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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)

Mark Fabiani, who as White House special counsel played a key role in defending the Clintons, said she was "so tortured by the way she's been treated that she would do anything to get out of the situation. . . . And if that involved not being fully forthcoming, she herself would say, 'I have a reason for not being forthcoming.' " Her logic, he said, was: "If we do this, they're going to do this to me. If we say this, then they're going to say this. You know, [expletive] 'em, let's just not do that."

Fabiani said Clinton personally directed the White House defense, telling Bernstein that private attorney David E. Kendall dealt mainly with the first lady and met only rarely with the president until the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal. "He was easy to deal with compared to her," Fabiani said of the first couple. The only time he saw Bill Clinton lose his temper, Fabiani said, was when the president saw his Whitewater partner, Susan McDougal, taken to jail in an orange jumpsuit and shackles for refusing to testify.

At one point, Hillary Clinton was convinced she would be next, worried that Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr would indict her for perjury or obstruction of justice arising from statements she made under oath about her work for Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, the Whitewater investment or long-missing billing records. "When I say there was a serious fear she would be indicted, I can't overstate that," Fabiani told Bernstein.

Bernstein reexamines the most sensational aspects of Clinton's life -- and to his subject the most painful -- namely her decisions to marry and remain married to Bill Clinton. She waited two years before deciding to become his wife and move to Arkansas, and Bernstein points to a little-known factor that may have contributed. Hillary Clinton failed the D.C. bar exam after law school, something she hid from her best friends for 30 years until disclosing it in passing in her autobiography, "Living History." Bernstein suggests that blow to her ego may have played a role in her decision to move to Arkansas, where she had passed the bar.

The women who also figured in Bill Clinton's life in Arkansas make a return appearance in the book, most notably Marilyn Jo Jenkins, a power company executive he fell in love with and almost left his wife over, according to Bernstein. Jenkins has been linked to Clinton before -- she was spirited into the governor's mansion at 5:15 a.m. for a final, furtive meeting with him the day he left for Washington to assume the presidency -- but Bernstein's account makes clear her pivotal role.

Bill Clinton wanted to divorce his wife to be with Jenkins in 1989, Bernstein reports, but Hillary Clinton refused. "There are worse things than infidelity," she told Betsey Wright, the governor's chief of staff. The crisis frayed Wright's relationship with Bill Clinton too, and she told Bernstein that she arranged for the two of them, Wright and Clinton, to see a therapist together.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, turned to her best friend, Diane Blair, obliquely raising the prospect of divorce during a long walk. "She was thinking that they had not made much money," Blair told Bernstein before her death in 2000, and she was concerned about her daughter. "Chelsea was there now. What if she were on her own? She didn't own a house. She was concerned that if she were to become a single parent, how would she make it work in a way that would be good for Chelsea."

The Clintons stayed together, but out of "anger and hurt" she considered running for governor in 1990, when he presumably would step down to prepare his 1992 presidential campaign. The idea ended after consultant Dick Morris conducted two polls showing she had no independent identity with Arkansas voters and compared her to George Wallace's wife, who ran to succeed him in Alabama -- an analogy that offended her.

By the time Bill Clinton was running for president, Hillary Clinton suggested to Blair that victory would be good for the marriage because her husband's sexual compulsions would be tempered by the White House and the ever-present press corps, Bernstein reports -- a flawed assumption, as it would turn out.

In Bernstein's account, both Clintons went to great lengths to keep the lid on his infidelities. At the behest of Wright and Hillary Clinton, two partners with Hillary Clinton at the Rose Law Firm, Webster L. Hubbell and Vincent W. Foster Jr., were hired to represent women named in a lawsuit as having secret affairs with the governor. Hubbell and Foster questioned the women, then obtained signed statements that they never had sex with Bill Clinton. On one occasion, Bernstein reports, Hillary Clinton was present for the questioning.

Bernstein also reports that Bill Clinton, with Morris's help, pressured Wright to issue a false statement denying comments she had made to David Maraniss, a Post reporter, for his book "First in His Class," in which she said Arkansas state troopers had procured women for the governor.

Gerth and Van Natta's 416-page book covers much of the same ground, but it explores Clinton's time in the Senate in greater depth and portrays her legislative career and her presidential campaign as parts of a broad, long-term plan for power that has its roots in the early 1970s.


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