t sufficiently acted on threats made before the September 2001 attacks.
Ben-Veniste came to Washington from New York in 1973, and news clips have reinforced his image of perpetual boyhood. So it may come as a shock to colleagues that he’s now 66 and is releasing his memoirs, The Emperor’s New Clothes: Exposing the Truth From Watergate to 9/11.
Ben-Veniste has never been known for being subtle or bland. About his now being close to the age that Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski was when he retired, he says, “Sixty-six is the new 50.”
Here are some of his characterizations of his foes:
● Nixon counsel John Dean: “young, blond, bespectacled twerp.”
● Former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani: “very capable and ambitious.”
● Nixon aides H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman: “German shepherds.”
● Richard Nixon: “Had Nixon destroyed the tapes . . . he would have been able to serve out his term of office. . . . [He] miscalculated at every important fork in the road.”
● Former New York senator Alfonse D’Amato had a “less than punctilious regard for the ethical strictures attendant to public office.”
● Conservative attorney and former solicitor general Ted Olson “would not deign to communicate with the minority.”
● The Supreme Court decision to let the Paula Jones sexual-harassment case go forward: “loopy.”
● Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky was a “titanic disaster,” and his falling into a perjury trap when questioned about it “showed the dark side of Clinton’s vaunted self-confidence.”
● Special prosecutor Kenneth Starr: “a modern-day Captain Ahab.”
● Former senator and 9/11 Commission member Max Cleland: “[S]uffering the psychological effects of losing his Senate seat amid the scurrilous claims that he was insufficiently patriotic . . . Max showed signs of falling into serious depression.”
● Ben-Veniste calls Clinton national-security adviser Sandy Berger’s smuggling of classified documents from the National Archives—to which he pleaded guilty, paying a $50,000 fine—“bizarre.” Of Berger himself, he writes: “A brilliant career had self-destructed—and for what? Copies of documents that were unremarkable.”