Longtime Clinton adviser Maggie Williams tapped for Harvard post

Maggie Williams (Credit: Sonnie Mason)
Maggie Williams (Credit: Sonnie Mason)

Maggie Williams, a longtime political adviser to Hillary Rodham Clinton, on Thursday was named director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School.

Williams served as then-first lady Clinton's chief of staff in the White House and was credited with turning around Clinton's flagging 2008 presidential campaign after coming on board as campaign manager in the final months of the Democratic primaries. Williams has been among a small circle of loyal confidantes helping Clinton think through her career since stepping down as secretary of state and weigh a 2016 presidential campaign.

Beginning this summer, Williams will lead Harvard's IOP, the prestigious non-partisan academic institute established as a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy.

“President Kennedy said that the future of any nation could be measured by the prospects of its youth," Williams said in a statement. "The Institute of Politics was created to help ensure that our country would continue to flourish, led by generations of smart and caring leaders. It is an honor to be a part of the IOP community and to participate in the work of growing our nation’s leaders.”

Williams, who met Hillary Clinton while working at the Children's Defense Fund in the 1980s, was at Clinton's side through some of the most difficult crises of her husband's administration. After the suicide of lawyer Vince Foster, Williams was interrogated and accused of removing files from his office. She also helped guide Clinton through the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

In the early 2000s, Williams served as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton at the Clinton Foundation, and she has worked as a management consultant.

In February 2008, after Clinton lost some caucuses and primaries to then-Sen. Barack Obama and with her campaign rife with infighting, Williams replaced Patti Solis Doyle as campaign manager. Williams, whose specialties are in communications and management, won plaudits for helping Clinton regain her footing.

Williams has served on the IOP's senior advisory committee and was an IOP fellow in 2005. 

“The IOP was created to inspire students to enter public service and politics—pursuits to which Maggie Williams has devoted most of her professional life,” David T. Ellwood, dean of the Harvard Kennedy School, said in a statement.  “She has used her academic training and her decades of political experience to help public and private leaders manage difficult challenges and effect change."

Williams replaces Trey Grayson, a Republican former Kentucky secretary of state and U.S. Senate candidate, who left Harvard this spring to return to Kentucky. The search committee that selected Williams was led by Ellwood; Ken Duberstein, a former White House chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan; Iris Bohnet, academic dean and professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School; and Elaine L. Chao, a former Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush and the wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). 

"Maggie’s political wisdom and her long record of mentoring and supporting young leaders—not only in politics but in many career fields—and the example she sets in fostering and sustaining relationships across the political spectrum make her the right leader for the IOP today," Duberstein said in a statement.

Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.
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