National Review's Kudlow revived phony scandals as "Bill Clinton lies"

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

In a recent column, Larry Kudlow wrote that "David Geffen has reminded folks what it was like when the Clintons were in the White House" and proceeded to list some of "Bill Clinton['s] lies," according to a Google search. But many of the "lies" Kudlow collected are actually well-worn falsehoods about the Clintons and a rehashing of "scandals," such as Whitewater and Filegate, in which they were absolved of wrongdoing.

In his February 23 column, which appeared in the February 27 edition of The Washington Times, National Review Online economics editor Larry Kudlow claimed that the "front-page catfight between" Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), and longtime Democratic donor David Geffen has "pried the lid off the rusty old can of Clinton lies, reminding voters of what will happen if this truth-challenged couple ever returns to the Oval Office." Kudlow then asked: "Does the American electorate want to go through this all over again? Have we forgotten the lies?" Kudlow claimed he conducted a Google search using the phrase "Bill Clinton lies" and offered readers a sampling of the results, which he claimed were from "various" -- though unnamed -- "sources." However, many of the alleged "lies" Kudlow listed are actually well-worn falsehoods about the Clintons and a rehashing of "scandals" in which they were absolved of wrongdoing.

Gennifer Flowers

Among what Kudlow wrote "turn[ed] up" in his Google search was: "Clinton continues to lie about his 12-year affair with Gennifer Flowers." In fact, while Clinton testified to having had "sexual relations" with Flowers on one occasion in 1977, evidence suggests that it was Flowers who lied about the extent of their relationship. As Bob Somerby of The Daily Howler noted on October 15, 2003, Flowers, a former Arkansas state employee, offered no solid evidence that she and Bill Clinton had conducted a 12-year affair, but there exists plenty of evidence to challenge the credibility of her allegations. Somerby wrote:

One week after her story appeared, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter noted some problems with Flowers' credibility. Among them: "Flowers claims she met Clinton at the Excelsior Hotel in 1979 or 1980. The hotel didn't open until late 1982." Another: "Flowers claims to have been Miss Teen Age America, 1967. She wasn't -- that year, or any other." In The Hunting of the President, Joe Conason and Gene Lyons went into more detail about this shaky messenger:

CONASON/LYONS (page 25): Musicians and club owners who had worked with Flowers described her as manipulative and dishonest. Her resume falsely proclaimed her a graduate of a fashionable Dallas prep school she'd never attended. It also listed a University of Arkansas nursing degree she'd never earned and membership in a sorority that had never heard of her. Her agent told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that contrary to her claims, Flowers had never opened for comedian Rich Little. A brief gig on the Hee Haw television program had come to a bad end, the agent would later confirm, when Flowers simply vanished for a couple of weeks with a man she'd met in a Las Vegas casino -- and then concocted a tale about having been kidnapped. She had never been Miss Teenage America. Even her "twin sister Genevieve" turned out to be purely a figment of Flowers' imagination.

Not that there's anything wrong with it! Conason and Lyons also said this: "Flowers never produced a single paragraph, valentine, or birthday card as evidence of her twelve-year affair with Clinton; no witness ever came forward who had seen them together. Indeed, she would eventually write an entire book, Passion and Betrayal, without stating a specific time and place where she and her famous lover were together."

Whitewater

Another of Kudlow's purported finds was: "Clinton persists in dismissing the Whitewater scandal as a 'land deal where I lost money.' (Despite the fact that a dozen of his close associates landed in jail over the matter.)" In fact, the Clintons did lose money in the decades-old real estate deal that ultimately spurred the Whitewater "scandal." Further, as Media Matters for America has noted, the extensive, multimillion-dollar investigation into Whitewater turned up no evidence of illegality by the Clintons. Indeed, the independent counsel assigned to investigate the matter, Robert Ray, announced on September 20, 2000, that he had closed the probe after concluding that "the evidence was insufficient to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that either President or Mrs. Clinton knowingly participated in any criminal conduct."

Filegate

Kudlow also wrote that he found that "Clinton illegally obtained FBI files on his political opponents, and lied about that, too." Kudlow was referring to another "scandal" involving the improper collection of FBI background files on former White House employees by then-White House security chief Craig Livingstone -- dubbed by the media as "Filegate." However, in March 2000, Ray concluded that there existed no evidence to implicate the Clintons or any senior White House officials in any wrongdoing. As CNN reported on March 16, 2000:

There is "no substantial and credible evidence" that President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton sought confidential Federal Bureau of Investigation background checks of former GOP White House personnel, according to a report filed Thursday by Whitewater Independent Counsel Robert Ray's office.

In a statement, Ray's office said that no substantial and credible [evidence] exists to implicate any other senior White House official in the FBI background files controversy that came to be known as "Filegate," and that no prosecutions would be pursued. It also said prosecution was not warranted after an investigation into whether former White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum testified falsely to Congress on the matter in 1996.

Lincoln Bedroom

Kudlow further wrote:

David Geffen also has turned our attentions back to the days of the Lincoln bedroom scandal, when White House sleepovers were regularly offered in exchange for large political contributions. I could be wrong, but I don't recall a single instance of this happening while George W. Bush has been in office. Same for Bush Sr. and Ronald Reagan. For that matter, I don't recall any Lincoln-bedroom sales during the presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, or Richard Nixon.

Just the Bill Clinton presidency.

In fact, Kudlow is wrong -- several Bush campaign contributors have stayed in the White House. USA Today reported on May 12, 2005, that "[a]bout a third of the 152 adult guests who slept at the White House or Camp David last year were fundraisers or donors to President Bush's campaigns." The Associated Press reported on March 10, 2004:

President Bush played host to dozens of overnight guests at the White House and Camp David last year, from world leaders to some of his most loyal supporters, including friends who double as campaign fund-raisers.

Bush and first lady Laura Bush have invited at least 270 people to stay at the White House and at least the same number to overnight at the Camp David retreat since coming to Washington in January 2001, according to lists the White House provided The Associated Press.

Elton Bomer, a lobbyist, Bush donor and former Democratic lawmaker who served in then-Texas Gov. Bush's administration, said his stay in the White House living quarters was like visiting friends in ... "a very nice home."

"The mattresses are very, very nice and the pillows are very nice," said Bomer, who visited in October 2002 with about 18 other Texans. "It's not ostentatious at all. There's no gilded gold leaf or anything like that."

Some Bush guests stayed in the Lincoln Bedroom, a historic room that gained fame in the Clinton administration amid allegations that Democrats were rewarding big donors such as Hollywood celebrities Steven Spielberg and Barbra Streisand with accommodations there. In all, the Clinton family invited at least 938 overnight guests to the White House in their first four years.

Bush's criticism of the Clinton fund-raising scandal is one of the reasons the White House identifies guests. In a debate with Vice President Al Gore in October 2000, Bush said: "I believe they've moved that sign, 'The buck stops here,' from the Oval Office desk to 'The buck stops here' on the Lincoln Bedroom. And that's not good for the country."

Kudlow may not "recall a single instance of this happening" because, as Somerby pointed out in a May 16, 2005, Daily Howler entry, the media's response to news of Bush's overnight guests was very different from the Clinton years: "They screamed and tore their hair out then, but roll over and play dead today." Somerby further noted the ways in which the "scandal" was spun during the Clinton years, including the addition of family members and Chelsea Clinton's overnight guests to inflate the grand total:

How many overnight guests were involved? 831. Or 938, depending on how clownish a newspaper wanted to be. In March 1997, the White House produced a list of overnight guests for the Clintons' four-plus years in the White House. 831 guests were listed. Beyond that, though, the White House noted that 35 family members had also stayed overnight, and that Chelsea Clinton -- twelve to sixteen years old at the time -- had hosted 72 additional guests (think: junior high slumber parties). Readers can probably guess what occurred. Wanting to make the scandal seem bigger, most news orgs took the relevant number (831), then added the 72 and the 35, producing a more pleasing total -- 938 overnight guests in all. There! That felt about twelve percent better! So when newspapers pimped the pleasing claim that the Clintons had hosted 938 guests, they were including 72 teen-aged friends of their daughter and 35 family members, although the papers almost never told readers that the numbers were being jacked up this way.

Peltier pardon

Kudlow also wrote:

It is highly ironic that the very liberal Mr. Geffen has put all this front and center. It seems that Geffen is still jilted by the fact that President Clinton failed to pardon Leonard Peltier, an American Indian activist who was convicted and sent to jail for killing two FBI agents. I'm speculating here, but the "ultimate" lie may have been that Clinton promised Geffen a pardon for Peltier, reneged on the deal, and instead pardoned Marc Rich, the currency manipulator and money launderer who is the husband of Clinton pal Denise Rich, who is also a suspected Clinton paramour. The trigger for Geffen's Hillary insurrection, and the bile-filled remarks he served to Maureen Dowd, may have been lingering resentment.

However, Dowd's February 21 column (subscription required) -- the only source Kudlow cited in support of his "speculating" -- gave no indication that Clinton "promised Geffen a pardon for Peltier." Dowd wrote that Geffen and Bill Clinton "fell out in 2001, when Mr. Clinton gave a pardon to Marc Rich after rebuffing Mr. Geffen's request for one for Leonard Peltier." Dowd later told Newsweek that Geffen never expected a pardon for Peltier. From the March 5 edition of Newsweek, published after Kudlow's column:

Dowd says Geffen was initially reluctant to be interviewed for her column. During their hourlong interview at his Beverly Hills mansion, his tone was "reflective," she says. (When Dowd asked him about the Peltier pardon, he said he never really expected one, though he was angry when fugitive financier Marc Rich was pardoned by Clinton.)

A Lexis-Nexis search* of news coverage regarding Geffen's pardon request found no evidence supporting Kudlow's "speculati[on]" that Clinton "promised ... a pardon for Peltier."

Kudlow's description of Denise Rich as a "suspected Clinton paramour" is also baseless. Allegations of a personal relationship between Clinton and Rich spread in early 2001 as media figures such as MSNBC host Don Imus claimed she had visited the White House on more than 100 occasions during Clinton's tenure. Imus, however, disclosed on the February 22, 2001, edition of CNN's Larry King Live that one of his sources for this information had been former Clinton aide Dick Morris. Imus went on to acknowledge, "I don't know if you can believe Dick Morris or not." As Media Matters has documented, Morris has a long history of advancing baseless and outright false claims to smear the Clintons.

* Search terms used: "Clinton and Geffen and Peltier and pardon" in News (All) between 1/1/01 and 2/28/07

Network/Outlet
National Review
Person
Lawrence Kudlow
Stories/Interests
Hillary Clinton, 2008 Elections
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