James B. Stewart is promoting his newest book on some of the most famous, or infamous perjury cases in modern America.
The title tells half the story: “Tangled Webs — How False Statements are Undermining America: From Martha Stewart to Bernie Madoff.”
In addition, the book looks at the cases of Barry Bonds and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.
“I narrowed it down to those four because it represents different slices of society: Media, business, politics and sports,” Stewart said.
He also selected those four cases because they illustrate how the U.S. judicial system breaks down when everybody’s lying. Stewart said the Bonds steroid use-case proves his point.
“Barry Bonds allegedly committed perjury in 2003, and he only got tried a few weeks ago — eight years later,” Stewart said.
At one point, Stewart said Bonds’ trainer had been held in jail for contempt.
“He had lied several times. And as he’s leaving, the other inmates gathered around and gave him a standing ovation. I thought to myself, Ã¢ Yeah, that really says it all. This is the code of the prison yard, where you lie to protect people.’ ”
In researching the book, Steward used court documents, information obtained by Freedom of Information Act requests and interviews with those in and around the cases. In some cases, he uncovered information that had not previously been reported.
“When President Bush asked (Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove) point blank if he had leaked a CIA agent’s identity to Robert Novak, he said the subject hadn’t even come up in his conversation with Novak, and that was a lie,” Stewart said.
Libby, then chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, was indicted by a federal grand jury in October 2005 for his part in leaking the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. During the course of the Libby investigation, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald told Bush that Rove also had identified Plame as a CIA agent during the interview with Novak.
“So (Rove) lied to his commander in chief and yet Bush didn’t take any steps … when he was later told about it,” Stewart said.
Libby was eventually found guilty of perjury and sentenced to 30 months in prison as well as a $250,000 fine and two years of supervised release after his term. Bush later commuted the prison sentence. Rove was never tried.
Stewart said when U.S. leaders don’t take lying seriously, it sets the wrong example.
“We had, in Bill Clinton, a president who committed perjury and only grudgingly, if that, apologized for it. And in Bush we had a president who condoned it. What kind of message does that send?”
In researching the Martha Stewart insider trading case, the author found that many other lives were destroyed.
“Martha Stewart went to jail, but she got out and she’s a celebrity again. But you see the wreckage of people caught up in that through no fault of their own,” James Stewart said.
Stewart, who worked as a journalist at the Wall Street Journal for years, was most surprised by the Bernie Madoff case, where a well known investor used a Ponzi scheme to scam investors out of billions of dollars.
“I was astonished by the Madoff story. I went into it thinking he must have been a genius at lying because he got away with it for so long. He’s a terrible liar,” Stewart said.
The Securities and Exchange Commission investigated Madoff four times. Stewart said they knew he was lying about the “investments” he was supposed to be managing. But no perjury charges were brought.
“The Madoff case is what happens when even law enforcement shrugs their shoulders, saying everybody’s doing it so what can they do about it?
“He got away with this for at least 20 years. No one knows exactly when it started,” Stewart said.
Some early reviewers of Stewart’s book said he was naive in thinking there is a cure for lying.
Stewart rejects that cynical view of life. He would like to see President Barack Obama make honesty an issue whether in the State of the Union speech or with prosecutions of those who perjure themselves.
“I think the president is the chief law enforcement officer in this country and needs to come to terms with this and set an example,” Stewart said.
“And then at the lowest level, all of us have a role to play. First in not condoning perjury when we confront it and in dealing with our friends, our colleagues, our family members, our children — trying to re-enforce the importance of an honor code that people are going to take an oath to tell the truth and then actually tell the truth.”
Midwestern values include honesty, Stewart said. He said growing up in Quincy, Illinois gave him a good foundation, but he does not claim he always has been honest. He said his mother, Mary Jane Stewart, remembers when he told “a big lie” when he was a second grader at Adams School. He found that once he had told one lie he had to tell others “until the whole house of cards fell in.”
“I’ve told him he can’t go into politics because they would bring up that Adams School story” which involved him losing $5 that he didn’t have, Mary Jane Stewart said.
She is reading her son’s book and has found some redeeming value in how Martha Stewart taught those with her in prison to sew and knit. And she noted there is no relationship between her family and that of Martha Stewart except the coincidence of an identical last name.
Tangled Webs is Stewart’s 11th book.
Stewart is an attorney and journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalist in 1988 for stories in the Wall Street Journal about insider trading. He later wrote “Den of Thieves” about the criminal conduct of Wall Street arbitrage giant Ivan Boesky and junk bond king Michael Milken.
Stewart wrote about fellow Quincy native Michael Swango in 1999 with “Blind Eye: How the Medical Establishment Let a Doctor get away with Murder.”
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