The epic battles between the Clintons and their tormentors on the right have shaped American politics for nearly a quarter century.More.
But there was a moment early on when the toxic course of that history might have been changed, had it not been for Hillary Clinton’s impulses toward secrecy.
It came one weekend near the end of Bill Clinton’s first year as president, and pitted the first lady against her husband’s advisers.
“If a genie offered me the chance to turn back time and undo a single decision from my White House tenure, I’d head straight to the Oval Office dining room on Saturday morning, December 11, 1993,” ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos, then a top aide to the president, wrote in his memoir “All Too Human.”
There was an urgent meeting that day to discuss a request by The Washington Post for documents relating to the Whitewater Development Corp., a failed Arkansas real estate investment the Clintons had made.
Whitewater had been an issue in the 1992 presidential campaign. More recently, questions had arisen whether the land deal and the Clintons might be linked to the collapse of a savings and loan.
Stephanopoulos and David Gergen, another senior adviser, were internal rivals at the time, who agreed on almost nothing. But both argued for full disclosure of the records. After a few days of rough coverage, they confidently predicted, the story would go away as the press corps discovered there was nothing sinister to the land deal and turned its attention elsewhere.
The president would not budge — and both of them knew why.
“Hillary Clinton is a woman of many strengths and virtues, but like all of us, she also has some blind spots,” Gergen said in a recent interview. “She does not see the world in the same way that others do, when it comes to transparency and accountability.”
She was not in the room, but the aides felt her presence.
“You could usually tell when Clinton was making Hillary’s argument: Even if he was yelling, his voice had a flat quality, as if he were a high school debater speeding through a series of memorized facts,” Stephanopoulos wrote. “Gergen and I didn’t know what was in the Whitewater documents, but whatever it was, Hillary didn’t want it out — and she had a veto.”
The fallout from that decision to stonewall would be enormous. Pressure built for the appointment of a prosecutor, first Robert B. Fiske Jr., and then Kenneth W. Starr, who had been solicitor general under former president George Bush.
Starr’s far-ranging investigation ultimately uncovered Bill Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which led to his impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, would have the dark distinction of becoming the only first lady in history ever called before a federal grand jury. In 1996, she testified for four hours, mostly to answer questions about subpoenaed Whitewater-related documents that had vanished and then suddenly reappeared in the White House living quarters.
Gergen, Stephanopoulos and other top Clinton aides from that era — some of whom ended up with huge legal bills of their own — contend that none of this might have happened, had Hillary Clinton been more open in the first place.
“I believe that decision against disclosure was the decisive turning point. If they had turned over the Whitewater documents to The Washington Post in December 1993, their seven-year-old land deal would have soon disappeared as an issue and the story of the next seven years would have been entirely different,” Gergen wrote in his book about his time working for four presidents, from Nixon to Clinton....
Industry of scandal
Since then, an entire industry has grown up around Clinton scandals, pseudo scandals and conspiracy theories.
Countless millions have been raised and spent, both by their adversaries and their defenders. Republican-led congressional investigations have been launched, and lawsuits filed by conservative watchdog groups. The two sides wage constant war on the Internet, talk radio and cable news channels.
A search of Amazon.com finds more than 40 anti-Hillary books, with titles like “American Evita” and “Can She Be Stopped?” At the moment, three of the top 10 on the New York Times hardcover nonfiction bestseller list are volumes bashing the Clintons.
So Hillary Clinton had it right when she made her famous declaration that a “vast right-wing conspiracy” was out to get her and her husband. The opposition was and is passionate. It is well financed. It sees dark — sometimes preposterous — motives in nearly everything the Clintons do.
By the time Barack Obama took office, what she had called a conspiracy had grown into a permanent institution. On an ideological and political level, it fought Obama’s expansive view of government through legislation, lawsuits and grass-roots movements like the tea party. In its darker corners, it spread sinister rumors about his patriotism, his religious beliefs and even his citizenship.
This story reminds me why I don't like the Clintons. I voted for him twice, but by the time of the impeachment I was deeply disappointed in Bill Clinton. Having Hillary in the Oval Office would just be the replay of an epic nightmare.