Trump's Unexpected Ally Against the Clintons--David Brock
When former President Bill Clinton was preparing to hit the campaign trail in support of his wife, he probably wasn’t counting on running up against the juggernaut that is Donald J. Trump. Mr. Trump, in response to Hillary Clinton’s accusations of sexism, has unleashed a barrage of criticism of Bill’s numerous extramarital affairs and Hillary’s role in keeping the women involved out of the spotlight. The GOP frontrunner has called the former president “one of the great woman abusers of all time” and accused Mrs. Clinton of being “an enabler” of “a lot of things…that were obviously very seedy.”
Though the Clinton camp has tried to evade the substance of Trump’s remarks, the irony is that Trump’s charges eerily mirror those made by one of the Clintons’ biggest defenders in politics today.
David Brock published a landmark account of Hillary and Bill’s early political careers, called The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, in 1996. Brock, of course, is now one of Hillary Clinton’s staunchest allies, launching fierce attacks through his organization, Media Matters for America, against anyone who dares question his sainted candidate. But in the early 1990s, Brock was a self-proclaimed conservative, writing for the American Spectator. He was a critic of the Clintons, which was why Seduction surprised many on the right by offering a sympathetic portrayal of Hillary. Indeed, while Mr. Brock has denounced many of his previously-held views, he has expressed pride in that book and bragged that “aside from conservatives, on the whole, reviewers had found Seduction to be fair, well-balanced, and accurate.”
More recently, Brock lavished praise on Hillary Clinton’s “steadfast commitment to public service” and “deep desire to affirm the good and the virtuous in politics.” But not all of the actions of Hillary and Team Clinton that Brock recounted in Seduction were “good and virtuous.” Indeed, some were the exact opposite. They might even be described, in Mr. Trump’s word, as “seedy.” In effect, David Brock’s reporting from 1996 validates Trump’s criticisms today.
In Seduction, Mr. Brock described many of the traits that make Americans uncomfortable with Hillary Clinton – possibly why nearly 60% of Americans in a recent survey find her “not honest and trustworthy.” Among these are her tendency toward secrecy and her aversion to transparency. In 1996, Brock wrote:
The close scrutiny of the press irritated Hillary, who had previously operated only in the narrow confines of the legal services community and in one-party Arkansas, never developing an appreciation for openness in democratic politics. This coercive approach had functioned very well up to the time she moved into the White House, and she was not about to reverse course now. The decision to operate in secrecy, then, was not a blunder but a calculation. (p. 346)
Long before she built and operated a “homebrew” email server for her communications as Secretary of State, Hillary was making calculated decisions to operate in secrecy.
In explaining Hillary’s penchant for stonewalling, Brock suggested in Seduction that she learned the value of caginess from her experience as a staff attorney for the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Watergate investigation:
It seems fair to suggest, in retrospect, that the lesson Hillary drew from her Watergate experience was that stretching and manipulating legal procedures could produce victory on the political battlefield. Stonewalling, artful dodging, the benefit of a press corps that shared her politics, and a little luck might do the trick. (p. 305)
That still leaves the question – why? Why the reflexive preference on Hillary Clinton’s part to operate in the shadows? Brock provides an explanation for that, too – it stems from constantly covering up for her husband’s misconduct. Brock cites approvingly “two perceptive essays” by liberal historian Gary Wills on how covering for Bill’s sexual misdeeds throughout their marriage led to Hillary’s “touchiness about the whole truth . . . because [Hillary] has lived for a long time with the philanderer’s secret.” As Brock interprets it:
Apologizing for and covering up Clinton’s womanizing all those years, Wills suggested, had instilled in Hillary a deep suspicion of the press and contempt for the democratic process itself. (p. 277)
If Bill’s philandering had turned Hillary off to “the whole truth” and thus “the democratic process itself,” how did Team Clinton handle the women who tried to come forward to make accusations against him? Brock details that, and it isn’t pretty. He describes how, during Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, Hillary was very involved in covering up all of Bill’s affairs and mistreatment of women. According to Brock, during that campaign Hillary was
…fighting behind the scenes to keep the press from exposing the unseemly aspects of life…with her husband…The shadow campaign apparatus involved Hillary’s lawyer friends…to combat womanizing stories. In this respect, anyway, the Clintons were indeed a second coming of Camelot: not since the Kennedys had there been so many retainers on hand whose primary function appeared to be to keep a lid on all manner of personal scandals. (p. 271)
Brock then recounts, “It was Bill’s womanizing that had turned their personal life into tabloid fodder….[G]iven Bill’s personal history and character, Hillary and her team had to treat them all as potentially true.”
Their response was ruthless. Brock quotes Rex Nelson, former political editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, recalling that “women were called and told they’d make them look like whores if they came forward.” The campaign hired a private investigator, Jack Palladino, who Brock reports was “part of the same circle with which Hillary Rodham had been associated in the early 1970s.” Palladino’s job was simple: To contain what Clinton operative Betsey Wright called “bimbo eruptions.” Yet Brock reports the press turned a blind eye:
The use of a private investigator to do surveillance on – and attempt to intimidate – potential witnesses was an unprecedented scandal potentially far darker than the story of the ill-starred whitewater investments. Yet with the sole exception of the Washington Post story in July, not one of the campaign reporters chose to write about the practice, even though many were quite familiar with it. (p. 273)
He goes on to say that “Hillary had always been an advocate of take-no-prisoners tactics,” and that bringing in her old pal Palladino “suggested that with the White House in her sights, Hillary was willing to countenance intimidation to cover up Bill’s peccadilloes.”
Some might think going back to the 1990s is irrelevant in the 2016 campaign. But Brock’s reporting from the time shows that nothing has changed in Clinton-land. Contemptuous of the democratic process, Hillary Clinton still thinks the rules – like keeping the Secretary of State’s emails on government servers so that they are both secure and available as part of the public record in the future – do not apply to her. She still stonewalls or impugns anyone who points out her husband’s misdeeds, and has shown herself capable of doing worse.
Although Trump was correct that the seedy history of the Clintons is itself reason to be suspicious of Hillary’s campaign, Brock put his finger on an even more important lesson about it: Hillary has disdain for the democratic process and believes she doesn't have to abide by its laws. We’ve seen that attitude play out over and over, but as president it could have a much greater and more harmful effect. This should not be another Clinton story that is simply allowed to disappear.
Mark Paoletta practices law in Washington, D.C. He served in the Bush 41 White House Counsel's Office and as a chief investigative counsel for the House Energy & Commerce Committee for a decade. He helped Brock in the writing of The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, reviewing and commenting on drafts of the book.