In a May 25 Washington Post front-page, above-the-fold article, "Books Paint Critical Portraits of Clinton," staff writers Peter Baker and John Solomon asserted that "[t]wo new books on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York" -- A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, by Carl Bernstein (Knopf, June 2007) and Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. (Little, Brown, and Co., June 2007) -- "include a number of assertions and anecdotes that could confront her campaign with unwelcome questions."
But many of the books' "assertions and anecdotes" that Baker and Solomon highlighted have already appeared in previous articles and books on Clinton.
National Intelligence Estimate
Referring to Gerth and Van Natta's book, Her Way, Baker and Solomon wrote:
The book looks in detail at Hillary Clinton's Senate vote in support of the Iraq war, suggesting she may have been motivated by a desire to not abandon her husband's tough-on-Iraq policy and a need "to prove that she was tough enough" as a woman. But Gerth and Van Natta suggest that she did not read the National Intelligence Estimate, which included caveats and dissents about reports of Iraq's weapons program.
[Philippe] Reines, Clinton's Senate spokesman, seemed to confirm last night that she did not read the NIE, saying by e-mail that she was "briefed multiple times by several members of the administration on their intelligence regarding Iraq, including being briefed on the NIE."
In a May 25 post on his Politico.com weblog, Politico senior political writer Ben Smith wrote: "The most striking thing about today's Washington Post get of two, embargoed, much-anticipated investigative books about Hillary Clinton is what's not there: a single, memorable new fact that changes the way the public will view Clinton." Smith went on to write that "the books seem to flesh out a number of known anecdotes about the Clintons." As an example, Smith pointed to Baker and Solomon's suggestion that Clinton "did not read the National Intelligence Estimate," which Smith noted was "first suggested in Human Events in 2005 and chattered about intermittently since."
Indeed, in a November 18, 2005, article, headlined, "Harry Reid Didn't Read Prewar Intel Report," Human Events claimed that, when asked if she had read the NIE, Clinton responded: "I'm not going to say anything about that. Just let the intelligence committee do their work, okay?"
Moreover, The Washington Post reported in an April 27, 2004, article that, according to congressional aides, "[n]o more than six senators" read the report:
In the fall of 2002, as Congress debated waging war in Iraq, copies of a 92-page assessment of Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction sat in two vaults on Capitol Hill, each protected by armed security guards and available to any member who showed up in person, without staff.
But only a few ever did. No more than six senators and a handful of House members read beyond the five-page National Intelligence Estimate executive summary, according to several congressional aides responsible for safeguarding the classified material.
Baker and Solomon wrote that Bernstein's book, A Woman in Charge, "includes some damning observations from people once close to the senator." According to the Post article:
Bob Boorstin, who worked for Clinton when she was pushing her plan to restructure the nation's health-care system in the early days of her husband's presidency, blamed her for its collapse. "I find her to be among the most self-righteous people I've ever known in my life," he told Bernstein. "And it's her great flaw, it's what killed health care," along with other factors.
However, this same allegation -- that Clinton's "self-righteous[ness]" doomed her health care initiative -- was noted by former Clinton adviser Dick Morris in his book Rewriting History (Regan Books, May 2004), quoting Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward. From Pages 118-119:
It was her very obsession with seeing health care as a moral issue that ultimately prevented Hillary from reforming the system successfully. For while the question of health care unquestionably has a moral dimension, what confronted Hillary was ultimately a legislative battle, not a spiritual crusade, and her attitude did little to engender the spirit of compromise that was vital to the passage of any reform program. As Woodward writes [in The Agenda: Inside the Clinton White House], "a number of staffers noticed an increasing self-righteousness in Hillary. She acted as if she had seen the light." He quotes Hillary as saying "I believe in evil and I think that there are evil people in the world." And a lot of them were opposing her health care plan.
An article in the November 2006 edition of The Atlantic Monthly also recycled the allegation:
The task force quickly metastasized into a herd of more than 600, whose inescapably slow pace, along with continual interference from other administration priorities, kept pushing back the timeline for a bill. Eventually, as the months went on, members of Congress introduced competing plans. Some of these, notably that of Representative Jim Cooper, a Democrat from Tennessee, enjoyed broad bipartisan support. Bob Woodward's book The Agenda, which details this period in the White House, notes "an increasing self- righteousness in Hillary" as frustration led to "a new, deeply anti-Washington flavor in her tone." In his memoir, All Too Human, George Stephanopoulos describes her as "inflexible." When "Hillarycare" finally arrived, in late October, the draft was a monstrous 1,342 pages long (Cooper's was about 300). Hillary's original star turn was all but forgotten.
But when he [Cooper] met with the first lady shortly [after discussing a compromise with President Clinton] ... it was as if the golf outing had been just a dream. "She was looking for Jim to surrender 100 percent," says one source with knowledge of the meeting. "It was brutal," Cooper told me. Things collapsed quickly, and no deal was struck. Hillary Clinton's major initiative died ignominiously many months later, without even coming to a vote.
A close friend of the Clintons offers this diagnosis: "She was focusing on the delivery of health care. She was utterly and totally tone-deaf to the politics."
Legal and political defense
Another of the supposedly "damning observations" in Bernstein's book is that Clinton, as first lady, "personally directed the White House defense." According to Baker and Solomon:
[Former Clinton White House special counsel Mark] Fabiani said Clinton personally directed the White House defense, telling Bernstein that private attorney David E. Kendall dealt mainly with the first lady and met only rarely with the president until the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal. "He was easy to deal with compared to her," Fabiani said of the first couple. The only time he saw Bill Clinton lose his temper, Fabiani said, was when the president saw his Whitewater partner, Susan McDougal, taken to jail in an orange jumpsuit and shackles for refusing to testify.
However, several news reports from the late-1990s indicate that Clinton played a central role in developing the legal and political defense not only of the White House, but also of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, against various allegations. For instance, The New York Times reported on April 20, 1997:
Webster L. Hubbell, the former Associate Attorney General who was once at the top of the F.O.B. [Friend of Bill] list, is a case in point. Earlier this month, Mrs. Clinton, who had Mr. Hubbell's assistance in crafting a Whitewater defense strategy in 1992, declared herself to have been a victim of his crimes, since she was a partner at the law firm he looted.
The Orlando Sentinel reported on February 1, 1998:
In the dark hours after the Monica Lewinsky furor broke, top White House aides panicked. Independent counsel Kenneth Starr seemed on the verge of building a criminal case against President Clinton. Lower-level staffers were privately talking resignation.
"It would be fair to say it was a ... disaster area," an administration source said. That's when Hillary Rodham Clinton took over.
It was the first lady, a senior adviser said, who grabbed the White House staff by its collective collar and organized a strategy to save her husband's presidency.
Within a day, she took over the damage-control operation, assembling a mini-law firm inside the White House bunker with herself as the managing partner.
So far, it has been working. Most Americans seem to have taken one intense look at the allegations that the president had an affair with Lewinsky and asked her to lie about it, then mentally turned the channel.
Additionally, in a September 20, 1998, New York Times article, Van Natta and John M. Broder described Clinton as a "commander" in the White House's response to Starr's Whitewater investigation:
In October 1996, [former Clinton senior political adviser James] Carville began a campaign to raise questions about the integrity of Starr and his assistants. Carville's efforts were not lost on Starr, who soon realized that he was engaged not merely in a legal inquiry but in what Carville has often described as a war.
Hillary Clinton was one of the commanders, pressing aides daily to find negative material on Starr and make sure it got into the hands of reporters, according to a former White House official involved in the effort. "She was continually frustrated that progress on that front did not happen more quickly," this official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Afraid of indictments
Referring to Bernstein's A Woman in Charge, Baker and Solomon went on to write:
At one point, Hillary Clinton was convinced she would be next, worried that Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr would indict her for perjury or obstruction of justice arising from statements she made under oath about her work for Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, the Whitewater investment or long-missing billing records. "When I say there was a serious fear she would be indicted, I can't overstate that," Fabiani told Bernstein.
Commenting on the Post article on May 25, Time magazine Washington bureau chief Jay Carney wrote on Time's Swampland weblog, "[T]he revelations contained in the books are not of the bombshell variety." However, Carney did single out the above passage as particularly newsworthy. From his Swampland post:
It is news, I think, that Hillary had a "serious fear" that she might be indicted for perjury or obstruction during the Whitewater investigation. Covering the Clinton White House at the time, I never got the sense that Starr and his team were close to indicting her. Or that the White House was worried she might be indicted. But Mark Fabiani certainly would know. The question, of course, is whether the fear was irrational or well-founded.
In a later entry, however, Carney retracted his claim that Clinton's "serious fear" about being indicted constitutes "news," noting that a Swampland reader pointed out a March 22, 1999, article by Time national political correspondent Karen Tumulty, in which she reported:
To scandal cognoscenti, there was nothing new in the headline last week that Ken Starr's chief deputy once drafted an indictment against Hillary Clinton. But the confirmation by prosecutor W. Hickman Ewing, coming at the outset of Whitewater figure Susan McDougal's trial for contempt, sent chills through the First Lady and those advising her as she considers a run for a New York Senate seat, sources say. As a sign of things to come, says one, "this most recent news gives you pause."
In an update to his second Swampland entry, Carney wrote: "Credit to reader James, who found an article from March 1999 by our own Karen Tumulty about the fact that Starr's team had considered indicting Hillary. So it was news to me -- since I forgot -- but he's right, it's not news."
Referring to Gerth and Van Natta's book, Baker and Solomon wrote:
"Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton," by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr., reports that during her husband's 1992 campaign, a team she oversaw hired a private investigator to undermine Gennifer Flowers "until she is destroyed." Flowers had said publicly that she had an affair with Bill Clinton while he was governor of Arkansas.
However, the private detective, Jack Palladino, has been noted in hundreds of news reports about the Clintons going back almost a decade. For instance, Newsweek reported in its February 9, 1998, issue:
To deal with such outrages -- and charges that had more credibility -- Wright decided that the Clinton campaign needed its own private detective. The man she hired, Jack Palladino, had worked on the Menendez brothers case and for a boy who had accused rock star Michael Jackson of child molestation. His fees were initially laundered through a Denver law firm until the practice was exposed by The Washington Post.
The expense was worth it. NEWSWEEK was not able to track all of Palladino' steps, but a couple of examples suffice to show how the San Francisco-based detective kept busy in the spring, summer and fall of 1992. The nefarious [private detective Larry] Case had found a woman in Choctaw, Okla, who claimed that she had had sex with Clinton. After Palladino spoke with her, however, she said that she had been tricked by Case into spinning a tall tale. She further disclosed that she had recently had brain surgery to remove a tumor that had caused her to exhibit multiple personalities. Next, a former Miss Arkansas appeared on the "Sally Jessy Raphael" show, claiming to have been a paramour of Clinton's. When Palladino attacked her credibility with reporters, however, the woman was offered no more talk-show bookings.
The Washington Post reported on January 23, 1998:
In an attempt to discredit her, Flowers said, the Clinton campaign hired Jack Palladino, a San Francisco private investigator, to "go around the country talking to people who knew me. I had calls from people, girl friends, guy friends, people I had known. If there had been anything they could have dug up on me that was horrible, they would have. They turned over every rock they could."
Referring to Bernstein's A Woman in Charge, Baker and Solomon wrote:
She waited two years before deciding to become his wife and move to Arkansas, and Bernstein points to a little-known factor that may have contributed. Hillary Clinton failed the D.C. bar exam after law school, something she hid from her best friends for 30 years until disclosing it in passing in her autobiography, "Living History." Bernstein suggests that blow to her ego may have played a role in her decision to move to Arkansas, where she had passed the bar.
Indeed, as Baker and Solomon noted, the "little-known" fact that Clinton failed the D.C. bar exam appears in her autobiography. Moreover, Clinton herself suggests in Living History that her failing the D.C. bar influenced her decision to go to Arkansas (Pages 64-65):
I had taken both the Arkansas and Washington, D.C., bar exams during the summer, but my heart was pulling me towards Arkansas. When I learned that I had passed in Arkansas but failed in D.C., I thought maybe my test scores were telling me something. I spent a lot of my salary on my telephone bills and was so happy when Bill came to see me over Thanksgiving. We spent our time exploring Boston and talking about our future.
We agreed that I would come down to Arkansas after Christmas 1973 so we could try to figure out where we were heading.
Marilyn Jo Jenkins, contemplation of divorce
Baker and Solomon wrote of the Bernstein book:
The women who also figured in Bill Clinton's life in Arkansas make a return appearance in the book, most notably Marilyn Jo Jenkins, a power company executive he fell in love with and almost left his wife over, according to Bernstein. Jenkins has been linked to Clinton before -- she was spirited into the governor's mansion at 5:15 a.m. for a final, furtive meeting with him the day he left for Washington to assume the presidency -- but Bernstein's account makes clear her pivotal role.
Bill Clinton wanted to divorce his wife to be with Jenkins in 1989, Bernstein reports, but Hillary Clinton refused. "There are worse things than infidelity," she told Betsey Wright, the governor's chief of staff. The crisis frayed Wright's relationship with Bill Clinton too, and she told Bernstein that she arranged for the two of them, Wright and Clinton, to see a therapist together.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, turned to her best friend, Diane Blair, obliquely raising the prospect of divorce during a long walk. "She was thinking that they had not made much money," Blair told Bernstein before her death in 2000, and she was concerned about her daughter. "Chelsea was there now. What if she were on her own? She didn't own a house. She was concerned that if she were to become a single parent, how would she make it work in a way that would be good for Chelsea."
Indeed, as Baker and Solomon noted, "Jenkins has been linked to Clinton before." In his book, Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate (Simon & Schuster, June 1999), Woodward noted a purported connection. From an excerpt of Shadow printed in The Washington Post on June 13, 1999:
No, [Clinton lawyer Robert S.] Bennett believed, he had smoked out the real liability -- Marilyn Jo Jenkins, a beautiful marketing executive whom Clinton had known for more than a decade. Jenkins was a longtime employee of the Arkansas Power and Light Co. Her name had been linked to Clinton in published reports, but only in vague references.
She had met with Clinton in his basement office in the Arkansas governor's mansion four times in the less than three months between his election in 1992 and his inauguration in 1993. Three of the meetings took place about 5:15 a.m. or 5:30 a.m. Phone records showed that from 1989 to 1991 Clinton had placed 59 calls to Jenkins's home or office. Arkansas state trooper Danny Ferguson had brought gifts from Clinton to Jenkins.
Clinton had denied to Bennett that he had a sexual relationship with Jenkins. Bennett was not buying it. He noticed that Clinton reacted differently when Jenkins's name came up. The president paused in a forlorn and wistful way. Bennett couldn't quite put his finger on it, but Clinton's manner seemed to be a definite tip-off.
From the book, Because He Could (Regan Books, October 2004) (Page 206), which Morris co-wrote with Eileen McGann:
In 1988-1989, according to [Gail] Sheehy, Clinton was deeply involved with Marilyn Jo Denton Jenkins, a "tall, slim, blond, a striking divorcee in her early forties." A state trooper trooper testified in his deposition in the Paula Jones case that Clinton, alluding to Marilyn, told him "It's tough to be in love with both your wife and another women."
That both Clintons were contemplating divorce during this period has been widely alleged. Morris discussed Bill Clinton's consideration of the subject in Rewriting History (Pages 191-192):
By 1989, the Clintons were considering divorce. David Maraniss describes how "Clinton was broaching the subject of divorce in conversations with some of his colleagues, governors from other states who had survived the collapse of their marriages." He reports that "there were great screaming matches at the mansion. Once a counselor was called out to mediate."
A year before all that, Bill asked me what kind of political impact I thought he could expect if his marriage to Hillary should break up. I told him I thought he could survive it, and offered my home in Key West as a place for him to hang out and think it over.
By whatever narrow margin, the marriage survived. But Hillary was still way out of the loop, so far out that in 1990 she didn't even know if Bill would see re-election. As Maraniss reports, on the day before he announced his decision to the public, Hillary called Gloria Cabe, her husband's campaign manager, "and asked whether she had any inside information on what Clinton had decided."
Morris and McGann further wrote in Because He Could that once Bill Clinton decided to run for president, "Divorce was now out of the question for either of them." (Page 206)
Likewise, it had previously been reported that Hillary Clinton had given thought to the idea. As Media Matters for America President and CEO David Brock wrote in his book, The Seduction of Hillary Rodham (Free Press, October 1996) (Page 226):
Visibly upset, even humiliated by her husband's decision not to run [in the 1988 presidential election], Hillary was especially distraught about the painful reason for it. Her friends say Hillary questioned many of the decisions she had made in her life and seriously considered divorcing Bill in the wake of Bill's announcement. "In conversations with him and her, and in conversations my wife had with Hillary, this was the first time she acknowledged knowing of his extramarital activities," said one close friend of the Clintons, who first met the couple in 1982. "I think Chelsea has been the most underestimated factor in their lives. If it hadn't been for Chelsea, I think they would have divorced then."
Running for governor
Baker and Solomon wrote of A Woman in Charge:
The Clintons stayed together, but out of "anger and hurt" she considered running for governor in 1990, when he presumably would step down to prepare his 1992 presidential campaign. The idea ended after consultant Dick Morris conducted two polls showing she had no independent identity with Arkansas voters and compared her to George Wallace's wife, who ran to succeed him in Alabama -- an analogy that offended her.
But this is not news either, as Morris wrote about Hillary Clinton's ambitions in detail in Rewriting History. From the book (Pages 84-85):
As it came to seem less likely that Bill was going to run for governor, another lost chapter in Hillary's life transpired: The first lady of Arkansas decided that she would try to become governor. Having led the state's education reform, Hillary now saw her chance to step out of her husband's shadow and become the leader she wanted to be. With a giddy expectancy, she began planning her own run for office.
The first couple summoned me to the Governor's Mansion to discuss the idea, and Bill was clearly going overboard in encouraging her to run. "She's always deferred to my career," he told me. "I don't make much money as governor and she's having to support the family while I'm out campaigning. It hasn't been fair to her, and I want to give her a shot at her own political career." They asked me to conduct a poll to assess her chances of winning, and I agreed.
But the results that came back were devastating, and they would have a crucial impact on Hillary's political development: According to the poll numbers, she couldn't win. It wasn't that people didn't like her. In fact, she was quite popular. But voters just didn't feel she could be her own person as governor. They worried that she would just be a placeholder for Bill, a warm body to keep the governorship in the family -- who would step aside should her husband's presidential race fall short.
There was some precedent for the idea -- but it was the wrong kind of precedent. When Alabama's term limits law had made Governor George Wallace retire in 1966, he persuaded his wife, Lurleen, to run in his place. After she died in office (and her term was completed by the state's lieutenant governor), he came back for eight more years in office. Now, as we discussed Hillary's potential candidacy, I made a big mistake: I referred to the Arkansas voters' reaction as "the Lurleen Wallace factor."
"Hillary is no Lurleen Wallace!" Bill screamed, red-faced and furious. "She has her own record, her own career, her own accomplishments." He pounded the table with his fist. "It's ridiculous for people to see her just as my placeholder." Hillary sulked in her chair and let her husband rant on. They actually insisted that I take a second poll, reminding the respondents more explicitly of her achievements (which Bill listed for me at tedious length). But it was no use. The voters just refused to see Hillary as anything but Bill's puppet.
Pressuring Betsey Wright
Baker and Solomon wrote of A Woman in Charge:
Bernstein also reports that Bill Clinton, with Morris's help, pressured Wright to issue a false statement denying comments she had made to David Maraniss, a Post reporter, for his book "First in His Class," in which she said Arkansas state troopers had procured women for the governor.
But Morris himself described this alleged incident in Because He Could (Page 193):
Even though the [Maraniss] book got only limited exposure and did not kindle the national political crisis Clinton had feared, he was still determined to get a statement from Betsey denying that he had ever misused the troopers. When he first learned about her comments, Clinton had tried to track Betsey down at the Virginia hotel where she was staying. When I arrived at the White House, Clinton asked me to call Betsey -- with him sitting silently beside me listening to my end of the call -- and ask her to issue a retraction. Since Betsey was not actually quoted directly in the Maraniss book, she was willing to issue the statement Clinton wanted. But each time I would hang up with a draft statement from her in hand, the president would add new language that he wanted in the text. It took three or four calls before we finally agreed on the language.
Referring to Bernstein's book, Baker and Solomon wrote:
In Bernstein's account, both Clintons went to great lengths to keep the lid on his infidelities. At the behest of Wright and Hillary Clinton, two partners with Hillary Clinton at the Rose Law Firm, Webster L. Hubbell and Vincent W. Foster Jr., were hired to represent women named in a lawsuit as having secret affairs with the governor. Hubbell and Foster questioned the women, then obtained signed statements that they never had sex with Bill Clinton. On one occasion, Bernstein reports, Hillary Clinton was present for the questioning.
Baker and Solomon did not make clear who Bernstein's source was for this account and offered no further details about the incident in question. As such, Media Matters was unable to determine what, if anything, in this account is a new revelation. However, Baker and Solomon'a description of the events appear to resemble a lawsuit filed against Clinton in 1990 by Larry Nichols. The Washington Post reported on January 26, 1992:
The fired Arkansas state employee whose unsubstantiated allegations of marital infidelity by Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton were the basis for tabloid stories that have dogged Clinton's presidential campaign for two weeks said tonight he was dropping efforts to reinstate the lawsuit in which he had made the claims.
"I want to tell everybody what I did to try to destroy Governor Clinton," Larry Nichols said in a signed statement, dated today, that was released by the Clinton campaign.
In the statement, Nichols said he wrongfully accused Clinton of extramarital affairs in a 1990 lawsuit because Nichols believed his firing was unfair. "I never intended it to go this far. I hoped all along that the governor and I could sit down and talk it out. But it just kept getting bigger and bigger," the statement said.
Nichols, who was fired in 1988 from a state job for misuse of government telephones, added that since the original tabloid report was published, "several women called asking if I was willing to pay them to say they had an affair with Bill Clinton. This is crazy. One London newspaper is offering a half-million dollars for a story. There are people out there now who are going to try to cash in."
In August, Nichols said in an interview that he had no concrete evidence of a dalliance by Clinton but was relying on depositions from women named in his lawsuit, which claimed that Clinton had used state money to finance extramarital romances. "Everything I've got is rumor and innuendo at this point," Nichols said at the time. No depositions were ever taken, and news organizations that investigated failed to find evidence to support Nichols's allegations.
The Associated Press quotes Nichols tonight as saying that the Clinton campaign had not paid him or agreed to pay him, that he was not coerced and that the governor was not involved in negotiations between Nichols and the campaign that led to the crafting of the statement.
In The Hunting of the President (Thomas Dunne Books, February 2000) (Page 16), Joe Conason and Gene Lyons wrote:
Among the women listed [by Nichols] was Gennifer Flowers. ... Flowers turned out to be the only one of the five whom Nichols knew personally.
Reporters who contacted the women heard vehement denials from all of them. Three of them hired lawyers and threatened to sue if their names were used. Considering Nichols's dubious reputation, every media outlet in Little Rock made the same decision: The women's names were not published, and the lawsuit was ignored or buried on the back pages.