Media once again run with anonymously sourced allegation of Clinton eavesdropping

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN & SARAH PAVLUS

In recent days, numerous media outlets have reported on an anonymously sourced allegation that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) eavesdropped on a phone conversation involving Bill Clinton's political opponents during his 1992 presidential campaign -- an allegation the Clinton campaign has said is "categorically untrue." In the book Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton (Little, Brown & Co., June 2007), co-authors Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. cited a single anonymous source to claim that during the campaign, Hillary Clinton "listened to a secretly recorded audiotape of a phone conversation of Clinton critics plotting their next attack." Gerth and Van Natta wrote that "Bill's supporters monitored frequencies used by cell phones, and the tape was made during one of those monitoring sessions" and described the tape as having been "obtained under questionable circumstances." According to the endnotes of Her Way, Gerth and Van Natta's only source for this claim is an "[a]uthor interview with former campaign aide present at the tape playing in 2006." Some in the media seized on the allegation before the book was even officially released and many failed to note that the sole basis for the claim is a single unnamed source describing events that allegedly occurred 14 years earlier. After numerous reports in June, the allegation did not surface again until an October 16 article in The Hill, headlined "GOP targeting Clinton on phone-call snooping." The Hill article quoted an anonymous "GOP official" accusing Clinton of "hypocrisy" because she allegedly eavesdropped on political opponents but opposes the Bush administration's efforts to expand the government's authority to conduct electronic surveillance of communications involving people in the United States without a warrant.

In reporting on the allegations, several media outlets -- including the following -- failed to note that Gerth and Van Natta sourced the claim to only one, unnamed person: Slate.com, National Review, CNN's Paula Zahn Now, ABC News' The Note, Fox News' Fox & Friends, MSNBC's Tucker, The Washington Times, and The American Spectator.

From Her Way, Pages 93-94:

Hillary's defense activities ranged from the inspirational to the microscopic to the down and dirty. She received memos about the status of various press inquiries;10 she vetted senior campaign aides;11 and she listened to a secretly recorded audiotape of a phone conversation of Clinton critics plotting their next attack. The tape contained discussions of another woman who might surface with allegations about an affair with Bill. Bill's supporters monitored frequencies used by cell phones, and the tape was made during one of those monitoring sessions.12

A lot had changed since the moment eighteen years earlier when Hillary had been aghast at the suggestion that the Clinton campaign use underhanded means to garner votes in rural Arkansas.

Yet again, Bill Clinton's chances were being jeopardized by rumors of his womanizing. And yet again, it was up to Hillary to minimize the threat -- and if that meant listening to a tape that had been obtained under questionable circumstances, then she would just deal with it.

Associated endnotes:

10. Numerous 1992 campaign memoranda addressed to Hillary Rodham Clinton.

11. David Halberstam, War in a Time of Peace (New York: Scribner, 2001), 20.

12. Author interview with former campaign aide present at the tape playing in 2006.

May 31

In a May 31 Slate.com blog post, Mickey Kaus wrote that he had "obtained a copy of page 93 of the unreleased Gerth-Van Natta Hillary Clinton book" and highlighted the allegation that Hillary Clinton "listened to a secretly recorded audiotape of a phone conversation of Clinton critics plotting their next attack." Kaus speculated, "Isn't it not so legal?... I'm not an expert, but it looks like a potential minefield for Hillary." Kaus did not note the basis for the allegation -- a single anonymous source -- nor did he note that, if he had only page 93 and not the endnotes, he was unable to determine the sourcing for the allegation. From the May 31 post (bold and italics in original):

Hillary, Eavesdropper? Big Mama is Listening! Kf has obtained a copy of page 93 of the unreleased Gerth-Van Natta Hillary Clinton book, which describes how, during the '92 campaign, Hillary herself

"listened to a secretly recorded audiotape of a phone conversation of Clinton critics plotting their next attack. The tape contained discussions of another woman who might surface with allegations about an affair with Bill. Bill's supporters monitored frequencies used by cell phones, and the tape was made during one of those monitoring sessions."

Hmm. Phone-monitoring was a key investigative method of what notorious California-based Clinton-friendly private eye and problem solver? Just asking! ... P.S.: I'm not talking about Jack Palladino, who is explicitly mentioned in the footnotes as working for the Clinton team and would not have to be described as a "supporter." But of course, it could still be him, or any other "supporter." (Nor is it clear if the phones were being monitored in Arkansas or D.C..) ... I don't know how common cell-phone-monitoring was in 1992. ... P.P.S.: Wasn't there a character in Joe Klein's Primary Colors who did this sort of thing? ... P.P.P.S.: Isn't it not so legal? ... See also this exegesis of the elements of a violation of 18 U.S.C. 2511 (1) (a). I'm not an expert, but it looks like a potential minefield for Hillary. Think what Patrick Fitzgerald could have done with the provision criminalizing anyone who "intentionally uses, or endeavors to use, the contents of any wire, oral, or electronic communication" knowing it was obtained illegally. [E.A.] Maybe it all depends on what the uses of "uses" are! ... Did I bury the lede? ...

Update: Actually, say the profs at the Volokh Conspiracy, it depends on whether they were cell calls or cordless calls! Gerth and Van Natta say "cell." I don't think Hillary can take much comfort in Volokh's analysis. ... 5:15 P.M. link

June 1-6

During this period, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh, Fox News host Sean Hannity, Fox News contributor and nationally syndicated columnist Dick Morris, and Politico reporter Ben Smith all seized on Kaus' post.

On the June 1 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh cited Kaus' posting and claimed, "The Clintons have been engaged in illegal wiretapping. They're monitoring cell phone frequencies so they hear calls from enemies of the Clintons plotting their next attack and so forth." From the June 1 edition (subscription required) of The Rush Limbaugh Show :

LIMBAUGH: Mickey Kaus. Where was this -- Slate.com. Headline: "Hillary, caught eavesdropping?" Page 93 from the yet-unreleased Gerth-Van Natta Hillary Clinton book has quite a bombshell, Kaus writes. Hillary Clinton "listened to a secretly recorded audiotape of a phone conversation of Clinton critics plotting their next attack. The tape contained discussions of another woman who might surface with allegations about an affair with her husband Bill. Bill's supporters monitored frequencies used by cell phones, and the tape was made during one of those monitoring sessions." So the Clintons were out there just like that couple, the grandparents driving on I-75 here in Florida heading up to Jacksonville to do some Christmas shopping, and like every one of us they had a cell phone monitor in their car, right there in the dashboard, and they decided to tune in, and all of a sudden, just quite by accident, they said they caught a moment of history. They listened to Newt Gingrich talking to John Boehner. By the way, who was it, Jim Moran got this? Was it Moran or McDermott? Yeah, it was McDermott, Baghdad Jim McDermott.

Anyway, this couple, just the sweetest people you'd ever want to run into, grandparents, accidentally tuning around their cell phone receiver in the car, like we all have in our cars and hear this conversation between Newt Gingrich and John Boehner, "Gee, this is history, what do we do with this?" And they decided to give it to Baghdad Jim McDermott, congressman from Washington, who then gave it to The New York Times, which then published the transcript of the conversation. So far McDermott has been in lawsuits, has lost up to 800-grand now in terms of reimbursing Boehner for all this. We find out now the Clintons have been doing the same thing. The Clintons have been engaged in illegal wiretapping. They're monitoring cell phone frequencies so they hear calls from enemies of the Clintons plotting their next attack and so forth.

Now, don't get carried away here, my friends. This will not affect a single Hillary supporter or a single drive-by editor. It's like that picture that's out there. Hillary was making a speech yesterday and somebody on the graphic behind her misspelled the word "tomorrow," with two M's in it, and Hillary is up there making a speech. Now, she didn't misspell it, but she's standing in front of it. If this were a Republican this would be all over the news today as in Dan Quayle and potato. So the drive-bys are not going to care about Hillary and, you know, monitoring people's cell phone calls, but what this sort of shows us is this: The last three major wiretap stories on American citizens have been -- well, how many of you can name the three? What are the big three wiretap stories on American citizens? Going back a number of years. No, no, no, not the NSA, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Number one, Bobby Kennedy wiretapping Martin Luther King. Yes, he did. They wiretapped Martin Luther King and they were collecting a dossier on his infidelities. The Kennedy attorney general -- the Kennedy Justice Department was doing it. Bobby Kennedy wiretapped Martin Luther King. Then we had Baghdad Jim McDermott passing on wiretaps of Republicans, as we've talked about. And now Hillary Clinton wiretapping anybody she says is an enemy, monitoring their cell phone calls with a cell phone receiver. Chairman Meow, we call her, Chairman Mao, Chairman Meow strikes again. And nobody's going to care. Well, it's going to be in the book. The book's not yet released, but Kaus has a copy of it and has put this on the website. We'll see what kind of traction it gets.

In a June 1 blog post, Smith noted Kaus' posting and the allegations of eavesdropping, but later added an "Update": "From a Clinton '92 source, no longer in Hillaryland: 'I never heard, saw or came across anything remotely like this.... Believe me, if a campaign or political operation had the capacity to monitor the cell phones of the opposition, people would be doing a lot more than listening to the supposed recordings.' " Later, in a June 6 Politico article on Her Way and another recently released Clinton biography, A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton (Knopf, June 2007), by Carl Bernstein, Smith wrote that the "[m]ost tantalizing charge" in either book was that " 'Her Way' reports that during the 1992 presidential campaign, Hillary 'listened to a secretly recorded audiotape of a phone conversation of Clinton critics plotting their next attack." From Smith's June 1 post:

Clinton eavesdropping?

Mickey Kaus seizes on a passage from the Gerth/Van Natta book to speculate about private investigators and possible crimes, but I'm more interested in getting a bit more detail:

Hillary, in 1992, "listened to a secretly recorded audiotape of a phone conversation of Clinton critics plotting their next attack. The tape contained discussions of another woman who might surface with allegations about an affair with Bill. Bill's supporters monitored frequencies used by cell phones, and the tape was made during one of those monitoring sessions."

I have calls out to James Carville and a couple of others, and am of course waiting eagerly by the phone.

UPDATE: From a Clinton '92 source, no longer in Hillaryland: "I never heard, saw or came across anything remotely like this.... Believe me, if a campaign or political operation had the capacity to monitor the cell phones of the opposition, people would be doing a lot more than listening to the supposed recordings."

From Smith's June 6 article:

Two new Hillary Rodham Clinton biographies contain a series of revelations.

In "Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton," New York Times reporters Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. report on Hillary's shifting approach toward the Iraq war and lingering questions about her billing practices as an Arkansas lawyer. The book also demonstrates the then-first lady's deep involvement in working to beat back the myriad scandals that beset President Bill Clinton's administration through much of the 1990s.

In "A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton," Watergate sleuth Carl Bernstein has more personal revelations, ranging from her father's exaggerations about his past to the fact that Bill considered leaving her for another woman in the late 1980s.

[...]

Here are some highlights.

[...]

Most tantalizing charge: "Her Way" reports that during the 1992 presidential campaign, Hillary "listened to a secretly recorded audiotape of a phone conversation of Clinton critics plotting their next attack. The tape contained discussions of another woman who might surface with allegations about an affair with Bill. Bill's supporters monitored frequencies used by cell phones, and the tape was made during one of those monitoring sessions." (Former Clinton aides say the anecdote is unfamiliar.)

On the June 4 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Hannity also cited Kaus' posting, claiming, "Slate reports that, on Page 93 of one of these new books coming out, the Gerth-Van Natta book, that they literally talk about Hillary and describe a scene where she would listen to recorded audiotape conversations taken by her operatives." Morris then claimed, "The whole secret police, yes. Hillary was in charge of the secret police. Hillary was in charge of the eavesdropping, the damage-control operation." From the June 4 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY: Slate reports that, on Page 93 of one of these new books coming out, the Gerth-Van Natta book, that they literally talk about Hillary and describe a scene where she would listen to recorded audiotape conversations taken by her operatives.

MORRIS: Right.

HANNITY: Now, this goes back to a lot of what you have described as secret police.

MORRIS: The whole secret police, yes. Hillary was in charge of the secret police. Hillary was in charge of the eavesdropping, the damage-control operation. Betsy Wright, who was her person, was in charge of that. And the Bimbo Patrol, they called it, but it was more than that.

In his 1997 book Behind the Oval Office: Winning the Presidency in the Nineties (Random House), Morris acknowledged that he was not involved in the 1992 Clinton campaign. From Page 8 of Behind the Oval Office:

My impatience backfired in 1992. Bill Clinton, the "dead end" I had abandoned, won the Democratic nomination and the presidency. I was not at his side. Initially, I did not believe he was really going to run. Then I didn't think he'd win. When I realized I should have had more faith in him and that he was, indeed, a serious candidate, it was too late. He had his consultants all set, and it made no sense to dislodge them. That was a fight I'd never win. Besides, they had had the courage to bet on Clinton and I hadn't, so they deserved the right to win.

June 8

On June 8, Her Way was officially released.

June 12

In a June 12 review of Her Way and A Woman In Charge, National Review White House correspondent Byron York wrote that "Gerth and Van Natta report that on one occasion Mrs. Clinton listened to a 'secretly recorded audiotape' of Clinton adversaries talking on the phone about the next possible bimbo eruption." York added, "Who knew that Mrs. Clinton was an early advocate of warrantless wiretapping?" He did not address the sourcing of the allegation. From York's review:

The Defense Team's job was to knock down any allegation, no matter how well founded, about Bill Clinton's girlfriends, his avoidance of the draft, Whitewater, Hillary Clinton's legal work -- anything that might hurt the campaign. And to do it by any means necessary, legal or not: Gerth and Van Natta report that on one occasion Mrs. Clinton listened to a "secretly recorded audiotape" of Clinton adversaries talking on the phone about the next possible bimbo eruption. "Bill's supporters monitored frequencies used by cell phones," Gerth and Van Natta add, "and the tape was made during one of those monitoring sessions." Who knew that Mrs. Clinton was an early advocate of warrantless wiretapping?

[...]

Underneath her appointment to the health-care initiative was the suspicion, held both inside and outside the White House, that Bill Clinton had to give his wife something pretty big because he owed her so much for the work she did knocking down those bimbo eruptions. She put her own credibility on the line, and under her supervision the Defense Team had procured false affidavits, kept up with that anonymous domestic spying, and crafted denial after denial.

Also on June 12, Gerth and Van Natta appeared on CNN's Paula Zahn Now to discuss their book. Host Paula Zahn teased the segment by saying, "Wait until you hear what they [Gerth and Van Natta] have to say about her listening to secretly recorded phone conversations." Zahn later asked Gerth and Van Natta, "So, if she would do these kinds of sneaky things to protect this man that she wanted to see become president, what might she resort to as president?" Zahn did not discuss the sourcing of the claim. From the June 12 edition of Paula Zahn Now:

ZAHN: The authors of the hottest and most controversial book yet out about Hillary Clinton. Wait until you hear what they have to say about her listening to secretly recorded phone conversations.

[...]

ZAHN: There is something you had in the book that I hadn't heard about before -- and this was the idea that -- how she was involved in President Clinton's run for the presidency, when he was governor, going back to 1992. And you wrote, "She listened to a secretly recorded audiotape of a phone conversation of Clinton critics, plotting their next attack. The tape contained discussions of another woman who might surface with allegations about an affair with Bill."

And then you go on to say: "Bill Clinton's chances were being jeopardized by rumors of his womanizing and yet again, it was up to Hillary to minimize the threat. And if that meant listening to a tape that had to be obtained under questionable circumstances, then she would just deal with it."

So, if she would do these kinds of sneaky things to protect this man that she wanted to see become president, what might she resort to as president?

GERTH: Well, I think the '92 effort is interesting because she headed up a defense team that operated sort of secretly, dealing with her husband and her liabilities, whether it was the draft record, the womanizing, or her legal practice -- and the idea was to do whatever had to be done to get her husband elected president.

ZAHN: So, it didn't matter that the conversations were secretly recorded and probably illegal?

GERTH: Well, we don't know whether they were illegal and we don't say so in the book, but the more interesting thing is she had come a long way in the years in Arkansas. She started in 1974 as an idealist and working in Bill's first campaign and wasn't really getting mixed into the political fray and, by 1992, when he was running for president, she was prepared to do most anything to get him elected president.

And we show in the book that, as a senator, she's not been terribly behold tonight rules sometimes and has an attitude as described us to by people in the Senate as cavalier about the rules and not necessarily following them all the time.

June 13

On the June 13 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh again mentioned the eavesdropping allegations, saying that Clinton had an "elite group" in 1992 that engaged in "a warrantless wiretap program." He also cited York's review of Her Way. From the June 13 edition (subscription required) of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: I have shared with you constantly my question: What in the world is it that recommends this woman to be president of the United States other than her name? Other than her last name? And the fact that she's owed this because she's put up with so much -- I mean, there's so much mythology around this woman. That she could have had this great career on her own. She could have been elected president or senator as early as 1992. She came out of Wellesley. She came out of Yale. And she gave it all up for this hayseed hick in Arkansas, then she had to put up with his peccadilloes, and basically keep his [unintelligible].

These books talk about how she ran the bimbo eruptions operation. It wasn't Betsy Wright. Betsy Wright was the public face in it, but it was Hillary running the bimbo operations in 1992, trying to find all these women who'd might pop up and accuse Clinton of having dalliances with them. And she was in charge of getting hold of them, getting signed affidavits saying it wasn't true and -- you know, who knows what kind of threats.

And they were wiretapping cell phone calls, Hillary and this unit -- it was a group in addition to the war room. The war room was Clinton and [Paul] Begala and [George] Stephanopoulos -- or Carville and Stephanopoulos and Begala.

And Hillary had a further elite group -- forget the name of it -- but they were intercepting, monitoring cell phone calls of Clinton opponents, trying to find out what their next plan was -- get a head start on it. And that's a warrantless wiretap program that they were engaged in. Well, that's domestic surveillance -- wireless domestic surveillance, wireless wiretapping. Whatever. I mean, Byron York's story, it's in National Review Online, NRO, it's just a devastating review of the information in these two books that the drive-bys haven't touched.

June 19

On June 19, Gerth and Van Natta appeared on Hannity & Colmes to discuss their book. Hannity claimed that "lot of press has come up to Page 93 in this book, where there were these recorded phone conversations that she had listened to about the potential of another Clinton woman being exposed. More importantly, the fact that she may have been listening to conversations that were recorded illegally caught my attention." From the June 19 edition of Hannity & Colmes:

HANNITY: There's so much that I want to get to -- including their 20-year plan or strategy, as you call it here -- but a lot of press has come up to Page 93 in this book, where there were these recorded phone conversations that she had listened to about the potential of another Clinton woman being exposed. More importantly, the fact that she may have been listening to conversations that were recorded illegally caught my attention.

GERTH: Well, we don't say that they were illegal.

HANNITY: You don't say that, but I'm assuming they may have been.

GERTH: This was part of an effort in 1992, where she headed up something called "the defense team," which was really designed to manage the liabilities of both her and her husband. He had his draft record issues, and we uncovered new documents that they withheld from the press. He, of course, had womanizing issues, and she had her own issues with her law practice and her finances.

And the idea in 1992 was, "Do whatever it takes; cover it up; suppress it; keep it out of the press," and we, in fact, when you talked about retribution in 1992, Hillary told someone on the campaign, "If you let out these records" -- there were tax returns which they later made public --

HANNITY: Right. Right.

GERTH: -- "you will never work in Democratic politics again."

ALAN COLMES (co-host): By the way, a lot of this is unsourced. You don't mention names. You don't --

GERTH: That is not unsourced. That is on the record.

October 16

  • On October 16, the article in The Hill reported that "Republicans plan to seize on an allegation from the 1992 presidential campaign to tarnish Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) on the red-hot issue of government surveillance." The article added: "Republicans are focusing on an allegation in a recent book by two Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters, which suggests Clinton listened to a secretly recorded conversation between political opponents." The article also quoted an anonymous "GOP official" saying, "Hillary Clinton's campaign hypocrisy continues to know no bounds. It is rather unbelievable that Clinton would listen in to conversations being conducted by political opponents, but refuse to allow our intelligence agencies to listen in to conversations being conducted by terrorists as they plot and plan to kill us. Team Clinton can expect to see and hear this over and over again over the course of the next year." The Hill added, "Gerth told The Hill that he learned of the incident in 2006 when he interviewed a former campaign aide present at the tape playing. He has not revealed the aide's identity." The Republican National Committee (RNC) highlighted the story on its website.
  • ABC News' The Note also highlighted The Hill's article: "Here comes the next piece of the RNC assault on Clinton." The Note also added that a "Republican source tells The Note that the Arkansas Republican Party today will be asking the state attorney general to investigate that allegation." The Note made no mention of the sourcing of the allegation. By 8:29 a.m. ET, Drudge had linked to The Note with the headline "GOP Asks Arkansas AG to Investigate..."
  • Following The Hill's report, the Arkansas Republican Party issued a press release that "called on State Attorney General Dustin McDaniel to investigate the fact that New York Senator Hillary Clinton may have eavesdropped and recorded political opponents' telephone conversations while her husband was Governor of Arkansas." Dennis Milligan, chairman of the Republican Party of Arkansas, asserted: "This is a very serious allegation, which is why Arkansas Attorney General McDaniel should investigate whether or not Hillary Clinton eavesdropped and recorded her and her husband's political opponents' phone conversations without legal authority." The release also quoted Milligan stating: "If these allegations are true, Arkansans have a right to ask the Senator from New York: why were you willing to break the law and use wiretapping for personal political gain, but you're unwilling to vote for measures that would provide our nation's intelligence community with the tools they need to catch potential terrorists, as they plot and plan to kill Americans?"
  • The chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, Saul Anuzis, also highlighted the Hill article in a post on the Michigan Republican Party blog. Anuzis wrote: "This is the highest form of hypocrisy and is a clear example of how the Clintons will stop at nothing to recapture the White House. For Senator Clinton to deprive federal agencies of tools that can be used against terrorists after she has used similar tactics herself -- illegally -- is an absolute outrage. Senator Clinton owes the American people an apology for this unacceptable behavior, and her supporters, including Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, a former attorney general, should not endorse someone who so cavalierly flaunts the law for political gain."
  • Similarly, the Georgia Republican Party also issued a press release citing The Hill's article and claimed that Hillary was engaged in "hypocrisy." From the press release: " 'Hillary's hypocrisy knows no bounds,' said Sue. P Everhart, Chairman of the Georgia Republican Party. 'How she can think it is wrong to allow our intelligence professionals to prevent and disrupt terrorist attacks through intercepted conversations between plotters, but not think it is wrong to spy on her political opponents is beyond me.' "
  • Fox News' Fox & Friends co-hosts Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy also discussed the story during the October 16 edition of Fox & Friends, shortly after 8 a.m. ET. Kilmeade asserted that Gerth and Van Natta "say there's a bit of hypocrisy going on any time Hillary comes up and criticizes the president or the administration about amending the FISA laws." Doocy replied -- repeating a falsehood commonly leveled against congressional Democrats, that they oppose any wiretapping -- "That's right, because she has refused to allow our intelligence agencies to listen in on conversations being conducted by terrorists as they plot to blow us up." Neither Kilmeade nor Doocy, nor co-host Gretchen Carlson discussed the sourcing of the allegation.
  • At 9:02 a.m. ET, blogger David Knowles discussed the Hill article in a blog post on AOL's Political Machine blog, writing, "the timing of the release of this fifteen year-old-scandal, as anonymously sourced in a widely panned book, couldn't be worse for Mrs. Clinton." He noted unanswered questions about the allegation, writing: "If the allegation of listening in on an enemy's phone conversation was true, this would, indeed, make her something of a hypocrite. In fact, it would make her a criminal, just as Verizon may yet be found to have broken the law. So, the obvious question is, why hasn't law enforcement looked into the matter? Another intriguing aspect of the story is, why didn't we hear about the other woman named in the purported phone call? If she indeed existed, why wouldn't the Clintons' foes trot her out into the light of day as threatened?"
  • The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder also noted the Hill article in a blog post at 10:30 a.m. ET. Ambinder described the article as "[a] story placed by the RNC in today's Hill." After quoting from the article, which opened by stating that "Republicans plan to seize on [the] allegation" from Her Way, Ambinder wrote:

So -- what will the Republicans seize, who's doing the seizing, and why telegtraph [sic] your plans in a newspaper article?

1. This is a trial balloon floated by the RNC to see whether anyone bites.

2. The RNC is willing to associate itself with the Clinton sex stuff. Also: the Clinton's [sic] tenure in Arkansas is fair game.

3. The RNC wants state parties to start challenging Clinton. As if on cue, this news release came this morning from the Republican Party of Arkansas:

"Today, Republican Party of Arkansas Chairman Dennis Milligan called on State Attorney General Dustin McDaniel to investigate the fact that New York Senator Hillary Clinton may have eavesdropped and recorded political opponents' telephone conversations while her husband was Governor of Arkansas."

4. The RNC doesn't mind the world knowing that they're going to throw everything, including the kitchen plumbing, at Hillary Clinton.

5. From a reader:

"My guess on that RNC thing was that they did it that way because they knew it would get them a story on Drudge -- classic ploy, "we plan to use this in an attack" sources say ... whereas if they'd actually used it in an attack, it would have been widely ignored, because it's so thin."

  • Discussing the Hill article during his radio show, Limbaugh asserted: "So, she's out there monitoring these phone calls about potential bimbo eruptions. So, the point of this story in The Hill is that the Republicans are gonna go after her on this. Van Natta and Gerth totally stand by this in their book." In addition, Limbaugh claimed that Clinton is "the most-cheated on woman in the history of the world, folks. And she knew it. And she let it happen right in front of her eyes -- right behind her back. She let it happen. She let it happen. She was -- she allowed herself to be humiliated and disgraced because that's what it required to get her to where she is now. She had to keep her husband in office wherever he was, if she was ever to have a chance to go anywhere." From the October 16 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: So, Hillary was doing this. She was in charge of the bimbo eruptions. Everybody thinks that it was Betsy Wright that was in charge of the bimbo eruptions. It was Hillary because she knew about them. She's the most-cheated on woman in the history of the world, folks. And she knew it. And she let it happen right in front of her eyes -- right behind her back. She let it happen. She let it happen. She was -- she allowed herself to be humiliated and disgraced because that's what it required to get her to where she is now. She had to keep her husband in office wherever he was, if she was ever to have a chance to go anywhere.

So, she's out there monitoring these phone calls about potential bimbo eruptions. So, the point of this story in The Hill is that the Republicans are gonna go after her on this. Van Natta and Gerth totally stand by this in their book.

"A Republican official said that Hillary Clinton's campaign hypocrisy continues to know no bounds. It is rather unbelievable that she would listen in to conversations being conducted by political opponents but refused to allow our own intelligence agencies to listen in to conversations being conducted by terrorists as they plot and planned to kill us.

"Team Clinton can expect to see and hear this over and over again over the course of the next year."

She's made it very plain -- they've made it -- Republicans have made it plain that they're not gonna forget about this.

  • As Media Matters for America noted, on MSNBC's Tucker, host Tucker Carlson and guests A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, and Politico staff writer Josephine Hearn discussed the allegation without noting it was anonymously sourced. The segment also featured a series of false and baseless claims, including Carlson's attribution of the controversy to a "new book" (in fact, the book is more than four months old) and Hearn's claim that the Clinton campaign "apparently ... never challenged anything in the book at all" (in fact, the campaign has challenged this claim and at least one other).
  • As Media Matters also noted, minutes before the Tucker segment, on Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle noted that Clinton's presidential campaign "flatly denied" the allegation and quoted Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson saying, "This story is categorically untrue." Special Report aired an audio clip of Gerth saying, "The person who told us about this was present at the playing of the tape recording," but did not otherwise discuss the sourcing of the allegation.
  • CNN Headline News host Glenn Beck led his Headline News program, Glenn Beck, by discussing the story. Beck compared Clinton to former President Richard Nixon and suggested that she had a "bag of campaign tricks," including "wiretapping equipment, stolen cell-phone calls, and a special set of rules that apparently only she gets to follow." Beck added that "Hillary Clinton is a hypocrite. And while her sex-scandled husband probably likes to watch, it seems that Senator Clinton prefers to listen." Later, Beck baselessly claimed that Clinton "seems to have purchased a high-tech digital scanner to monitor and record cell-phone calls." Beck also repeated the false assertion that "Hillary's campaign staff has not disputed one single thing in this book [Her Way]," when, in fact, as Media Matters has noted, the campaign has challenged this claim and at least one other. Beck then hosted Gerth to discuss the allegations made in his book. Beck asked Gerth why he "believe[d his] book, when it first came out, kind of just went away." Gerth replied that "the Clinton camp spent a lot of time trying to knock down and sort of either ignore or suppress the book, as the case may be." Gerth added: "But I'll leave it for others to decide why some books fail and others don't." During the interview, Gerth said that the allegation was "based on someone who was in the room," and Beck pursued no further discussion of its sourcing.

Later, Beck interviewed National Public Radio commentator John Ridley about the allegations and asked, "Who do you think is behind the releasing of this report now? ... Is this the GOP waking up and saying, 'Uh-oh, there's really nobody on the other side maybe to take her down?' Or is this possibly somebody like [Democratic presidential candidates Barack] Obama or [John] Edwards that is releasing this?" In fact, The Hill article cited an anonymous "GOP official" and otherwise strongly suggested that Republicans were responsible for pushing the story. From The Hill:

Republicans plan to seize on an allegation from the 1992 presidential campaign to tarnish Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) on the red-hot issue of government surveillance.

[...]

Republicans are focusing on an allegation in a recent book by two Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters, which suggests Clinton listened to a secretly recorded conversation between political opponents.

[...]

A GOP official said, "Hillary Clinton's campaign hypocrisy continues to know no bounds. It is rather unbelievable that Clinton would listen in to conversations being conducted by political opponents, but refuse to allow our intelligence agencies to listen in to conversations being conducted by terrorists as they plot and plan to kill us. Team Clinton can expect to see and hear this over and over again over the course of the next year."

The Hill article made no mention of Edwards, and mentioned Obama only while reporting that "Clinton voted against an emergency law that temporarily expanded the government's power to conduct surveillance on American soil without a warrant. ... The Senate's other Democratic presidential candidates, Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.), Chris Dodd (Conn.), and Joseph Biden (Del.), also voted against the bill."

Beck's program first airs at 7 p.m. ET.

  • At 7:45 p.m. ET, in a post on CNN's Political Ticker blog, CNN Congressional correspondent Dana Bash wrote that "Republicans on Capitol Hill and around the country engaged Tuesday in a coordinated effort to paint Hillary Clinton as hypocritical on the issue of government surveillance, seizing on an allegation in a recent book that Clinton secretly listened to phone conversations of political opponents in 1992." Bash added: "The orchestrated attack is part of an evolving GOP strategy to attack Senator Clinton with dual goals: tarnishing her image and rallying the GOP base." Bash also reported that "Clinton Campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson told CNN, 'As Hillary Clinton continues to beat all Republicans in poll after poll this is just politics as usual from Republicans who can't defend this president's failed policies. The story is categorically untrue.' " Regarding the sourcing of the claim, Bash wrote: "Gerth told The Hill newspaper that he learned of the incident in 2006 from a former Clinton campaign aide who claimed to be present at the taping. Gerth has not revealed his source's identity."

October 17

  • An October 17 Washington Times article also reported on the allegation. The article stated: "State Republican Party officials across the country yesterday assailed Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for possibly eavesdropping on political opponents' cell-phone calls during her husband's tenure as Arkansas governor." The Times also reported that "Clinton campaign spokesman Howard L. Wolfson said the campaign had not responded to the accusation sooner because there were too many accusations in books to answer them all. 'The story is categorically untrue,' said Mr. Wolfson. 'This is partisan politics as usual from the Republicans who can't defend the failures of this administration.' " The Times did not note the allegation is based on an account by a single anonymous source.
  • The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported (subscription required) several impediments to the Arkansas Republican Party's effort to have state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel investigate Clinton's purported eavesdropping. According to the Democrat-Gazette, "There were at least two problems with the complaint, however. The law that [Arkansas] GOP Chairman Dennis Milligan said that now-U.S. Sen. Clinton of New York may have violated [during her husband's 1992 presidential campaign] wasn't on the books until 1993. And the complaint was filed 14 years too late." From the October 17 report:

The leader of the Arkansas Republican Party asked Attorney General Dustin McDaniel on Tuesday to investigate whether then-first lady Hillary Clinton violated state law during her husband's 1992 presidential campaign by listening to a recording of a phone conversation.

There were at least two problems with the complaint, however.

The law that GOP Chairman Dennis Milligan said that now-U.S. Sen. Clinton of New York may have violated wasn't on the books until 1993.

And the complaint was filed 14 years too late.

In a press release Tuesday, Milligan cited one paragraph in the book Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton, by TheNew York Times reporters Don Van Natta Jr. and Jeff Gerth.

"Hillary's defense activities ranged from the inspirational to the microscopic to the down and dirty. She received memos about the status of various press inquiries; she vetted senior campaign aides; and she listened to a secretly recorded audiotape of a phone conversation of Clinton critics plotting their next attack," the book stated.

The complaint offered no further details about the purported conversation or the circumstances of the purported taping or the purported listening.

A call to Clinton's presidential campaign press office was not returned Tuesday afternoon.

Gabe Holmstrom, a spokesman for McDaniel, said the Republican Party also complained to the wrong office.

The attorney general's office lacks the authority to investigate or bring legal proceedings based on allegations of this nature "even if they were true," Holmstrom said.

He said any further inquiries on such matters should be directed to the Pulaski County prosecuting attorney.

Larry Jegley, the Pulaski County prosecutor, said his office hasn't received any complaint.

"If somebody brings us a complaint, we'll handle it in due course just like everything else," Jegley said. "If it's worthy of us spending precious tax dollars, we'll do it." The Republican press release referred to Arkansas Code Annotated 5-60-120, which states, in part: "It is unlawful for a person to intercept a wire, landline, oral, telephonic communication, or wireless communication, and to record or possess a recording of the communication unless the person is a party to the communication or one (1) of the parties to the communication has given prior consent to the interception and recording." The statute was enacted in 1993.

John DiPippa, dean of the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said he could find no reference to a prior law replaced by the one cited in the Republican Party press release.

"Every statute has a history section that tells where it originates, and this one starts in 1993," DiPippa said.

The law is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail or a fine of up to $1,000.

Jegley, a Democrat, said the statute of limitations on a Class A misdemeanor is one year.

"We're talking about something 15 years ago," he said. "I'm not saying that I won't give it a fair look. I am saying that having been around as long as I've been around - and whether it's a Democrat or Republican doesn't matter to me - this kind of smells."

October 18

In an October 18 column for The American Spectator, Spectator founder and editor in chief R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. referred to the eavesdropping allegation, writing: "This week it was reported in the authoritative Capitol Hill newspaper, The Hill, that Don Van Natta Jr. and Jeff Gerth included some unsavory news about Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in Her Way, their recent book on her. Hillary, during the 1992 presidential campaign, 'listened to a secretly recorded audiotape of a phone conversation of Clinton critics ....' Washington observers appeared shocked. Mein Gott, where have they been all these years? The Clintons have engaged in brute behavior for decades, much of it a matter of record." Tyrrell did not address the sourcing of the allegation or note the Clinton campaign's response that "[t]he story is categorically untrue."

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