By Gary J. Byrne. Center Street. 304 pp. $27.
GUILTY AS SIN: Uncovering New Evidence of Corruption and How Hillary Clinton and the Democrats Derailed the FBI Investigation
By Edward Klein. Regnery. 256 pp. $27.99
In the matter of the Right-Wing Publishing Machine v. Hillary Rodham Clinton, I find for the defendant.
During the final months of this singular presidential campaign, a batch of bestselling anti-Clinton books has emerged, offering the most nefarious interpretations of the Democratic nominee. They are the case for the prosecution, and their closing arguments leave nothing out — if it’s damning, or outlandish, or even contradictory, it’s here. In these pages, the former first lady, senator and secretary of state is invariably lawless and duplicitous, her record as horrifying as her hidden blueprint for national destruction. For those who already despise Clinton, these books affirm and amplify that loathing.
Hillary Clinton is “volcanic, impulsive, enabled by sycophants, and disdainful of the rules set for everyone else . . . a cheerless grifter always on her scheming way,” writes former Secret Service officer Gary J. Byrne in “Crisis of Character,” a memoir of his time serving in the Clinton White House. And in “Guilty as Sin,” the notorious Clinton antagonist Edward Klein warns that “if Obama’s abuse of power shocks you, just wait: Hillary has promised to go even further.”
With chants of “lock her up” and “crooked Hillary” and simply “bitch” reverberating at Donald Trump’s rallies, these works have found a ready audience, already spending a collective 29 weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list. If these books and authors sum up your knowledge of the Democratic nominee, if they are all you believe of Clinton, I see how supporting her would seem impossible, regardless of her opponent’s overwhelming shortcomings.
But if your feelings about her are even slightly more complex, if mistrust and admiration come together with every Clinton speech or shimmy, such attacks may backfire. These books have taken me beyond Clinton fatigue; they’ve given me Clinton fatigue fatigue. I’m now tired of being tired of Hillary Clinton.
No doubt, Clinton has earned some of this criticism — but there’s no way she deserves all of it. The focus on her personality and appearance is crude and sexist. The obsession with her scandals, so well known for so long, leaves her accusers looking nearly as dirty as the accused, and more desperate. And her allegedly ruinous policy projects and worldview come across as more improbable than terrifying.
“She is old, and mean, and even her laugh is a witch’s cackle,” D’Souza writes of the first woman to become the presidential nominee of a major U.S. party. He asserts that in her youth, Clinton already came off as “ugly, petulant, and bitchy” and had a “sly, owlish” look, “with her terrible clothes and her peering eyes.” Byrne, the former Secret Service officer, stresses Clinton’s “booming voice” and “maniacal laugh” (yes, the laugh is a constant obsession) and seems to imply that she is more vampire than witch. “Her true power was of the night — not the daylight,” he writes.
Clinton’s temper is another recurring preoccupation. “She threw massive tantrums,” Byrne contends of her time as first lady, a habit he attributes to Clinton’s spoiled nature and an enabling, weak-willed staff. Klein notes that Clinton swears “like a drunken sailor,” and he offers examples of her supposed “vulgar mouth,” although his dubious quotations — always sourced anonymously to Clinton’s closest friends — make the candidate sound like a B-movie gangster. “The motherf—ers have tried to get Bill and me ever since we entered politics, and we’ve always come out smelling like roses,” Clinton supposedly said of the investigation into her use of a private email server while secretary of state. “I’m going to beat this FBI rap, too.” Not only does this fail to resemble how any real human would talk, but it sounds nothing like the voice we encounter in the tens of thousands of Clinton emails that have been made public. (Her Mugsy-talk must all be in the deleted ones.)
Such fixation on physical appearance and foul language is less likely to pester a male candidate — for guys, behind-the-scenes expletives are a sign of rugged leadership! — whereas strong female politicians must endure these charges, just as they endure speculation about their sexuality. Both D’Souza and Klein, for instance, raise “rumors” that Clinton is a lesbian. “I have to confess that I cannot refute this theory,” D’Souza offers, “but I believe it is unsubstantiated.” Klein goes further: “Despite persistent rumors, and the testimony of at least one of Bill Clinton’s former girlfriends, no one has ever definitively proven that Hillary was or is a lesbian.” Klein even suggests that Clinton aide Huma Abedin may be the candidate’s girlfriend and chastises the news media for not exploring the “intimate nature”of their relationship.
Dismissing, refuting or even entertaining these notions only fulfills the authors’ purpose, which is not to prove anything but merely to plant the ideas deep in the minds of their readers.
Of course, the news media has had no dearth of real Clinton scandals to report on over the years, and these authors relive each of them, from cattle futures to email servers. Unlike the scandals portrayed in the endless collection of anti-Obama books, which often enter the realm of make-believe (birtherism, secret Muslim allegiance and the like), many of the Clinton scandals are anchored in reality. With her unfailing secrecy and endless entanglements — it’s not like she can wipe that all away, like with a cloth or something — Clinton always gives these authors something to work with. Then they run with it, always magnifying the principal’s malevolence and culpability.
If you’re too tender in years to get all the references (Webb Hubbell?) don’t worry; the authors are recommending a massive ICYMI effort. “The Republicans need to run a targeted campaign against Hillary among younger voters,” write Morris and McGann. “To those under 35, all the Hillary scandals are new. These voters, after all, were under 15 years of age when the Lewinsky scandal unfolded and were way too young to have followed Hillary’s misadventures over the years.”
Somehow, I can’t imagine that refreshers on Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings will rally millennials to the GOP cause. But in these authors’ telling, it may as well have been Hillary who was impeached by the House of Representatives. “Far from being a victim, Hillary is the enabler of her husband’s depredations,” writes D’Souza. “She covers up for Bill while at the same time going after the women he abuses.” This didn’t just happen, he contends — it was the plan since they first met. As early as law school, Hillary recognized that “Bill’s degeneracy could work to her advantage,” D’Souza posits. “She could become his cover-up artist and his blame-the-victim specialist. . . . In this way Hillary would make herself indispensable to Bill, and Bill would become increasingly dependent on her.”
D’Souza has the gallantry to admit that this scenario is “less a description than an interpretation.” Translation: It’s made up. Such speculation is rampant in these volumes. “Could they actually be behind so many of the suspicious — or merely coincidental — deaths surrounding their activities?” Byrne asks about the former first couple. “Had they really killed Vince Foster? Was it even possible? It weighed on me.” The 1993 death of Foster, a White House attorney and childhood friend of Bill Clinton, was ruled a suicide by multiple investigations, no matter what dark corners of the Internet still peddle theories of foul play. Writing a passage like that should weigh on Byrne. Heavily.
In their prosecutorial zeal — Morris and McGann even try to fact-check Hillary Clinton’s middle-school extracurriculars — the books end up contradicting one another. Clinton lied about Benghazi, D’Souza writes, because she was lining up Libya reconstruction contracts for cronies and didn’t want people to think things were falling apart there. But she actually lied, Morris and McGann explain, because she didn’t want Americans to figure out that al-Qaeda was still a threat, despite Osama bin Laden’s death. So which is it? Why not both? Don’t forget that “for Hillary, lying is routine,” Morris and McGann assert. “It comes naturally — like breathing.”
The books add little to the current controversies surrounding the Clinton campaign. On the emails, Klein purports to show that the Democratic nominee is “guilty as sin,” but adding words like “obvious” or “clearly” to that phrase doesn’t quite nail the case, and his assertions that Bill Clinton, the Obama White House and Attorney General Loretta Lynch pressured the FBI into exonerating Hillary are based largely on anonymous, secondhand descriptions of secret gatherings. Klein also relies on his own past anti-Clinton books, as well as the opinions of conservative commentators, as support for various assertions — convenient, if not quite journalistically sound.
Most scandalous of all, the authors write, is Clinton’s policy agenda for America. While an objective reading of the Clinton-Kaine platform reveals a repetitive jumble of economic optimism and identity politics, in these books Clinton’s intentions are always wicked, totalitarian, immoral.
So don’t be fooled by Clinton’s faux concern for the little guy. “Hillary’s progressivism uses the bogus chants of ‘inequality’ and ‘social justice’ to implement wealth-confiscation and power-grabbing schemes much more expansive than anything previously attempted,” D’Souza writes.
Morris and McGann offer similarly harsh visions of Clinton’s policy plans, linking them to her odious personality. “Combine her unmistakable character flaws with her zealous commitment to four more years of Obama’s unconstitutional, overreaching, anti-American, prointernational, socialist policies that will annihilate the core of America, and you get a feel for exactly what a Hillary administration would be like,” they conclude. “It would be one we might never recover from.” They also claim that Clinton is too much of a warmongering hawk to be commander in chief, but also far too weak on terrorism; she is an inveterate flip-flopper, but also far too rigid and pigheaded in her views. And they barely pause to note the inconsistencies.
Klein’s concerns can be less wonky than prudish. He frets that Clinton’s malign influence would further America’s slide into what he calls a “decadent society,” with current signs of decadence including generalized female weight gain, the proliferation of tattoos (“once limited to sailors and members of biker gangs”) and deteriorating dress codes, with now, even at work, people attired “as if in imitation of Shaggy of Scooby-Doo.”
There is little consternation in these works for the potential decadence of a Trump presidency. When they regard the Republican nominee at all, they are generous with praise and unstinting with the benefit of the doubt.
“Trump escapes distracting details and focuses on objectives — the big picture — using talented people around him to map out the path to achieving them,” rave Morris and McGann. “He will get things done.” They note his “laser-like” mind, his “uncanny” knowledge of policy issues and his “no-nonsense message.” It’s almost like they’re hoping for consulting gigs from the Trump White House.
D’Souza acknowledges the frequent criticism of Trump’s fascistic tendencies, but he mainly repeats it to pivot to his charge that the Democrats — and by extension, Clinton — are the true fascists. And Klein embraces Trump for the simple reason that he could free America of Clinton: “Her wooden inauthenticity and unlikeability would make her the perfect foil for tell-it-like-it-is Trump.”
Together, these titles seek to expose, recall or fabricate the worst possible version of Hillary Clinton, while disregarding, even embracing, the vices of her rival. So are they just part of that vast right-wing conspiracy Clinton has long feared? After all, when former consultants and Secret Service officers are writing books eviscerating you, you’ve earned the right to a little paranoia.
But if it is a plot, it is a messy, contradictory and possibly self-defeating one, more of Twitter trolls than of cunning conspirators. The case they make against Hillary comes down to the fact that she’s Hillary, with all the instant revulsion that name is supposed to conjure. But that works only if for you, as for them, hating Hillary Clinton comes naturally. You know, like breathing.
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