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Books Paint Critical Portraits of Clinton

Howard Wolfson, the Clinton campaign's communications director, dismissed the two biographies as containing nothing new.
Howard Wolfson, the Clinton campaign's communications director, dismissed the two biographies as containing nothing new. (By Ray Lustig -- The Washington Post)

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By Peter Baker and John Solomon
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 25, 2007

Two new books on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York offer fresh and often critical portraits of the Democratic presidential candidate that depict a tortured relationship with her husband and her past and challenge the image she has presented on the campaign trail.

The Hillary Clinton who emerges from the pages of the books comes across as a complicated, sometimes compromised figure who tolerated Bill Clinton's brazen infidelity, pursued her policy and political goals with methodical drive, and occasionally skirted along the edge of the truth along the way. The books portray her as alternately brilliant and controlling, ambitious and victimized.

The Clinton campaign has nervously awaited publication of the books for fear they would include a bombshell revelation or, at the very least, revive memories of less-savory moments in the couple's rise to power. The books, both by longtime journalists and both obtained by The Washington Post yesterday, include a number of assertions and anecdotes that could confront her campaign with unwelcome questions.

"A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton," by Carl Bernstein, reports that Clinton as first lady was terrified she would be prosecuted, took over her own legal and political defense, and decided not to be forthcoming with investigators because she was convinced she was unfairly targeted. While in Arkansas, according to Bernstein, she personally interviewed one woman alleged to have had an affair with her husband, contemplated divorce and thought about running for governor out of anger at her husband's indiscretions.

"Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton," by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr., reports that during her husband's 1992 campaign, a team she oversaw hired a private investigator to undermine Gennifer Flowers "until she is destroyed." Flowers had said publicly that she had an affair with Bill Clinton while he was governor of Arkansas.

The book also suggests that Hillary Clinton did not read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq in 2002 before voting to authorize war. And it includes a thirdhand report that the Clintons had a secret plan after the 1992 election in which he would have eight years as president and then she would have eight years, although last night a key source disavowed the story.

The Clinton camp hopes to brush off the books as mainly rehashing old news. "Is it possible to be quoted yawning?" asked Philippe Reines, her Senate spokesman. If past books on Clinton were "cash for trash," he added, "these books are nothing more than cash for rehash."

Howard Wolfson, a campaign spokesman, pointed to previous reports on some of the elements in the books to make the point that there was nothing new. "The news here is that it took three reporters nearly a decade to find no news," he said. He added: "Two overwhelming Senate victories in the toughest media market in the country demonstrated that voters have put these issues behind them."

Unlike many harsh books about Clinton written by ideological enemies, the two new volumes come from long-established writers backed by major publishing houses and could be harder to dismiss. Bernstein won national fame with partner Bob Woodward at The Post for breaking open the Watergate scandal, while Gerth and Van Natta have spent years as investigative reporters for the New York Times.

Their publishers have engaged in a race to the bookstores, moving up publication dates as the presidential campaign heats up. Alfred A. Knopf has printed 275,000 copies of Bernstein's "Woman in Charge," which will be available June 5; Little, Brown and Co. plans to put 175,000 copies of "Her Way" on sale June 8, after June 3 excerpts in the New York Times Magazine. The size of the print runs mean both publishers expect their books to be major bestsellers.

In the works for eight years, Bernstein's 640-page book is the more extensive biography and, while not unsympathetic, includes some damning observations from people once close to the senator.

Bob Boorstin, who worked for Clinton when she was pushing her plan to restructure the nation's health-care system in the early days of her husband's presidency, blamed her for its collapse. "I find her to be among the most self-righteous people I've ever known in my life," he told Bernstein. "And it's her great flaw, it's what killed health care," along with other factors.


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