World

BATTLE LINES

ANDREW PHILLIPS January 25 1999
World

BATTLE LINES

ANDREW PHILLIPS January 25 1999

SULTAN OF SLEAZE

WORLD

Publishing smut is how he makes his money, says Larry Flynt, but what really gets his juices flowing is politics. The publisher of Hustler magazine has both a big bank account and a hitherto-unpublicized allegiance to the Democratic party—a tricky combination for some Washington politicians. Last October, Flynt offered up to $1 million (U.S.) to anyone who had had an affair with a member of Congress and was willing to dish the dirt. His target, he said, was the “hypocrisy” of conservatives who were pursuing Bill Clinton for lying about sex, while leading less-than-pure lives themselves. In December, he bagged his first victim: congressman Robert Livingston stepped aside as the Republicans’ choice to be Speaker of the House of Representatives after Flynt’s investigators dug up information that Livingston had been unfaithful to his wife.

Last week, Flynt smeared another Republican—Georgia congressman Bob Barr, who is one of the men prosecuting Clinton’s impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate. Flynt unearthed court documents from Barr’s 1986 divorce and used them to accuse the congressman of refusing to answer questions under

oath about an alleged affair he conducted in the 1980s, and of paying for an abortion for his second wife, Gail. Barr responded that he had invoked a legal privilege in court, and had never “persuaded” anybody to have an abortion. Nor, he said pointedly, had he ever perjured himself. Flynt was undeterred. He said he will spend more than $3 million to expose Republican enemies of Clinton, and has investigators targeting eight other politicians. “If they materialize,” he said, “the Republican party is going to be a shambles.”

It is a measure of how much sleaze has washed through Washington since the Monica Lewinsky scandal began a year ago that the spectacle of a notorious pornographer funding investigations into the personal lives of elected officials was just one more salacious sideshow. But one aspect of Flynt’s campaign did raise serious questions—the possibility that his investigators might have links with people working for the White House. Republicans accused Clinton of at best failing to denounce Flynt’s activities, and at worst actively encouraging him. They pointed out that James Carville, the Democratic campaign consultant and close friend of Clinton, worked with Flynt on the 1996 movie The People i/s. Larry Flynt, which portrayed the publisher as a champion of free speech.

More ominously, the conservative Washington Times reported that Flynt’s chief investigator, Dan Moldea, supplied the White House last year with evidence that independent counsel Kenneth Starr had leaked information to reporters. That took place before Moldea began working for Flynt, and the publisher flatly denied that he had discussed his campaign with Clinton’s aides. But the episode at least answered the question hanging over the Lewinsky affair—how low can it go? The answer: lower than anyone thought.

ANDREW PHILLIPS