Clinton Quiet About Own Radical Ties
Monday, May 19, 2008
When Hillary Rodham Clinton questioned rival Barack Obama's ties to 1960s radicals, her comments baffled two retired Bay Area lawyers who knew Clinton in the summer of 1971 when she worked as an intern at a left-wing law firm in Oakland, Calif., that defended communists and Black Panthers.
"She's a hypocrite," Doris B. Walker, 89, who was a member of the American Communist Party, said in an interview last week. "She had to know who we were and what kinds of cases we were handling. We had a very left-wing reputation, including civil rights, constitutional law, racist problems."
Malcolm Burnstein, 74, a partner at the firm who worked closely with Clinton during her internship, said he was traveling in Pennsylvania in April when Clinton attacked Obama for his past interactions with William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, members of Students for a Democratic Society who went on to found the bomb-making Weather Underground.
"Given her background, it was quite hypocritical," Burnstein said. "I almost called the Philadelphia Inquirer. I saw what she and her campaign were saying about Ayers and I thought, 'Well, if you're going to talk about that totally bit of irrelevant nonsense, I'll talk about your career with us.' "
In her campaign for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, Clinton has said little about her experiences in the tumultuous late 1960s and early 1970s, including her involvement with student protests and her brief internship at the law firm, Treuhaft, Walker and Burnstein. She has said she worked on a child custody case, although former partners recall her likely involvement in conscientious objector cases and a legal challenge to a university loyalty oath.
But her decision to target Obama's radical connections has spurred criticism from some former protest movement leaders who say she has opened her own associations to scrutiny.
"The very things she's accusing Barack of could be said of her with much greater evidence," said Tom Hayden, a leading anti-Vietnam War activist, author and self-described friend of the Clintons.
Robert Reich, who went to Yale Law School with Hillary Rodham and Bill Clinton and later served in the Clinton administration, called Hillary Clinton's attack on Obama "absurd," adding: "That carries guilt by association to a new level of absurdity. Where does guilt by association stop? I mean, she was a partner of Jim McDougal in the 1980s, for crying out loud." Reich is now an Obama supporter.
In response to the assertion that Clinton is a hypocrite for calling out Obama's ties to Ayers, campaign spokesman Philippe Reines said: "The comparison is patently absurd." The campaign played down her friendship with a noted student protest leader and defended her work with the Oakland firm. "At the time she worked there, the firm was primarily at the forefront of civil rights advocacy cases, which was a good fit with Senator Clinton's long-standing interest in civil rights and constitutional law," Reines said.
Clinton's associations date to her years as a student leader at Wellesley from 1965 to 1969. It was the height of student opposition to the Vietnam War, and Carl Oglesby, the president of Students for a Democratic Society, came to campus to speak.
"I gave a talk at Wellesley, where she was a student," Oglesby said in a telephone interview from Amherst, Mass., where he is recovering from a stroke. "I can't say that I was a close friend of hers. It was more of a passing acquaintance. I liked her. I think of her as a good guy. I think she has a good heart and a solid mind. And I support her in the current primary."
Oglesby had been close to Ayers and Dohrn, but the couple split with the more moderate SDS factions to form the Weather Underground, which engaged in a bombing campaign to try to stop the Vietnam War. The FBI monitored Oglesby throughout the period.