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When Senators Don’t Want You to Testify

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh visits Capitol Hill

I fully understand Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s desire to testify about the charges against him. He wants his rebuttal to get maximum attention, as I did. Alas, I also understand some Senate Judicial Committee members’ wishes to have the story told their way, which typically, as in my case, as in Judge Kavanaugh’s current ordeal, involves leaks to friendly journalists.

I know all too well what the Kavanaughs are going through. I was once in the same unenviable position.

During the Iran-Contra hearings in the late eighties, I was often accused of treasonous behavior, first by members of the investigating congressional committee, and subsequently by a special prosecutor.. The most prominent charge was that, as one senator put it in a closed hearing with no stenographer present, I had been a key Israeli agent in a disinformation operation in the United States. This was echoed by a Pentagon official who made the written accusation I had been in cahoots with Israel. The FBI investigated, and found the charges without merit. Nonetheless, I was formally declared a “target” of a criminal investigation by the committee.

The rules of the select committee, like the rules of the Senate and the House themselves, stipulated that someone who felt slandered by testimony had the right to publicly respond to the slanders. Notably, the infamous Joe McCarthy’s committee had the same rule, and several American citizens did indeed challenge the testimony McCarthy had received. I accordingly requested to appear in public session before the joint committee, which was chaired by Democrat Senator Daniel Inouye and Democrat Representative Lee Hamilton. My lawyers thought it was automatic, and I was duly scheduled to appear just before Oliver North. My mother bought her train tickets from New Jersey. But a few days before the scheduled date, I received an evening telephone call from Senator Inouye, who said that the members of the committee had met and voted unanimously to deny my request. I never heard a word from Representative Hamilton, but four members of the committee told me they had never attended any such meeting, and had not voted on my appeal.

Inouye behaved like a hanging judge, and Hamilton joined him on the gallows. It was a fully bipartisan operation; there was no unanimity, but I had been slandered by both Republicans and Democrats, and silenced by both sides.

These stories don’t always end badly. As an unindicted target, I was entitled to have the federal government pay my legal fees. And after some years, Special Prosecutor Lawrence Walsh had to issue a final report that essentially said “we don’t know if Ledeen did anything bad, but if he did, we can’t find it.” I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Kavanaugh’s accusers are forced to a similar conclusion.

The special prosecutor law that governed my destiny in the 1980s has blessedly expired, so I don’t know if Judge Kavanaugh’s legal expenses will be covered by the Feds (I believe that the only other target of Judge Walsh’s posse to have had his legal costs covered by the government was Secretary of State George Shultz). I certainly hope so; those costs can be astronomical.

Aside from financial assistance, extravaganzas of this sort can help one’s life considerably. I stopped watching television “news” in 1987, which has helped my political thinking to no end. The experience of Congress cavalierly disregarding its own rules, and rejecting simple common sense, did wonders to clarify the way elected officials really behave.

Above all, you learn, without risk of error, who your friends are NOT. People who have been friendly for years suddenly disappear. They don’t want others to link them with your “scandal,” long before there are any clear conclusions. And you also learn which journalists and which publications are delighted to run stories full of outrageous false rumors and whispers. Don’t wait around for apologies once the facts are out. To this day the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has never corrected its front-page Sunday feature all about my presumed treasonous activity on behalf of Israel. I’m quite sure they never will.