To mount her New York Times Magazine story on Hillary Rodham Clinton, Amy Chozick did a lot of reporting, much of it at restaurants.
She interviewed Philippe I. Reines, the super-loyal and longtime aide to the former secretary of state: “[O]ver lunch near the White House, Reines laughed as a couple of meddlesome emails popped up on his BlackBerry from two older Clinton loyalists who had re-emerged since she left State. In between bites of a shrimp cocktail, he called these noodges ‘space cowboys’. . . .”
And: “At breakfast, at lunch, on emails, on conference calls, over dumplings at Pei Wei Asian Diner and in meetings with Clinton’s inner sanctum, Reines is often joined by his protégé and Clinton’s press secretary, Nick Merrill.”
She interviewed Max Brantley, a mainstay of Arkansas political reporting: “Max Brantley . . . told me over gumbo at the Capital Hotel bar in Little Rock. . . . ”
She interviewed some anonymous individual who didn’t have authorization from on high to chat with a reporter: “Sitting at a New York coffee shop one afternoon, a person close to the Clintons . . . pulled out a felt-tip pen and drew a triangle and a circle on a white cocktail napkin.”
These folks like their food and drink. Between bites and sips, however, they’re not saying too much. Titled “Planet Hillary,” the piece bears already-famous cover art that stuffs Clinton’s face inside a galaxy populated by all the various factions swirling around her. Focusing on the tensions among these various groups — Arkansas people, Obama people, Chelsea Clinton and so on — is a smart and ambitious idea for a feature project, except that people in the Clinton orbit are well trained in dealing with reporters.
• Longtime Democratic operative Donna Brazile: “‘The Clintons make you feel like you’re part of their family; that’s just who they are,’ says Brazile, whose neutrality during the 2008 Democratic primaries was seen by numerous Clinton hands as an act of betrayal. ‘Try divorcing them. I did, and oh, my God, that’s not easy. I felt like I had broken up with my best lover.'”
• Here’s what “people close to Bill Clinton” say: “[I]t irks them that Democrats don’t talk about the dignified, slimmed-down, silver-haired former president with the same reverence Republicans give Ronald Reagan. According to those people, Bill Clinton, who is conscious of the demands of a presidential race and what another loss would do to his own legacy and philanthropic work, is deferential about whether his wife should run.”
• And “denizens of Hillaryland” tell Chozick of their “exasperation that even after successfully serving in the Senate and as secretary of state, their boss is still so closely identified with her husband.”
Just how much of a slog was it to report this piece? Consider that Chozick digs up evidence that some people at the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation chafed at Chelsea Clinton’s “assertiveness” in the affairs of the foundation. Then Chozick sticks in this parenthetical: “(Five senior foundation employees who work closely with Chelsea told me she has brought only positive change. An aide also added that the handful of people who have historically called her the Child did so in an endearing way.)” Any of those pro-Chelsea Clinton comments on the record?*
In a fabulous tribute to the secretiveness of Washington political operatives, Chozick references a Politico scoop by Maggie Haberman. Last summer, reported Haberman, Hillary Clinton met with aides about a possible 2016 presidential campaign. Chozick writes, “Clinton ran a relatively leak-free operation at State, but as the circle widens, the possibilities for people speaking out of school grows considerably. A recent leak to Politico about a private Clinton strategy session was a ‘violation’ that should serve as a red flag, one Obama aide said.” That “violation,” of course, merely confirmed what everyone on earth already knew about Hillary Clinton — namely, that she’s been considering a presidential run.
The New Republic last year published a massive piece on how longtime Bill Clinton aide Doug Band “drove a wedge through a political dynasty.” Haberman’s piece earlier this month, titled “Hillary Clinton’s shadow campaign,” offered a penetrating look at Hillaryland’s status quo. Though Chozick fills in some details — not including the gumbo — and sheds light on Hillaryland’s generational challenges, her piece suggests that the Hillary Clinton 2016 story is a bit tapped out right now, or at least it’s hit a roadblock in the form of tight-lipped operatives. Remember: she left her post as secretary of state one year ago; only so much has happened since.
*UPDATE: Yes! A spokesman for Chelsea Clinton says that most of these interviews were indeed on the record.