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The most interesting tidbits from the Clinton document dump (Part 3)


A third installment of never-before-seen Clinton administration records were made public Friday afternoon by the Clinton Presidential Center. The last two document dumps, the first in late February and then another two weeks ago, provided a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the Clinton White House. The new papers don't reveal anything earthshaking about the Clinton years, but do provide a greater understanding of how various advisers communicated about the major issues and policies of the 1990s.

The documents released Friday number some 3,000 pages, and include, among mostly mundane tidbits, the machinations of Clinton's speech writing team as they parse words endlessly to get just the right meaning.

We will continue to comb through the documents so you don't have to.  In the meantime, here's what we found interesting:

1. 15 years later, same storyline

For his March 1999 speech at the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner, President Clinton made a joke about his wife's political future that could just as easily be repeated today:

"And of course I am expecting a question regarding the future political career of the First Lady. I honestly don't know what she will decide but I can tell you this: yesterday at breakfast, she was complaining that it s impossible to get a decent bagel here in Washington. By the way, what's a "shmeer?" I do hope Hillary makes up her mind soon. The prospect of her running for the Senate is something of a distraction and I'm not sure how much longer I can continue to compartmentalize."

In the edits of the same speech, an aide suggested Clinton insert more impeachment jokes: one that is self-deprecating and one at the expense of the House Republicans.

2. Acknowledge the hanging chads?

 New York University professor Susan Andersen urged President Clinton, in his final address to the country, to acknowledge the manner in which the 2000 presidential election was decided and the emotion that surrounded it:

Clinton didn't take this advice, however, opting for a straightforward line of support for incoming President George W. Bush in multiple drafts of the speech:

In the final delivered version, he added his wife and daughter to the well-wishers.

3. David Axelrod in the mix

Obama's campaign strategist filed a detail memo to team Clinton after Bob Dole's acceptance speech. He advised Clinton to go big in his acceptance speech in a letter dated August 16, 1996:

He also suggested that Clinton add a line in his speech about building a bridge to the future, in contrast to Dole's suggestion in his speech that America build bridges to the past. That line made it in the August 29th speech almost word for word.

4. Shielding Hillary from Monica questions

In February 1998, Hillary Clinton's aides were worried that she would get questions from reporters about Monica Lewinsky, during a Voice of America interview, and they tried to figure out how to shield her from those questions.

An aide wrote: "I was thinking that perhaps we could invite a couple of reporters in just to sit in a studio next door and listen to her do the interview. Caveat: there may be questions from callers around the world on the Monica story. This would bring HRC right into the the story in the U.S. Although chances are good that if she did anything newsworthy, it will be reported outside the U.S. and will boomerang back."

The response: "Can press in the US call in to the VOA show during the interview to ask questions? If not, why by having press sitting in the studio next door (they won't have contact with her, right?) will HRC be more apt to get questions on Monica, etc.?"

5. More Hillary Clinton and Lewinskygate

Speechwriters strengthened language praising Hillary Clinton in February 1998 , in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, when she was awarded the Ford’s Theater’s Lincoln Medal. Rather than say she followed in the footsteps of “Lady Bird Johnson, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush,” a speechwriter suggested President Clinton lavish more praise on his wife and say, “I know how hard she’s working to support the arts across the country as we approach the new millennium.”

6. Al Franken in the House

On May 4, 1996, Franken was the featured comedian at the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner. President Clinton's speech writers planned a joke about one of Franken's comedy movies but somebody didn't like the joke very much, scratching through it.  But Clinton delivered the joke that night and it went over well, as did a joke about Newt Gingrich sitting next to a baby raccoon and an iguana.  Get it?  Newt as in an aquatic amphibian? Of course Newt would be sitting next to a baby raccoon and an iguana because that's how animals roll!


Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
Nia-Malika Henderson is a political reporter for The Fix.



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