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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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According to Gerth and Van Natta, even before the Clintons were married they formulated a "secret pact of ambition" aimed at reinventing the Democratic Party and getting to the White House. The authors cite a former Bill Clinton girlfriend, Marla Crider, who said she saw a letter on his desk written by Hillary Clinton, outlining the couple's long-term ambitions, which they called their "twenty-year project."

Crider was first quoted about the letter in a book by a former National Enquirer reporter in 2000, at the time describing it as more about Bill Clinton's infidelities and the "little girls" he had. Gerth and Van Natta, however, report that they re-interviewed Crider and that she said the earlier book's account was "not totally accurate." In this telling, Crider described the note as being more about the couple's political plans, with little discussion of their personal relationship.

The authors report that the Clintons updated their plan after the 1992 election, determining that Hillary would run when Bill left office. They cite two people, Ann Crittenden and John Henry, who said Taylor Branch, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and close Clinton friend, told them that the Clintons "still planned two terms in the White House for Bill and, later, two for Hillary." Contacted last night, Branch said that "the story is preposterous" and that "I never heard either Clinton talk about a 'plan' for them both to become president."

The book looks in detail at Hillary Clinton's Senate vote in support of the Iraq war, suggesting she may have been motivated by a desire to not abandon her husband's tough-on-Iraq policy and a need "to prove that she was tough enough" as a woman. But Gerth and Van Natta suggest that she did not read the National Intelligence Estimate, which included caveats and dissents about reports of Iraq's weapons program.

Reines, Clinton's Senate spokesman, seemed to confirm last night that she did not read the NIE, saying by e-mail that she was "briefed multiple times by several members of the administration on their intelligence regarding Iraq, including being briefed on the NIE."

Gerth and Van Natta portray Clinton as fixated on secrecy and loyalty. She has used her Washington house as a staging ground for her presidential campaign, holding strategy meetings and fundraisers under strict confidentiality. "Visitors are asked to check their bags, cameras and cell phones at the door, pictures are taken by an authorized photographer," they write.

The authors assert that Clinton did not properly file paperwork with the Senate ethics committee to document many congressional fellows borrowed from universities to beef up her expertise on various issues. The ethics committee therefore could not determine if the free service, underwritten by university funds, created any conflicts, Gerth and Van Natta write.

The book portrays Clinton as constantly seeking the spotlight, pushing her way into Senate discussions without invitation. As Senate Democrats were wrestling with their approach to the Iraq war in mid-2006, for example, Clinton is described as inserting her name into a piece of legislation calling for a phased redeployment of U.S. troops. Although she was not originally a co-sponsor of the bill, she said she was, and after storming the floor of the Senate before her turn, she shifted her rationale for her original war vote, the authors write. Her behavior amazed Senate colleagues, they write.

As part of her presidential ambitions, they write, the Clintons plotted to steal some of the thunder of former vice president Al Gore on climate change, creating tension between the onetime partners. They recount how Bill Clinton filmed ads for a California ballot initiative that overshadowed a Gore ad.

Staff writer Anne E. Kornblut and political researcher Zachary A. Goldfarb contributed to this report.


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