“As a 27 year old staff attorney for the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate investigation, Hillary Rodham was fired by her supervisor, lifelong Democrat Jerry Zeifman.”
— Internet meme that circulates constantly
Several times a week, The Fact Checker receives some version of the above statement in our Twitter and Facebook feeds. We’ve usually responded by sending a fine debunking done several years ago by Snopes. And yet it persists. It’s simply one of those lies that will not die.
Here’s a typical example of the stuff that circulates on the web:
After our colleague Amy Goldstein took a detailed look at Hillary Clinton’s failed effort to enact a health-care law when her husband was president, Washington Post editors were puzzled by the fact that many readers, in the comment section, cited her alleged firing during the Watergate years. Then ace researcher Alice Crites suggested a good way to finally disprove this claim once and for all.
Zeifman was chief counsel of the House Judiciary Committee during the Watergate inquiry that began in 1973. Hillary Clinton, who was Hillary Rodham at the time, had just graduated from Yale Law School as impeachment was considered against President Richard Nixon.
More than 20 years later, in 1995, Zeifman published a book titled “Without Honor: Crimes of Camelot and the Impeachment of President Nixon.” Clinton is mainly a bit player in the book. Zeifman was mostly concerned with settling scores with John Doar, a lawyer who essentially displaced Zeifman when he was tapped to head the committee’s impeachment inquiry. Doar was a lifelong Republican who as a Justice Department lawyer in the 1960s had achieved fame for battling segregation in the South.
Zeifman also was not fond of Rep. Peter Rodino (D-N.J.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, whom he described in the book as too tied to the Mafia, too subservient to his increasingly African American constituency and too controlled by his top female aide.
Doar, as the chief lawyer for the impeachment probe, actually hired Clinton, and she reported to him. Zeifman, who passed away in 2010, in his book appeared to be a frustrated bystander to many of Doar’s decisions. He had no control over her hiring — and would not have been in a position to fire her.
Zeifman, with little evidence, claims that Doar conspired to drag on the impeachment inquiry as long as possible as a way to keep an increasingly weakened Nixon in power and pave the way for a candidacy of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). Zeifman also contends that the impeachment staff tried to ensure that illegal acts by Democratic presidents could not be raised as a defense by Nixon. Why a Republican like Doar would engage in such a conspiracy is not really explained.
Zeifman’s specific beef with Clinton is rather obscure. It mostly concerns his dislike of a brief that she wrote under Doar’s direction to advance a position advocated by Rodino — which would have denied Nixon the right to counsel as the committee investigated whether to recommend impeachment. Zeifman also suspects her of discussing the probe with a former law professor at Yale (although he acknowledges that Doar received permission from Rodino to consult with the professor).
Zeifman, in 2006, repackaged the brief mentions of Clinton in another book, titled “Hillary’s Pursuit of Power.” But the thinness of the material is demonstrated by the fact that the Watergate section of the second book takes up only 30 pages. Clinton, after all, was just a low-level staff attorney, playing a relatively modest role. She did not even have a law license yet (and, in fact, failed the D.C. Bar exam she took three days before the committee’s vote on the articles of impeachment).
Here’s the page of the Judiciary Committee report listing the impeachment inquiry staff. Note that Hillary Rodham is listed as one of 34 “counsels” reporting to Doar and other senior attorneys. (Another counsel is future Massachusetts governor and current Libertarian vice presidential nominee William Weld.) Zeifman is listed separately, under “committee staff.”
In neither of his books does Zeifman say he fired Clinton. But in 2008, a reporter named Dan Calabrese wrote an article that claimed that “when the investigation was over, Zeifman fired Hillary from the committee staff and refused to give her a letter of recommendation.” The article quoted Zeifman as saying: “She was a liar. She was an unethical, dishonest lawyer. She conspired to violate the Constitution, the rules of the House, the rules of the committee and the rules of confidentiality.”
(Calabrese also interviewed two other former staff members, neither of whom backed up Zeifman’s account, though one also was not a fan of the brief in question.)
There is no actual quote from Zeifman saying he fired her. Moreover, in other interviews, Zeifman acknowledged that he did not fire Clinton. In 1999, nine years before the Calabrese interview, Zeifman told the Scripps-Howard news agency: “If I had the power to fire her, I would have fired her.” In a 2008 interview on “The Neal Boortz Show,” Zeifman was asked directly whether he fired her. His answer: “Well, let me put it this way. I terminated her, along with some other staff members who were — we no longer needed, and advised her that I would not — could not recommend her for any further positions.”
The Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment against Nixon on July 27, 1974. The full House never held a vote because Nixon resigned Aug. 9, thus avoiding impeachment and a trial in the Senate.
Of course, since Nixon resigned, the impeachment inquiry was over and none of the staff members had jobs anymore. So it was not Zeifman who terminated their jobs but Nixon, who short-circuited what would have been a lengthy process leading to his removal from office. It’s impossible to know whether Clinton ever sought Zeifman’s recommendation. She had accepted a job offer to teach at the University of Arkansas, in order to be with her then-boyfriend, Bill Clinton — and presumably she would have wanted a recommendation from Doar, for whom she actually worked.
Finally, here’s the critical piece of evidence unearthed by Crites: the pay records of the Judiciary Committee. Note that Hillary Rodham is paid ($3,377.77) through Sept. 4; two of her more senior colleagues on the impeachment staff, associate special counsel Robert Sack and senior associate special counsel Bernard Nussbaum, were paid through Sept. 2 and Sept. 6, respectively. The committee’s impeachment report was published Aug. 20, and the staff’s work was done by early September.
In other words, Clinton was not fired.
The Pinocchio Test
We know that it is all but impossible to stamp out these Internet memes. But whatever Zeifman may have said in one interview, he did not make this claim in either of his books. He also gave different answers in other interviews. It’s clear he disliked Clinton, but he also disliked many of the other people he worked with, including her actual supervisor and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Zeifman was not Clinton’s supervisor and did not fire her, as demonstrated by the committee’s pay records.
Please, folks, don’t pass on this Four Pinocchio claim anymore.
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