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A Vast Conspiracy

The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President
Narrated by: Kevin Stillwell
Length: 17 hrs and 53 mins
Categories: History, American
4 out of 5 stars (7 ratings)

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Editor reviews

Editors Select, March 2017 - I was a little too young to fully grasp what was happening back in 1998 when my parents' television seemed like an endless string of talking heads, legal hearings, and sound bites about sexual relations, false allegations, and the evasive definition of the word is. But now - especially now - as an adult, it's impossible not to look at 'Lewinskygate' as anything but a seismic shift - politically and culturally - in our country, with echoes of the scandal still resounding in the bizarre and often confounding headlines of today - something that becomes abundantly clear in Kevin Stillwell's steadfast and honest reading. Toobin's previous book, The Run of His Life, became the basis for the FX show The People v. O.J. Simpson. And with the same no-holds-barred investigative journalism and juicy, legal thriller-like storytelling at work, it's no surprise that A Vast Conspiracy has already been chosen as the source material for American Crime Story's fourth season. —Doug, Audible Editor

Summary

In A Vast Conspiracy, the best-selling author of The Run of His Life casts an insightful, unbiased eye over the most extraordinary public saga of our time - the Clinton sex scandals. A superlative journalist known for the skillfulness of his investigating and the power of his writing, Jeffrey Toobin tells the unlikely story of the events that began over doughnuts in a Little Rock hotel and ended on the floor of the United States Senate, with only the second vote on presidential removal in American history. This is an entirely fresh look at the scandal that very nearly brought down a president.

Packed with news-making disclosures and secret documents published here for the first time, Toobin unravels the three strands of a national scandal - those leading from Paula Jones, Kenneth Starr, and Monica Lewinsky - that created a legal, personal, and political disaster for Bill Clinton. A Vast Conspiracy is written with the narrative drive of a sensational (if improbable) legal thriller, and Toobin brilliantly explores the high principle and low comedy that were the hallmarks of the story. From Tripp to Goldberg, Isikoff to Hyde, the complex and tangled motivations behind the scandal are laid bare.

While misguided, outlandish behavior was played out at the very highest level, Toobin analyzes the facts and the key figures with a level of dignity and insight that this story has not yet received. The Clinton scandals will shape forever how we think about the signature issues of our day - sex and sexual harassment, privacy and perjury, civil rights, and, yes, cigars. Toobin's book will shape forever how we think about the Clinton scandals.

©1999 Jeffrey Toobin (P)2017 Audible, Inc.

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Okay I Guess

Great overall narrative of the saga. Quite dismissive of Clinton critics and their investigations, pure propaganda in parts but enjoyable overall.

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  • Nancy & Greg
  • 13-06-17

Bias Shows in this book

I, like so many others, watched these events unfold as they happened. I was hopeful that this book would shed new light on an important event in the American presidency. Instead, I believe that the well-respected Jeffrey Toobin had a version he wanted to tell and that is what he did. Although not fawning over the former president, the author made it clear that Clinton was owed the benefit of the doubt in most instances.

In my opinion the bottom line, no matter what the subject matter, the president committed perjury. That point was lost in the late 90's and was basically glossed over in this book. It was a disappointing end to a book that could have gone so much farther than it did.

2 people found this helpful

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  • in1ear (John Row)
  • 31-03-17

Insight into Why the Clintons are Targeted

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would. Bill Clinton is a favorite President of mine. Flawed certainly. Why, oh why just not say "Yeah, it happened. Monica is just ...a really close associate".I found explanation for the numerous and ongoing assaults on the Clintons. Unfounded if you're Liberal, slam dunk proven if you're Conservative. The "truth" is based on what news network you listen to. Which may be the biggest cause of the issues the country faces and has for a long while.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

The process leading up to the intimate incidents, up to almost destroying a political career.

Which character – as performed by Kevin Stillwell – was your favorite?

This is a nonfiction narrative. Mr. Stillwell did a fine job in that respect. No one stands out as "favorite". I deducted a star because there is an acoustics issue. I found myself straining to listen and understand. Almost like sound absorbing material is clipping the hard syllables. More a technical thing. Do you hear it?

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I looked forward to listening to Toobin's book. It was a strong event when I watched and read while it transpired.

Any additional comments?

I mention that I'm a Liberal. I think I picked up a pro Clinton slant in the book. A Conservative may argue that it is enough to dismiss the book. In my opinion, there is enough insight and timeline material to explain what happened so a reader can make his or her own judgement. Don't be put off that the first chapter is a list of the players. The story reads in an informative, appropriate pace.

9 people found this helpful

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  • D. Martin
  • 16-12-19

Why bother when you already know how it’ll end?

As I write this in December 2019, it’s become quite fashionable to review various memorable historical examples of presidential crimes and misdemeanors. Watergate is the most obvious choice, but there are plenty of other possibilities: perhaps Iran-Contra is more similar to the Ukraine mess, or maybe the Andrew Johnson impeachment is the better analog for Trump. Even the Whiskey Ring has generated a little attention, but I've waited in vain for any sign of renewed interest in Teapot Dome. Still, as an impeachment trial that everyone already knows the outcome to has swung into high gear, I decided the time had finally come learn about Monicagate.

Is this the best Clinton Impeachment book out there? I can’t tell you; it’s the only one I read. Overall, it was quite a smooth listen. But is there any point in learning all the details of an impeachment when you already know the ending? By choosing to write this book, Toobin has proven that he’s biased on this question, the correct answer to which is no. I recommend that you not read this book, and stop reading this review right now. From here on out, you only have yourself to blame.

The book spends most of its time setting up the pieces of the impeachment, so that the actual senate trial ends up a bit of an afterthought, taking only about 15 minutes. Overall, this is quite effective, and I have petitioned Chief Justice Roberts to take the same strategy in next month’s senate trial. The bulk of the book follows the Starr inquiry, going through his investigations into Whitewater, Travelgate, campaign finance, and the Vince Foster suicide; as well as the Paula Jones lawsuit. Toobin does review Alan Dershowitz’s famous assertion that Bill Clinton should have defaulted in the Paula Jones case, and that his not doing so was the single greatest legal blunder of the 20th century. Toobin’s take: This was an inspired, if absolutely insane idea. What were Paula Jones’ motivations in all this? There were plenty of opportunities when she could have made out better than she ultimately did, getting about $200,000. Certainly some of Jones' allies understood clearly from the beginning that the real goal was never to win the suit, but rather to get some dirt on Bill Clinton. Jones didn't seem to want this exactly at first, but like many of the characters in this story, as the fight dragged on, she seemed to lose track of her own incentives and become more fixated on hurting her opponent.

The best example of this phenomenon is probably Ken Starr and the Lewinsky immunity deal. Lewinsky’s lawyer, Alan Ginsburg, had negotiated full immunity (which for technical reasons is called “transactional immunity”) against charges that she had lied in her deposition in the Jones Case about having sex with Clinton, i.e., literally the exact same high crime as Clinton's. Now, everyone agreed that it would be crazy to prosecute a 22-year old for lying about a consensual relationship she had had—with the president no less—in a lawsuit to which she wasn’t even party, which was probably why the Office of the Independent Counsel faxed (faxes!) a transactional immunity deal to Lewinsky for her to sign and return, which she did. At this point, Alan Ginsburg performed his eponymous act, the Full Ginsburg, going on all five of the Washington Sunday Morning Shows. He said something that hurt Ken Starr’s feelings, at which point Starr refused to countersign the immunity deal his office had sent. Ginsburg, sensibly enough, sued Starr, arguing that if a federal prosecutor sends you an immunity deal on government stationary, they can’t just call backsies. As Toobin puts it, Starr probably would have done better to lose this action, but he didn’t, so instead he spent the next several months of mid-1998 trying to make the case that Clinton had lied about having sex with Lewinsky without Lewinsky’s testimony. Again, all because he was upset with something Lewinsky’s lawyer had said on TV! Eventually, Monica hired a different lawyer and got essentially the same immunity they had agreed to months earlier. At this point, Starr got the blue dress, subpoenaed Bill Clinton to testify, withdrew the subpoena in exchange for a voluntary 4-hour interview, and then rushed out his report just in time for the 1998 midterms. Or maybe the whole thing was Starr’s plan all along to get the report out at what he thought would be just the right moment to help Republicans in the election, showing once more what a political hack he was. That’s the thing about the Clinton impeachment: it’s all open to interpretation.

Probably the best reason to read this book is to pin down all the fun little sordid details that, if you're like me, you remember only vaguely. Yes, Lewinsky performed oral sex on Clinton while he was on the phone with congressmen, on multiple occasions. Yes, he stuck a cigar in her (Audible wants me to remove the last word from this sentence; it works without it). On the day they met, she lifted up her shirt to show him the top of her thong. But really the details don’t matter, and the caricatures of the main characters are all spot-on: Lewinsky is comically naïve and love-addled, Ken Starr is an obsessed political operative badly feigning legal detachment, Paula Jones is low-class and under the sway of savvier operators, Linda Tripp is a monster, and Bill Clinton is a sleazy lying politician.

I would be remiss in this review if I failed to mention Toobin's central thesis for the book, which is that starting around the 1970s, lawyers began a sort of stealth takeover of American politics (the real vast conspiracy). They did this, according to Toobin, through two strategies: first, using targeted litigation to select and elevate the cases they wanted in order to set the right precedents and thereby change the law through the legal rather than the legislative process; and second, by targeting uncooperative politicians with legal harassment through nuisance lawsuits and prosecutions. Frankly, despite Toobin’s best effort to convince me otherwise, these still seem like two distinct threads to me, rather than like two sides of the same coin. The second is a fair enough description of what happened to Bill Clinton; the first enters into the story mainly as background about the evolution of sexual harassment law. Perhaps Toobin is correct about the arc of late-20th century law and politics, but frankly it seemed more like the topic of the book he wished he were writing, rather than an organic takeaway from the Clinton saga.

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  • Griffin Mckay
  • 10-03-18

Felt a little biased, but still very interesting

I say this as a liberal who really liked Bill Clinton when he was president and also as someone who really likes Jeffrey Toobin, this book does have a bias towards Clinton and against the Office of Independent Council and the forces that led up to the Kennett Starr investigation and impeachment proceedings.

That being said, I enjoyed this book immensely and was also given a fuller picture of all the things that led up to the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal and the resulting fallout.

I also found it interesting how in this time of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that my opinion of Bill Clinton's actions are different, and perhaps not as sympathetic, than they were when the events actually happened. However, the Lewinsky/Clinton affair was a consensual one, although between an immature woman and a man who should have known better.

What really struck me when listening to this book is how much more I cared about the fact that Clinton lied than I did at the time the affair was made known to the public. I feel maybe Toobin tries to justify those lies too much, and yet I find myself more disappointed in Clinton's behavior after reading this book whereas at the time I was much more sympathetic.

What I loved about the book the most was that it made me reevaluate, or at least consider, some of my previous preconceptions.

I thought the reader was excellent. He was really easy to listen to and kept me engaged. Definitely worth a read or listen.

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  • M. Miles
  • 27-11-17

Filled in Lots of Details

I don't normally read this type of book but heard Rachel Maddow recommend it. Glad it was available on Audible. Listened to it at 1.25+ speed which helped. Like most Americans I knew lots of stuff about the Pres. Bill and Ms. Lewinsky saga. But, I didn't know lots of the details or about the politics of it. Listening to this book, I learned a whole lot. I'm very glad I listened to this book by Jeffrey Toobin.

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  • Liz
  • 27-06-17

Excellent look at a story everyone knows

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Toobin's take on Clinton and the Lewinsky story is fascinating. Everyone is a user and a liar. Everyone feels like a victim. The whole sordid mess is dissected and the blame for how it got so out of hand is clearly laid at almost every participant's feet. Fascinating.

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  • machr
  • 27-04-17

Not objective

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

No. It reveals very little new information, and it is written in a biased tone. Perhaps, I should have gleaned that from its title. Despite the fact that I am in general agreement with the author's conclusions, I thought that the language used was condescending. I guess I was expecting it to be written like an historical analysis rather than an accusatory catharsis.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 22-04-17

will not change minds

Would you listen to A Vast Conspiracy again? Why?

Yes I would, with added books from figures on both sides of the issue.Regardless of what you may think about this impeachment i would like to know more through the eyes of those who lived it.Like the Clinton Wars by Sidney Blumenthal, I am not aware of any book by a member of the Republican Party who was involved. But I would be the first to buy both books if they were made available by audible.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

The set of one in a million coincidences that made events happen as they did.

Have you listened to any of Kevin Stillwell’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No, but my five star rating speaks for itself.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

No, but depending on how you feel about certain subjects, I can see someone having either reaction.

Any additional comments?

I would recommend this book to any adult who is curious about modern history.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Margaret Cooper
  • 13-04-17

Doesn't work as an audio book

Toobin is a great writer, but this just does not work as an audio book and I wish I never bought it.

5 people found this helpful

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  • KathPoole
  • 10-04-17

Non-Fiction as opposed to Creative Non-Fiction

Would you try another book from Jeffrey Toobin and/or Kevin Stillwell?

Not sure.

How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

The book begins by listing a dozen or so players. Not interesting reading. It then continues with more names. Names of Paula Jones co-workers, family and an army of lawyers, all named. Then there were her hangers-on and a host of new lawyers which must be named. I'm only half way through the book and don't know that I have the fortitude to go on. All reporters have been named, then all the lawyers for Monica, Bill and all his White House staff. All the lawyers for the Star Investigation - named.
He gave us verbatim transcripts of Linda Tripp's phone calls with Monica, one even included all the "um's". Also, he uses verbatim court transcripts. This book is not creative non-fiction.

Could you see A Vast Conspiracy being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

I hope not.

Any additional comments?

By the time we got to the Monica part, I didn't care anymore.

4 people found this helpful