Cover: An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of President Clinton, from Harvard University PressCover: An Affair of State in PAPERBACK

An Affair of State

The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of President Clinton

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$31.00 • £26.95 • €28.95

ISBN 9780674003910

Publication Date: 11/01/2000


288 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches


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[Posner’s] analysis of the political crisis surrounding disclosure of President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky is the most trenchant and illuminating yet. His precision about constitutional law and about definitions of perjury, subornation of it and obstruction of justice gives his narrative the tension of a thriller. And his judgments about key players—Clinton, Kenneth Starr, Congressional leaders, intellectual and academic defenders of the president, all the lawyers involved, the Supreme Court (for letting the Paula Jones lawsuit proceed with Clinton in office)—are scathing, unsparing, elegant and witty.New York Times Book Review

Posner shows that, despite its lurid and shameful origins, the [Clinton–Lewinsky] episode raised questions of law and morality that are profoundly important to the direction of the country and to our sense of the American political order. His analysis transforms the impeachment into an event of abiding significance. Mr. Posner works with unusual care through each of the moral and legal questions of the impeachment process. He considers all sides and possible interpretations of each event. But he does not hesitate to hand down strong judgments.—George L. Priest, Wall Street Journal

We fortunately have a distinguished jurist’s opinion in An Affair of State which amounts to a retrial of the president with Posner on the bench. One could scarcely imagine a more fitting judge… [Posner] is possessed of one of the most synoptic and probing intellects in the country, or the world. That he does not flinch from raining scorn on the Supreme Court and even on the chief justice (to whom Posner is nominally an underling) suggests the sharpness of mind, independence of spirit and biting wit that make his book an intellectual feast. At last, something good has come of the Clinton–Lewinsky–Jones–Starr affair.—Jonathan Raugh, Washington Post

A bravura performance by United States Circuit Court Judge Richard A. Posner. He deftly examines the endless constitutional, political and social angles of President William Jefferson Clinton’s impeachment ordeal… [An Affair of State is a] first-rate dissection of Mr. Clinton’s impeachment drama flush with long-headed prudential wisdom and insights.—Bruce Fein, Washington Times

In so many ways, [Posner] is a perfect man for the task [of analyzing the Clinton–Lewinsky affair], and this book doesn’t disappoint… His most valuable contribution is legal. In a way only good judges can do, he manages both to portray the ambiguity of constitutional law—and few areas are as ambiguous as the constitutional criteria for impeachment—and yet not shy away from judgement about what actually happened and what to make of it… Posner deftly takes us through [the] constitutional and political mazes…[and] shows that there actually is a final answer to the question of what perjury and obstruction of justice are, and at least some large common ground as to what might be the constitutional grounds for impeachment.—Andrew Sullivan, New York Times Book Review

Of [the Clinton–Lewinsky] analyses, the most insightful is An Affair of State.—David Kusnet, Baltimore Sun

Posner’s great asset is his intellectual honesty. He pierces the gaseous clouds of Clinton’s defense to make compelling arguments that the president committed perjury and obstructed justice. He absolves Starr of obsessive prurience and vindicates the media’s reporting of the case. He ridicules the Senate’s performance, as well as the chief justice’s robes. But Posner also concludes that the office of independent counsel has died a well-deserved death, that the Supreme Court blew the Paula Jones case, and that Starr got carried away by prosecutorial excess. He skewers the doomsayers of the moralistic Right for wringing their hands over what, to Posner, is still a vibrant republic.—John Aloysius Farrell, Boston Globe

An Affair of State is an impressive compilation of the facts and the opinions of one of our nations foremost jurists… [Posner’s] description, dissection and reaction to what went right, and mostly what went wrong, in the impeachment process contrasts with the emotional hyperboles that marked much of the impeachment debate. An Affair of State is worth the time for anyone who still has an interest in thinking and talking intelligently about this remarkable episode in American history.—Michael R. Lufrano, Chicago Tribune

An Affair of State is likely to become the work to which future historians will turn first in seeking a reliable contemporaneous explanation of what the impeachment scandal was all about. Not only does Posner sort out the issues with precision, but the highly modulated distinctions and qualifications he offers along the way accomplish the difficult feat of elucidating a subject that has already unleashed a cataract of less than edifying ink. An Affair of State also reveals once again what a broad and bristling intelligence Posner possesses, at once subtle and direct, iconoclastic and full of high good humor.—Gabriel Schoenfeld, Commentary

Unlike the unholy mess it dissects and untangles, An Affair of State is a cool little gemstone of logic and reason, a rational antidote to partisan excess, and a short, elegant guide for the perplexed. Among the first of what will be many books to look back at the Clinton–Lewinsky scandal, it should be the touchstone against which all others are measured, having no evident bias except toward clarity. Richard Posner does not seem to like most of the people described in this book, much less to share their agendas. One cannot deduce here which party he backs, whom he voted for in recent elections, or whose positions he tends to endorse. This is the strength of his book, and its claim to authority.—Noemie Emery, National Review

Like a refreshing balm for the mind and spirit comes Richard Posner’s An Affair of State. It is not just a lucid, dignified analysis of this tangled mess from one of the country’s leading legal scholars. It is a testament to the capacity of the human mind to soar above even the most emotionally charged and sordid events and discover something of beauty and clarity… What Mr. Posner has given us is a framework for rational debate.—James B. Stewart, New York Observer

Richard Posner has written a remarkably even-tempered and reasonable book about the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, a welcome contrast to the overheated rhetoric and raw emotions generated by the event itself… [An Affair of State] offers a sober second look at the misconduct and cover-up that led to only the second presidential impeachment in American history… The most important contribution of the book is its careful assessment of Clinton’s legal culpability as a result of his efforts to cover up his affair, and in particular to hide it from Paula Jones’ attorneys and Kenneth Starr’s grand jury. Posner patiently wades through what is incontestably known and what can be reasonably inferred about Clinton’s actions… [He] is precise and persuasive in puncturing Clinton’s lies and his defenders’ obfuscations, and his demonstration that perjuries such as the president’s are both readily proven and regularly punished in the criminal courts is an important corrective to the legal confusions fostered by the impeachment debates.—Keith E. Whittington, Reason

A scholarly examination of the process of impeachment and what that process means… [Posner] is usually right on target as he skewers the assortment of academics who came to Clinton’s defense… [He] is no less sparing of the Republicans who engineered the impeachment, and of Kenneth Starr, whose evidence serves as the traction grit for the process. Indeed, he attacks with elegant savagery the independent counsel statute and argues that it be allowed to lapse.—R. K. Baker, The Times

Richard Posner’s An Affair of State will hardly be welcomed by President Clinton’s enemies; his friends will like it even less. Obviously, then, this book demands our attention… Precision, critical analysis, and devastating wit are the hallmarks of [Posner’s] writings.—Stanley Kutler, Times Higher Education Supplement

Posner is best known for his economic analyses of law and his philosophical explorations of judicial pragmatism, but with An Affair of State he may be making yet another niche for himself as a quasi-political commentator. Reading him on Clinton is like drinking a perfectly chilled martini: The book is cold and clear and refreshingly biting… Posner is especially astute on the meaning (really the lack of meaning) in Clinton’s sexual dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, the single flaring match that set fire to an entire political-media forest.—Paul Reidinger, ABA Journal

A triumph of impartial analysis and cool intelligence… [Posner] lays out in plain language exactly what legal issues were at stake and why the assorted motives of those involved ensured that they did not get an honest discussion.—Adam Kirsch, Boston Phoenix

An Affair of State is a thoughtful, scholarly and authoritative account of the impeachment process and its associated issues. This is not surprising when the author proves to be the Chief Judge for the Seventh Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, with a distinguished list of publications in legal and moral theory… This is an interesting and intellectually challenging book which should be read by everyone interested in the impeachment of President Clinton.—Robert Williams, Contemporary Review

[Posner] has achieved in this book…what I thought was virtually impossible—an interesting book on the whole sorry, over-reported, bitterly partisan, unseemly affair.—John Linsenmeyer, Greenwich Time

Posner has written a scholarly tome that argues, convincingly, that Clinton indeed could have been convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice.—Helen Colwell Adams, Lancaster Sunday News

Posner does not take sides of gratuitous potshots; he identifies all of the actors’ weaknesses and strengths. As one expects from a senior jurist, his approach is studied, judicious, yet captivating. With scholarly detachment, he preserves the case, lest the passage of time or revisionism taint it. Posner’s account is a welcome departure from the treatment mainstream and fringe media have given the impeachment. He offers a sound tutorial in what actually occurred, buttressed be even-handed insights about key facts’ legal and political significance.—Maj. Joseph R. Perlak, Military Review

Posner has written the most thoughtful and evenhanded analysis to date of the legal and political crisis… With a candor and a biting wit that may jar those who like their federal judges dull and decorous, Judge Posner cuts through the sometimes priggish moralizing of conservative Republicans as well as the partisan cant of liberal Democrats to expose ‘the failure of the judiciary, the political establishment, the Congress, the legal profession, and the academic community to cope with a novel challenge’… His analysis of the major points in controversy will be edifying to anyone with an open mind.—Stuart Taylor, Jr., New York Law Journal

An Affair of State offers writing that approaches the sublime… [It] is a serious, well-reasoned, scholarly account of the events of the past two years… But this is not dry, textbook stuff. Posner is tough on all the players and does not mince words. In clear, elegant prose he walks us through complicated matters to the conclusion that the impeachment proceeding failed to meet minimum standards of legal justice.—Kathleen Daley, The Star-Ledger [Newark, NJ]

Based on public sources (including supplemental material submitted to Congress with the Starr Report), Posner offers analysis of a wide range of legal, moral, political, and institutional issues… He sheds useful light: for example, on legal definitions of ‘perjury’ and ‘obstruction of justice’ and the difficulty in defining just what offenses are ‘impeachable.’—Mary Carroll, Booklist

A timely, weighty, and erudite analysis of the political, legal, constitutional, and cultural significance of the events culminating in the Clinton impeachment. Learned and practical, this book will provoke reflection in any that care about the character of American government at the 20th-century’s end… Above all for Posner, at a time of peace, prosperity, and strength, the Clinton affair presents an ‘edifying political drama.’ Highly recommended.—T. Fackler, Choice

Posner presents an investigation into l’affaire Lewinsky that is both scholarly and approachable. His findings? We may have made both too much and too little of the whole sordid mess, and the majority of those involved proved themselves to often be fools, knaves, and even cowards… An invaluable and subtle judgement not only of Clinton, but of our society and those who rule us.Kirkus Reviews

Another look at the 42nd President’s extramarital dalliances, Posner’s work is fortunately written from the vantage point of a senior jurist on the federal bench who also teaches law… An excellent addition to history and political science collections.—Philip Young Blue, Library Journal

By far the most legally sophisticated account of the Clinton–Lewinsky scandal yet published, Posner’s book brings scholarly rigor to a saga so far dominated by journalistic accounts… He brandishes acumen, wit and a practical and theoretical understanding of the legal and constitutional issues involved…and generally exhibits an ability to expose the arguments generated by Republicans, Democrats, the press and Starr’s office as inconsistent, politically motivated or simply fallacious… [A] welcome analysis of the constitutional, moral, philosophical, and political questions the case raised.Publishers Weekly

Awards & Accolades

  • A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice for Best Book of the Year, 1999

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