Clinton Advisers Urged White House to ‘Defend HRC’Toluse Olorunnipa
President Bill Clinton’s White House staff worked for years to keep Hillary Clinton from becoming a “political liability” during investigations into the couple’s Arkansas land deal known as Whitewater.
After Bill Clinton became president in 1993, the couple endured scrutiny over a 1978 Arkansas real estate deal they had taken part in. While several Clinton associates were convicted of fraud in the failed venture, the Clintons were eventually cleared of wrongdoing.
The investigations included inquiries into Hillary Clinton’s legal work for a savings and loan that failed.
For a March 24, 1994, press conference president Bill Clinton was giving, the second bullet point on a draft of talking points reads: “Defend HRC,” using the acronym for Hillary Rodham Clinton. The memo was among the papers published online today by the William J. Clinton Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, as part of a regular release of documents from his presidency.
“Stress her ethics and accomplishments as a lawyer and in doing public service work,” it reads. “No distance between you and HRC regarding Whitewater.”
As Bill and Hillary Clinton prepared to do a joint television interview in March of 1994, a memo from Democratic strategist Paul Begala urged the president to “take the lead.”
“In many joint interviews, the president defers to the First Lady,” the memo reads. “This may or may not be real, and it might be as simple as Southern manners, but it’s important that the President take the lead on this issue.”
Other points in the Begala memo relate to defending the first lady from the public perception that she had become a “political liability” and wielded too much power in the White House.
“Every First Lady has had her share of controversy,” the memo reads. It goes on to cite poll numbers that showed high approval ratings for the first lady.
“Hillary is the first First Lady to come to the job from a distinguished career of her own, independent of her husband’s,” Begala wrote. “Like many two-career couples, the Clintons have had to find their own way in uncharted waters, juggling career and family.”
In an undated document laying out questions President Clinton might receive about his wife at a news conference, he was told to tell reporters who asked when Hillary learned about a criminal referral on Whitewater to say it was “in the newspapers.” The memo recommends running that answer by lawyers before using it.
Bill Clinton’s prepared answer, if questioned about whether he and Hillary Clinton talked about their work when he was Arkansas governor and she worked at Rose Law Firm, redirected the conversation to the issue of working women.
“Working mothers should be able to have successful careers,” Bill Clinton was told to say. “We should not be making rules that limit the career of one spouse because of the career of the other.”
In January 1996, at least six White House aides -- including Bill Clinton’s campaign strategist Dick Morris -- helped Hillary Clinton craft an op-ed column giving her side of the story, according to the documents.
In the piece, which ran in newspapers such as the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, Clinton defended herself against from what she called “outrageous accusations.”
“Close to $30 million in taxpayer money has been spent investigating Whitewater,” she wrote. “But none of these exhaustive inquiries has turned up evidence that we did anything illegal, unethical or wrong.”