Five takeaways from Clinton papers

Five takeaways from Clinton papers
© Getty Images

Former President Clinton’s library released thousands of previously undisclosed papers on Friday, the final in a series of document dumps that have shed new light on the 1990s battles characterizing the Clinton years.

The papers released Friday included memos from Clinton staff offering advice on how to handle the Monica Lewinsky and Whitewater scandals.


They offer glimpses of how the Clinton team handled the press that could take on a new light with Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPelosi on power in DC: 'You have to seize it' Cuba readies for life without Castro Chelsea Clinton: Pics of Trump getting vaccinated would help him 'claim credit' MORE’s expected 2016 run for the White House.

Here are five initial takeaways from the documents. 

Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonDemocratic Rep. Mondaire Jones calls on Breyer to retire Modern biomedical breakthroughs require a federal ethics commission Biden must compel China and Russia to act on climate MORE has always been Hillary Clinton's best defender  

After Hillary Clinton emerged bruised and beaten from the 1990s healthcare fight, Clinton adviser Paul Begala recommended that President Clinton defend his wife during the State of the Union address.

“It's imperative that the president defend the honor of the first lady tonight," Begala wrote in bold in one memo from January 1996.

“Republicans are attacking her without compunction, in part because they know the Democrats are too chickens--t to retaliate. So it's left to the president. He should defend her by implicitly challenging Republicans to come after him if they have a problem with his agenda but to leave his wife alone.”

Bill Clinton continues to be his wife’s biggest defender today, for better or worse. He was at times a liability in her 2008 campaign and will be looking to make a comeback of sorts if Hillary Clinton runs for the White House in 2016.

Bore the press 

The Clintons have long had a contentious relationship with the press, and one memo from the Whitewater days shows the lengths to which aides went to not be helpful in the slightest.

“We should make the hearings expensive and inconvenient for the networks to cover; boring and inconclusive for the press to follow. The hearings should start late, never on time,” one memo says.  

Last month, a Clinton volunteer reportedly followed a reporter to the women’s restroom and waited outside her stall during the Clinton Global Initiative, during which Team Clinton tried to tightly control the press.

The documents also show how the Clinton team weighs its relationships with the press. 

Clinton aides circulated a recording of radio host Tom Joyner discussing former White House intern Monica Lewinsky being in debt and questioned whether the White House should distance itself from Joyner.

Robert B. Johnson, the director of domestic policy initiative, replied that while he found some of Joyner's statement's distasteful, “Tom has proven to be on our side when it counts. I would not be too hasty to pull the plug. He needs to be kept engaged for our message and for GORE. Politics baby!!!!”

Team Clinton looks for any edge it can get

The documents show an administration under siege over Clinton's affair with Lewinsky and looking for any edge it could get on the administration’s critics.

White House adviser Sidney Blumenthal emailed someone — presumably a journalist — in July 1998 with incriminating information about book agent Lucianne Goldberg, who helped convinced Linda Tripp to take information about the affair to the press. “Do you want to do a story about Lucianne Goldberg?” he asks the recipient of the email.

He then offers to put the recipient of the email in touch with author Kitty Kelley, who he says had sued Goldberg for stealing her money while Goldberg was her agent.

Not surprisingly, the documents also show the White House trying to prepare for an onslaught of questions about the affair. In one early email, aides predict what questions might come up during an interview on PBS "Newshour."

The subject of an email about Lewinsky strategy also hints at the contentious relationship with the press. “Attack media irresponsibility,” it says.

Gay rights has come a long way

Gay rights has come a long way since the Clinton presidency, when the "Don't ask, don't tell” policy was birthed.

In the run-up to the enactment of the policy, White House associate counsel Clifford Sloan wrote a memo in July 1993 discussing the issue in a way that many would find jarring today.

Sloan proposed adding to a fact sheet, this explanation: “Credible evidence to rebut the presumption [of homosexuality] includes a credible statement by the individual that, although he or she is a homosexual or bisexual, he or she will not engage in homosexual conduct during the term of his or her military service.”

He later added that a reference to hand-holding should be removed because “It also may raise needless controversies about the circumstances in which handholding, for example, could be seen as far from an acknowledgment of homosexuality (e.g. clasping hands after a high five).”

Hillary Clinton is now a supporter of gay marriage, and gays and lesbians are likely to be a big part of her 2016 constituency.

Marc Rich got help

Former aides to Clinton were influential in securing the controversial pardon of oil trader Marc Rich.

On Dec. 19, 2000, Jack Quinn, a former aide to Clinton and Vice President Gore, wrote to Bruce Lindsey, a Clinton aide in the White House, arguing for a pardon for Rich and his partner, Pinky Green.  

“You expressed a concern that they are fugitives; and I told you they are not,” Quinn wrote, referring to a previous conversation. 

Quinn argued they chose not to return from Switzerland when being charged for tax evasion and illegal dealings with Iran because of “the enormous and overwhelmingly adverse and prejudicial publicity generated, I am sure, by then U.S. Attorney [Rudy] Giuliani. Their failure to return to New York was not a crime and no one has ever accused them of a crime for failing to come to the US for a trial.” 

Lindsey is now chairman of the board of the Clinton foundation. Quinn founded the public relations firm Quinn Gillespie & Associates.

David McCabe contributed.