Despite his undignified tumble down Capitol Hill, we will surely hear from David Bossie again. As the indefatigable activist warned during his farewell tour of the Sunday-morning talk shows, he intends to continue his anti-Clinton crusade “in the private sector.” Right now, he’s angling for a book deal.
While we anticipate his own version of his heroic exploits, however, Mr. Bossie’s career deserves an accounting more complete than this space can afford it. His rise from the obscurity of the far right to media influence and a high-paid Congressional job is a chronicle of the shadowy crusade against the Clinton Presidency.
From the very beginning-back when he was merely a college dropout collecting Arkansas gossip to use against Bill Clinton in the 1992 election-Mr. Bossie’s motivations were ideological rather than ethical. He said so bluntly a few years later when explaining his mission to The Washington Times : “People are driven by their dislike of this President. It’s purely ideological. I think it comes from the fact that he’s seen as a socialist, a guy who’s interested in social engineering, in making government a bigger part of your life.”
Mr. Bossie found his calling in the aborted 1988 Robert Dole Presidential campaign, where he met Floyd Brown (infamous as the creator of the racially inflammatory “Willie Horton” television ad). Joining with Mr. Brown behind the innocuous facade of a nonprofit organization called Citizens United, Mr. Bossie learned to imitate his mentor’s swaggering beer-hall approach, boasting that they played politics as a “full-contact sport.”
Their eye-gouging tactics during the 1992 campaign included a paperback titled Slick Willie: Why America Cannot Trust Bill Clinton , a regurgitation of every scurrilous rumor ever uttered about the Clintons in their home state, and a 900-number advertisement featuring carefully chosen excerpts from the Gennifer Flowers tapes-a preview of Mr. Bossie’s misuse of the Webster Hubbell prison recordings.
Less notorious but more obnoxious was their harassment of the family of a young Arkansas woman who killed herself in 1977. Chasing a baseless rumor that she had been pregnant with Bill Clinton’s baby, Mr. Bossie burst into the hospital room of her ailing father to aggressively question her parents. George Bush, the Republican nominee that year, didn’t seem to appreciate these efforts on his behalf: He filed a Federal complaint against Mr. Brown’s organization and denounced its maneuvers as “the kind of sleaze that diminishes the political process.”
Such tut-tutting didn’t discourage Messrs. Brown and Bossie, who were having too much good clean fun and raking in too much tax-exempt money. Within months after Mr. Clinton’s inauguration, they became leading entrepreneurs of the Whitewater “scandal,” with Mr. Bossie heading back to Little Rock, Ark., to feed tips and documents to reporters at dozens of mainstream news outfits. Aided by Jim Johnson, the last Arkansas segregationist politician, they arranged the media debut of David Hale, the ex-judge and con man whose unproven charges of fraud against Mr. Clinton remain central to the Whitewater case.
With his fluency in Whitewater arcana, Mr. Bossie eventually eclipsed Mr. Brown, and none of his journalistic admirers seemed to notice that his darkest accusations tended to fade upon closer inspection. He led a network camera crew on a wild goose chase of a supposedly corrupt former Arkansas securities commissioner who was entirely innocent. He suggested that former White House deputy counsel Vincent Foster didn’t commit suicide, demanding the removal of special prosecutor Robert Fiske. And he insisted that Hillary Clinton should be indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bossie cultivated Republican friends on Capitol Hill, particularly Senator Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina and Representative Dan Burton of Indiana, who had pushed for Mr. Fiske’s removal. When he toted an armload of impeachment petitions to Congress in the summer of 1994, those zealous legislators must have realized that Mr. Bossie was a man of vision. Mr. Faircloth hired him in time for the Senate Whitewater hearings.
Thanks in part to Mr. Bossie, the hearings turned into an embarrassing fiasco for Senator Alfonse D’Amato, the committee chairman. But by then Mr. Bossie was firmly ensconced in the Republican scandal machinery.
Failing upward, he moved on to become chief investigator for Mr. Burton’s probe of campaign finance abuses. Only Mr. Burton-the man who pumped several pistol rounds into a melon to test his theories about Foster’s death-would have awarded such a responsible post to Mr. Bossie. He promptly abused it with unauthorized leaks, his antics eventually driving the committee’s counsel and other staff to resign in fury.
In the wake of his abrupt “resignation” over the Hubbell tapes, Mr. Bossie leaves behind a question or two about apparent collusion with Mr. Starr’s office. Mr. Bossie insists that any communication with the independent counsel was “a one-way street.” But somehow those tapes emerged hours before Mr. Starr announced new indictments of Mr. Hubbell, his wife and two friends. Maybe Mr. Bossie is saving the true story for his book.
Follow Joe Conason via RSS.