Remember when the Clintons first entered the White House in 1993? He the brash, young Democrat. She the professional woman with modern attitudes. “They captured the national imagination and were in a strong position,” writes Peggy Noonan in the WSJ.
Then she—not he—messed it up. It was the first big case in which she showed poor judgment, a cool willingness to mislead, and a level of political aggression that gave even those around her pause. It was after this mess that her critics said she’d revealed the soul of an East German border guard.
On May 19, 1993, less than four months into the administration, the seven men who had long worked in the White House travel office were suddenly and brutally fired. The seven nonpartisan government workers, who helped arrange presidential trips, served at the pleasure of the president. But each new president had kept them on because they were good at their jobs.
A veteran civil servant named Billy Dale had worked in the office 30 years and headed it the last 10. He and his colleagues were ordered to clear out their desks and were escorted from the White House, which quickly announced they were the subject of a criminal investigation by the FBI.
As criticism increased over the firings, the White House changed its story—at least five times. First it was cutting unneeded staff to save money. Then it was the White House was trying to impose a competitive bidding process. Next, it was connected to Al Gore’s National Performance Review (which Gore “said was not true.”). Then it was the campaign pledge to cut White House staff by 25%. Thereupon, it was released that the staff had not been fired at all. Rather the entire staff had been placed on “administrative leave.”
All along Mrs. Clinton publicly insisted she had no knowledge of the firings. Then it became barely any knowledge, then barely any involvement. When the story blew up she said under oath that she had “no role in the decision to terminate the employees.” She did not “direct that any action be taken by anyone.” In a deposition she denied having had a role in the firings, and said she was unable to remember conversations with various staffers with any specificity.
A General Accounting Office report found she did play a role. But three years later a memo written by David Watkins to the White House chief of staff, recounting the history of the firings, suddenly surfaced. (“Suddenly surfaced” is a phrase one reads a lot in Clinton scandal stories.) It showed Mrs. Clinton herself directed them. “There would be hell to pay,” he wrote, if staffers did not conform “to the first lady’s wishes.”
When asked about a “Clinton scandal, most people under the age of 30 would probably say “emails,” or “Benghazi” or “Clinton Foundation.” And now you can add “health questions.” But as Ms. Noonan notes, all those who are older, “whose memories encompass the Clinton era, the scandals stretch back further, all the way to her beginnings as a national figure.”
The point is it didn’t start the past few years, it started almost a quarter-century ago. You have to wonder, what are the chances it will change?