It’s easy to forget how easy it was to knock Gary Hart off balance and ultimately topple his presidential ambitions. In 1988, he was caught having an affair with Donna Rice and ended his campaign a week later. He wasn’t even ratted out by a Republican operative or private investigator. A bikini model anonymously tipped off the Miami Herald because she thought Hart was leading her friend on and brazenly lying about his martial fidelity in the press.
[Dana] Weems thought Hart was “an idiot” and “a moron” for thinking he could get away with something like this, she told the Times, but also apologetic.
“I’m sorry to ruin his life,” she said. “I was young. I didn’t know it would be that way.”
Four years later, with a charismatic Arkansas governor running for president, the Republicans weren’t going to leave similar revelations to caprice. They sent their investigators combing for women that Bill Clinton may have slept with, or propositioned, or worse. They must have believed that Clinton would blow over as easily as Gary Hart had, but it didn’t turn out that way. Clinton served two terms as president and his wife is on the cusp of taking office in January.
The Republicans thought they had finished off Bill Clinton when they captured him on audio tape talking to Gennifer Flowers and released that information just prior to the New Hampshire primary. It didn’t stop him.
Shortly after he took office in 1993, Republican operatives financed by Richard Mellon Scaife formed The Arkansas Project.
Project reporter/investigators were hired, including David Brock, who later (after reversing his political stance) described himself as a Republican “hitman”, and Rex Armistead, a former police officer who was reportedly paid $350,000 for his efforts. Also assisting the project was Parker Dozhier, a bait shop owner who was reportedly obsessed with bringing down Bill Clinton. They were tasked with investigating the Clintons and uncovering stories tying the Clintons to murders and drug smuggling as well as adultery.
According to Brock, Armistead and Brock met at an airport hotel in Miami, Florida, in late 1993. There, Armistead laid out an elaborate “Vince Foster murder scenario”, a scenario that Brock later claimed was implausible.” Regardless, by the end of 1993, Brock was writing stories for the Spectator that made him “a lead figure in the drive to” expose Clinton.
If you’re interested in this sordid history, a great resource is Gene Lyons and Joe Conason’s book: The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton. Suffice to say, factual accuracy wasn’t a priority for this crew, money was no object, and the destruction of Bill and Hillary Clinton was their all-consuming goal. Women were found who were willing to make the worst allegations against the president, but assessing their credibility was impossible because their sponsors were cutting checks and Bill Clinton had undermined his credibility and wasn’t even wholly trusted by his wife or staff.
Along the way, the Supreme Court would make one of the worst decisions in its history when it overturned a lower court judge and ruled in May 1997 that a sitting president could be sued in civil court. President Clinton was forced to sit for a deposition in which he lied about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. When that lie was exposed by the infamous blue dress, most observers thought The Arkansas Project’s job was done and Clinton’s political career was over.
It didn’t work out that way.
I bring this up, despite it being unpleasant on all sides, because Megan Twohey of the New York Times has taken Donald Trump’s bait and run a front-page piece at the paper of record about Hillary Clinton’s role in responding to the women who were brought forward to destroy her husband.
That Hillary encouraged their political team to fight back against these allegations is taken to be proof that she’s no feminist, that she doesn’t take sexual harassment and accusations of rape seriously, that she was an enabler of her husband’s infidelity and (alleged) predatory behavior toward women.
To demonstrate the point, Twohey tries to determine if Hillary personally authorized a private investigator named Jack Palladino to dig up dirt on “the bimbos.” But she doesn’t determine whether or not this actually happened. Mickey Kantor, the campaign chairman at the time, said “he did not know whether Mrs. Clinton had specifically approved Mr. Palladino’s employment.” James Lyons, a campaign lawyer to whom Mr. Palladino reported, stated Mrs. Clinton “was not involved in hiring” him. And James Carville responded by saying, “Hillary wanted us to defend the governor against attacks. It’s just ridiculous to imagine that she was somehow directing our response operation. That was my job, not hers.”
This didn’t prevent Twohey from calling up feminist lawyer Gloria Allred, a Clinton supporter and delegate to the Democratic National Convention, and presenting the facts differently.
“Most people are not nuns, and most people aren’t Girl Scouts,” Ms. Allred said. “That doesn’t mean they’re not telling the truth.”
Told of Mrs. Clinton’s support for hiring Mr. Palladino, she said, “If Hillary signed off on a private investigator, let’s call it a minus.” But she added, “It wouldn’t change my support for her because there are so many pluses for her, like her stance on abortion.”
“I’d like to hear from Hillary Clinton on the role she played.”
The only support Twohey found for her assertion that Hillary signed off on hiring Palladino came from “An aide to the campaign, who declined to be publicly identified because the aide had not been authorized to speak for the Clintons.” Given the New York Times‘s shameful and now thoroughly discredited Captain Ahab approach to Whitewater, you’d think they’d be a little more careful about going around soliciting quotes from people based on the erroneous proposition that they have proved Hillary’s involvement in anything based on a single anonymous source.
But, the context here is what’s most glaringly missing from Twohey’s article. For every allegation against Bill that was ultimately proven at least partially true, there were a dozen or more that were baseless, malicious, and cruel. The folks pushing these stories were also pushing the idea that Hillary Clinton had her best friend Vince Foster murdered, and even convinced Newt Gingrich’s Congress and the FBI to investigate it. If the Clintons hired one unsavory and ruthlessly aggressive private investigator, Richard Mellon Scaife and other benefactors hired dozens.
When Hillary Clinton said she believed her husband when he said that he didn’t have “sexual relations with that woman,” her trust was unfounded. But when she said, in the same interview, that there was a “vast right-wing conspiracy” against her husband, that could not have been more true.
Gary Hart went down like a house of cards from the slightest puff, but the Clintons were never going to let that happen. You can’t tell this history, as the New York Times does this morning, without that context.