Jewish World Review June 5, 2003 / 5 Sivan, 5763
Secret Service would have helped Hillary wring Bubba's neck
A: Wrestled her to the ground and arrested her for plotting to take the life of the president.
B: Looked the other way.
C: Helped her. I am betting on C. I covered the Clinton White House during 1998, the "Year of Monica," and although it was often exhausting, it was never dull.
Today, White House reporters are bored silly. There is tight control over the news, and there have been no scandals.
But back in 1998, every day was Anything Can Happen Day.
The president of the United States was down in the Map Room giving 4 milliliters of blood from his right arm so it could be taken to the FBI lab and matched against the evidence on the little blue dress?
Sure, why not? Just another day at the Clinton White House.
The Secret Service got dragged into the whole mess when agents were subpoenaed by Special Counsel Kenneth Starr to testify as to whether Clinton was ever alone with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office and whether the two were observed engaging in sexual acts.
Today, everybody knows the answer to both those questions ("yes" and "hoo-hah!"), but back then Clinton was denying everything and the Treasury Department, which oversees the Secret Service, fought the subpoenas, claiming that agents couldn't do their job if they had to worry about ratting out their boss.
"I deal with the Secret Service all the time," a top Clinton aide told me. "They tell me what they need. They tell me what the president can and can't do, and mostly I defer to them. But if I ever have to worry about whether agents are going to be put under oath to repeat what they see and hear, I am going to say, 'I don't give a (expletive) about security, I don't want you in the room.'"
The Supreme Court was not impressed with this line of reasoning, however, and upheld Starr's subpoenas.
Which reinforced Clinton's belief that he was being victimized.
Not long after he had been sworn in as president, he had opened up a back door at the White House one evening and walked out onto the South Lawn to play with Socks, the cat.
Three Secret Service agents immediately stepped out of the shadows and created a security triangle around them.
"The White House is the crown jewel of the federal penal system," Clinton grumped.
And the Clintons got off to a rocky start with the agents. The Clintons were not only unused to the close presence of the agents, but they also wanted to handpick them, fearing that after 12 years of Republicans in the White House, the agents in place might not be loyal to them.
Soon after the Clintons moved in, there were leaks to the press, allegedly by Secret Service agents, about fights between the couple, including one in which Hillary reportedly threw a lamp or a vase at her husband's head.
"Or a Bible or a Mercedes-Benz," she jokingly said in a television interview later. "You know, there were many variations. It particularly bothered me that the Secret Service was being used to try to substantiate untrue stories."
But the Clintons knew a thing or two about leaks. And the White House soon kicked off rumors that the Treasury Department was shopping around for another agency to guard the president and his family.
After that, all the leaks stopped and Clinton went out of his way to woo the agents, meet their families and give them gifts when they retired. He came to trust them. Which at least one canny politician told him was a mistake.
"I was with him at a Bears game," Chicago Mayor Richard Daley
told me, "and he was surrounded by Secret Service agents. He asks me a
private question ... and I say: 'Mr. President, I can't answer you. Why?
Those two guys sitting here (the agents), I don't know them. A week from
now, if what I say shows up in gossip columns, I've got to blame them. So
I'm not talking.' And you know what? After, one of them comes up to me and
says: 'Thank you.'"
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Comment on JWR contributor Roger Simon's column by clicking here.