As the congressional committees investigating the Whitewater land deal and the White House Travel Office firings continue to question the First Lady's past statements, political analysts gather online to take your questions on how Hillary Clinton is doing.
January 22, 1996
MARK SHIELDS AND PAUL GIGOT
ON HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON'S PROBLEMS
Paul Gigot, Wall Street Journal columnist, and Mark Shields, syndicated columnist, discuss the legitimacy of these issues and what the First Lady is doing to improve her image.
Click here to see a discussion between a group of regional editors and Mark Shields and Paul Gigot.
Click to see a Forum Menu.
A question from Mike Killeen:
Hillary suddenly appears to be expendable. How can the President minimize her damage to their Presidency? After all, weren't we getting a "two-fer" when they got elected?
Mark Shields responds to Mike Killeen:
President Clinton can do precious little other than to defend Mrs. Clinton against criticism or attacks which are manifestly unfair or inaccurate. In the final analysis, the only one who can rebut the charges against Mrs. Clinton, is Mrs. Clinton who should demand to appear before the Senate D'Amato Committee with TV cameras. We've been getting "two-fers" at least since Abigail Adams and up through Nancy Reagan. Mrs. Clinton has just been more upfront about her involvement.
Paul Gigot responds to Mike Killeen:
I don't think Hillary is "expendable" in any political sense. She and the President have always been a political team, a power partnership. Unlike Ed Meese or Roger Altman, she can't be fired. Especially because she's a favorite of liberals and feminists, two big Democratic voting blocs who are already suspicious of Bill, she can't get the heave-ho, at least not short of an indictment. But my guess is that even if she is indicted, the White House would scream partisanship and fight like mad on her behalf. The First Lady stood by her man in 1992 amid the Gennifer Flowers frenzy, he has little choice but to do the same for her now.
A question from Peter Carlyle:
Is Hillary on "injured reserved" or have her problems taken her out of the game completely? What will her role be if Clinton wins a second term?
Mark Shields responds to Peter Carlyle
Hillary Clinton is not on "injured reserve" although she must soon make the case for herself before the Senate D'Amato Committee. In a second Clinton administration, I doubt she would have operational responsibility for any major legislative initiative. But admirers and critics of the First Lady should know she will not limit her energy or talents to "doing lunch" or championing a politically "safe" issue such as historic preservation.
Paul Gigot responds to Peter Carlyle:
The book and book tour were supposed to be a big part of the First Lady's political rehabilitation. By talking about children, maybe she could induce the country to forget about healthcare and Arkansas mores. Build her into a latter-day Eleanor Roosevelt, a good liberal with a cause, instead of the corporate attorney who made fast money from her political connections in Little Rock. The latest news has damaged that effort, though I suspect she'll keep trying. My guess is that in a second term we'd see a continuation of this strategy, though probably with less concern for covering up her behind-the-scenes power. Throughout this administration she has been the second most powerful figure; the only thing that's swung back and forth is how willing the White House has been to admit it.
A question from John Grothe:
Even if there is some evidence of "wrong doing" on the part of the First Lady, what can Congress do about it? She wasn't elected to any office and is not a government employee; she is therefore outside the Congress' ability to "discipline" by official charges or impeachment.
Mark Shields responds to John Grothe:
True, Mrs. Clinton cannot be "impeached". But I honestly do not know what the charges are, or would be, against her. The public sacking of the White House travel office staff was stupid, unfair, and ignoble, but not criminal. As a private attorney, Mrs. Clinton spent approximately 2 percent of her billable legal hours on Madison Guaranty, which isn't much by any measurement and, although Mrs. Clinton has been faulted for allegedly bringing undue pressure upon the Arkansas Securities Chief, appointed by her husband, to approve a recapitalization plan for Madison Guaranty, let it be noted that her request was denied by the Arkansas authorities.
Paul Gigot responds to John Grothe:
You make a good argument, Mr. Grothe, for having first spouses with unaccountable power is a bad idea. I've long thought that if she wanted formal power Hillary should have taken a formal job, like attorney general of chief of staff. But while Congress can't sanction, it can expose. I'd argue that one of Congress' most important jobs is to educate the public. There are kinds of behavior that aren't a crime -- such as firing travel office employees to give jobs to your friends -- but are still reprehensible. What's wrong with a little democratic accountability? If voters think the investigations are a waste of time, they can always vote the Clintons a second term.
A question from Sanford Langa:
The question is not whether she fired the White House travel staff in order to install her cronies. That seems to be a given. The question is: Why did she try to cover it up? Was she so foolish as to think the truth would not come out? Or is she an obsessive liar? Is she just not capable of the truth?
Mark Shields responds to Sanford Langa:
I do not believe Mrs. Clinton is, in your phrase, either an "obsessive liar," or "just not capable of the truth." Did Mrs. Clinton "order" the firing of the White House travel office staff? No, according to the sworn testimony of former White House aide, David Watkins. Did Mrs. Clinton make it known that she strongly favored the removal of the White House staff? Almost certainly. Was part of the motivation the desire to reward Harry Thomassons who had been helpful to the Clinton campaign? Undoubtedly. Was the sacking of the White House travel office unfair, stupid and ignoble? You bet. Doing the unfair, the stupid or the ignoble is, however, not yet an indictable offense.
Paul Gigot responds to Sanford Langa:
I've asked that question myself, especially given the First Lady's experience as a Watergate investigator. Maybe the lesson she learned from that was that Nixon should have burned the tapes! My best speculation is that she covered up to cover embarrassment, which is often strong enough political motivation for stupid acts. If you come into office preaching virtue and denouncing greed, it looks bad to sic the FBI on employees to enrich a few friends. I suppose that's also why she tried to cover up her cattle futures killing, by refusing to disclose their tax returns for 1978 and 1979 until her had was forced in 1994. Sure, she's capable of the truth. But she's equally cable of lying in pursuit of the Higher Virtue she thinks she is leading all of us to.
Additional ThoughtsSelected responses from visitors to this forum, provided here in addition those answered by Mark Shields and Paul Gigot:
John S. Armstrong
With welfare reform, Medicare, and this phony budget impasse going on, why do we even need Hillary Clinton and the travel firings? Sounds like she made a mistake
Sounds like she overstepped in bringing in the FBI (like this is the first time the FBI does White House dirty work!) So OK, I think we got the picture, let's get on with the real issues that will effect people's lives: flat tax, more tax cuts for those who don't need it, the argument over 7.5% or 7.9% increases in Medicare, or how an elderly person with very little now to survive on, should prepare for even less.
This fascination with "TravelGate" really pales with most folks compared to what seems to be coming down the road. And the character argument is silly. Dole said the other day he is reluctant to meet with the President because of the picture that came out in Time magazine showing the President seemingly lecturing him and Gingrich. Now that's character! He and everyone in the government is more concerned with image than getting something done. So let's not put Hillary on the stake, unless you want to roast lots of other weeners too.
As an admirer of Ms. Rodham-Clinton, I have followed the Whitewater affair with some interest but continue to be confused about just what it is that the Republicans are alleging she may have done. Please be blunt (rather than politic) and tell us what you believe may be any illegal activities Ms. Rodham-Clinton may have committed. Is it insider trading? Or is just a question of shady ethical behavior she may have engaged in as a lawyer (which, honestly, are Republicans shocked by)?
I don't care one way or another about "Whitewater" or the Hilary event. I am only interested in issues, who will work best for the things I believe in?
I don't need a President to be a saint either. I and hopefully other Americans will vote for President based on issues.
Who actually signed the authorization to fire Billy Dale? Did President Clinton have to sign-off on it personally by law?
For the sake of argument, presume the worst about Mrs. Clinton's role in both Whitewater and the Travel Office affairs. (Keep it sane; she didn't have Vince Foster killed.) Any effect her role might have on the social order is legitimately handled by the judicial function of the special prosecutors. However, there is no conceivable way that her role could adversely affect domestic or foreign policy, or threaten democracy in America.
Is it not therefore legitimate to resent the legislators wasting their time investigating Mrs. Clinton when they should be working on the budget, tax reform, welfare reform, R&D support, etc. -- topics which depend crucially on legislative deliberation? Are there no legislators in either party making this case? Most of what I hear is Republican ad hominem allusions against the Clintons and Democrats blaming the Republicans for going ad hominem without specifics. Is no-one trying to inspire congress to its higher purposes?
I see that Mr. Shields is using the Waxman 'So what?' defense of Mrs. Clinton. For me the 'what' is character and it seems at every turn the White House displays its lack of it. Even in her weekend newspaper article she lied, or at least exaggerated the truth, about the independent report exonerating her. I am afraid Mr. Safire was correct. All these little cover ups and lies over Whitewater and the travel office add up. How is the average American to conclude anything but that the White House is at best incompetent or at worst criminal?
Regarding Mrs. Clinton, there is certainly an issue of credibility and morality. I personally believe she is more involved with Travelgate and Whitewater than she currently takes espouses. A question that keeps nagging me is why hasn't she explained precisely why the Travel Office was investigated in the first place. It seems to me that other offices or positions warrant a higher priority, unless plans for that office were hatched early on but could not be executed. Seems we have an issue regarding truth as well.
No matter what Hillary has or has not done, if taking shots at the First Lady is the only way the Republicans can keep Bill Clinton from being re-elected I'd say that's pretty bad. Mr. D'Amato, get a life! How about dealing with some issues instead of gossipy tidbits that belong in the National Enquirer? Keep up the great analysis, Shields & Gigot.
One thing that has bothered me since the beginning Clinton Administration is the complaint that the first lady is not subject to congressional approval unlike the cabinet officers. But as far as I know the chief of staff, arguably the single most important advisor to the president, is not subject to congressional approval either. Isn't the congressional approval complaint against the first lady a red herring?