Hillary Clinton's 'Confrontational' Side Illustrated in New Transcripts
Hillary Clinton “just tore everybody a new a--hole.” That's how Leon Panetta recalled former White House legislative affairs director Pat Griffin describing how the former first lady responded when she wasn't pleased with the staff in her husband Bill Clinton's presidential administration.
Little Rock, Ark., is abuzz this weekend with Bill and Hillary Clinton holding court at a 10th anniversary celebration for the Clinton Presidential Center that's also a sort of pre-union for Hillary Clinton's anticipated 2016 run. But if insights into Hillary Clinton from her husband's former aides and advisers are what you're looking for, turn instead to the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, which on Friday released a series of transcripts from interviews for its Clinton oral history project.
Panetta, who was Bill Clinton's chief of staff long before his stints in the Obama administration, offers some of the more colorful observations in his interview, which was conducted in 2003:
There’s no question that she was smart, she was dedicated, she understood the issue and people were a little intimidated by her. There were several meetings where she basically walked in and let everybody have it, very different from what the president would do. If she thought something was going wrong, she’d say it. She was much more confrontational in that sense.
I’ll never forget, Pat Griffin came out of that meeting and his eyes were that wide and he said, 'You will not believe what I’ve just been through.' I said, 'What are you talking about?' I had been at another staff meeting. He said, 'I can’t believe it, I can’t believe what I’ve just been through.' I said, 'What’s the matter?' He said, 'The first lady just tore everybody a new a--hole.' I said, 'Really?' It was that first experience.
When I became chief of staff, recognizing that she was an important factor, I went out of my way to make sure I briefed her on what was going on as chief of staff. But if she ultimately believed that you had the capacity to do a job, she backed off. She served as what I would call a chief of staff-in-waiting, in the sense that if she felt the chief of staff or whoever was not doing the job, she was prepared to protect the president. And she was very good at that.
Marjorie Margolies, the former Pennsylvania congresswoman and Chelsea Clinton's mother-in-law, in a 2007 interview talking about her own experiences as a woman in politics:
I’m doing women’s leadership around the world. You don’t fold in that if you run as an outsider and you do something that they think is folding to the politics, as opposed to sticking up for what you believe in, you hope that that makes sense. But with women especially, the pedestal is then pulled out precipitously. 'She’s just like all the rest of them.' There’s also something that I’ve gotten into because we do a lot of polling in the classes that I teach and some stuff around the world. In polling, there is the minority factor. The one thing that you can’t measure is jealousy. It’s a very difficult thing for women. It never entered my mind that that would be a problem. But there is a lot of, 'Who does she think she is?' When you look at Hillary, too, there is this.
Alan Simpson, the former Republican senator from Wyoming, in 2005, recalling his and his wife Ann's early interactions after talking to Hillary Clinton at the 1993 inauguration.
About two weeks, three weeks later, we were invited to the White House. I don’t remember what it was; it wasn’t a large group, maybe 50, 40. I watched Hillary as she began to visit with Ann. Hillary never turns her head when she’s talking to someone. She is absolutely riveted. She doesn’t look around like, 'Oh, hi there Tilly; how are you?'—or divert her attention from the person she’s talking to. That’s a gift. You have to have that in politics. There were people around—it was adulation: 'We want to talk to Hillary.' She must have spent about 15 or 20 minutes with Ann on mental health issues. . . Anyway, I thought that was fascinating.
Alan Blinder, the economist, who served on Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisers, talking about Hillary Clinton in a 2003 interview:
I think she’s much more politically astute now than she was in early 1993. I think she learned. She’s really smart. She learns, and she knows she made mistakes. She’s said it herself. I know she was not as politically astute then as she is now because there were a lot of these—I mentioned a couple of these—these alleged political ideas. How we were going to get the small-business lobby? How we were going to get the old-line industries? They were complete flops.
Roger Altman, the investment banker and former deputy treasury secretary, in a 2003 interview, on differences between Bill and Hillary Clinton:
There’s an interesting difference that always has struck everybody who’s watched it up close, which is that she inspires fierce loyalty and he doesn’t. You look at the turnover that she had—or in her case did not have—on her staff, and the turnover that he had. You look at the relationships he ended up having with a lot of people that he was initially close to and were central to his administration, whether it’s George Stephanopoulos or whoever else it may be.
She inspired, continues to inspire, fierce loyalty, and he doesn’t. It’s quite a difference and I ascribe it to the fact that she does not look at the world as, or at least in my experience, as solely and only politically. She wears her heart on her sleeve much more than he does. Less and less now that she’s her own public figure, but that’s her nature.