I just wanted to hear her voice.
So I went to Washington and got the Webb Hubbell tapes from the offices of Dan Burton (Republican-Scumbag, Indiana) and walked around Capitol Hill, listening to the night of Webb’s loyalty crisis, March 1996. Heard Suzy Hubbell crying on the phone to Webb that Presidential aide Marsha Scott was “ghoulish” and taking pleasure in “ratcheting it up” and putting on the “squeeze play.” Heard Webb say with resignation, “So I need to roll over one more time.” Heard Webb dial Marsha a few minutes later, heard Marsha coo softly as she apologized for upsetting Suzy. And then when Webb talked about suing the Rose Law Firm, heard the grit in Marsha’s voice.
“No one, no one looks forward to a public spectacle of this. No one is supportive of anything that’s public. You know that.”
For all the controversy over the manner of their release, the Hubbell tapes shine a rare light on a pre-eminent operator in the White House. Whenever bad nonpublic stuff has to go down–from Vince Foster to the Travel Office to Paula Jones–Marsha Scott is there. A fox in fox’s clothing, Ms. Scott is a slack-jawed blonde with a hippie past, a Dyan Cannon type who knows how to play the California ditz whenever anyone asks her what she’s been up to.
“Does the air seem weird in here to you? My eyes are getting really dry,” she said when a House lawyer started asking tough questions two years ago. “I feel like everything is kind of closing up on me … I am going to start going into a spaz attack here.”
Marsha complained then about being “knee-deep in investigations,” but scandal has its winners, and she is surely one of them. Her combination of political canniness and I’m-a-man’s-woman yieldingness has made her indispensable to the President. The 50-year-old has known Bill Clinton since she was 19 and, as she reminded Webb, she has the President’s ear (and by some reports, other organs as well). But apart from a glimpse of her great gams as she went before the grand jury, Marsha stays under the radar.
“There was enormous competition on that staff among women who could handle stuff, and Marsha seems to have won as the information-bag person,” said Lucianne Goldberg, literary agent-provocateur. “The press hasn’t focused on her because we never see her with Clinton. I imagine she would deliberately want to not be photographed with him.”
No lawyer, no Rhodesy, no Yalie, no suit, Marsha Scott has led a more varied and interesting life than the dweebs of the meritocracy. She grew up in privileged Little Rock, her mother a former Miss Arkansas, her father a silver medalist hurdler in the ’48 Olympics who played halfback for the Philadelphia Eagles in the 50’s and forgets his daughter’s birthday. (“My wife would break both of my legs below the knees if she heard that,” Clyde Scott says; is there a gene for toughness?) At Hall High School, she was a cheerleader for Webb, and his father said they should marry (according to Webb’s book, Friends in High Places ), but she grew disgusted with the country club scene and moved to California. Word was she became a hippie. Marsha’s American journey included stints as a Head Start teacher and newspaper ad salesperson, years selling furniture and doing interior design, and a marriage of seven years, by her father’s reckoning.
Politics always interested her, and in the 1992 primary she ran field operations in California for Bill Clinton. That led to her appointment in the Administration, head of correspondence and Presidential messages. Unlike so many of the dour lawyers in the Administration, Marsha was fun. She complained about the Secret Service, looked forward to Arkansas gatherings on Tuesday nights, and liked to gossip about who was the best affair material. Tall, mysterious Vincent Foster, she said.
Her first big moment in the Clinton scandals came in the Foster case. The day before Foster died, Ms. Scott had a meeting said to be as long as two hours in Foster’s office with the door closed, a “highly unusual” meeting–”both her coming to see him and anybody taking up that much time with Foster,” in the words of a secretary (Linda Tripp). Ms. Scott says the meeting wasn’t that long, she was merely checking in on a friend.
Marsha Scott was twice questioned about the meeting by the F.B.I., and as in other encounters with gumshoes, she slipped the narcs with her edgeless California argot. That’s the great thing about being a hippie chick. You’re always a hippie chick in one part of your heart, you can make it work for you. (Hey, I’m half hippie chick myself, I keep a spliff in the underwear drawer.)
“She said that she hoped everybody would understand that that was an incredibly painful time, and her way of dealing with matters such as that is to block it out. She remembers impressions, she does not remember specific conversations,” the F.B.I. duly recorded. “She said she believed Foster had painted himself into a box with no windows.”
The blurry talk masks one big lie surrounding the case–what was the White House so worried about that it was applying the full-court political press to Foster in the days before his death? Why on his last weekend is he going to the Eastern Shore estate that Kathleen Willey was escorted to when she was threatening to blow? Why was it so urgent to the Administration to get into his files the day after his death?
In the Hubbell tapes, Marsha Scott speaks coolly of “our friends,” meaning the Clintons. “Well–any words you want me to give?” she asks. That’s the last thing she asked Foster, too, and that night, Bill Clinton called Foster for the first time in weeks, invited him to come to the White House to a meeting with Bruce Lindsey and Webb Hubbell. Foster said No.
The next day he died, and that night, Marsha Scott went back to the White House residence with the President and others and stayed most of the night. Hillary was in Little Rock, and White House logs of Ms. Scott’s visit have fed rumors about her relationship with Mr. Clinton. “Then at some point I would have ended up back where I was staying, and then it’s a blur,” Marsha Scott recalled of that night, when quizzed by a House lawyer. The American Spectator has quoted a Santa Cruz newspaper that called Marsha Scott the President’s former “hippie girlfriend,” and quoted former insider David Watkins as saying that Ms. Scott had told his wife, Ileene, that she had had an affair with the President.
Mr. Watkins has enmity toward Marsha Scott. Her next big useful moment came after he wrote a memo blaming Hillary Clinton for initiating the Travel Office firings. Maybe you remember, David Watkins was photographed using a Government helicopter to go play golf at Camp David, and was fired. Mr. Watkins says that Marsha Scott helped set him up. An avid golfer, she agreed to go golfing at Camp David with him that day, then canceled.
“I was sick, I was home with the flu,” she told House investigators.
In that same interview, Marsha Scott said she’d had never heard of a White House database: “Well, there was no database at the White House at all.” And when it came out days later that there was a database maintained at the White House that the political campaign used to raise money from, The New York Times implied that Marsha Scott was deceptive.
Now we come to my favorite moment in Marsha Scott’s back pages, which was exposed in the Paula Jones lawsuit. July 1994, and Ms. Scott, wearing a sleeveless black dress, accompanies her man to the Hot Springs (Ark.) High School reunion. The President’s reunion was remarkable for his encounter with one of his oldest friends, Dolly Kyle Browning, a Texas lawyer who founded Lawyers for Affordable Housing. Bill Clinton had cut off dealings with her two years before when he feared that she was going to sell a story about being his lover to a tabloid. But Ms. Browning never did, and she was sore at Mr. Clinton for treating her like Gennifer Flowers. At a reunion, where everyone was getting three minutes of the President’s time, Bill Clinton sat with the pretty blonde for 45 minutes.
When they left, Marsha and Bill decided to document the evening. It’s one of those Franklin Mint moments in the history of the American Presidency. The hippie chick turned power blonde and the President sitting down together, in private, without any goddamn lawyers, writing out their version of the reunion because they’re spazzed about the possibility of another woman coming out of the closet and talking about the President’s unit, does it veer.
They’re not using a computer, they’re writing it out on a legal pad without letterhead. The President writes for a long time:
“At my reunion I saw Dolly Kyle for the first time in a long time. She was obviously angry and sulking … She kept chewing me out for not calling her back and not trusting her … She started talking about her novel … she didn’t care if it hurt me or the Presidency …”
And Marsha wrote a brief, ferocious addendum, claiming she had listened in on the whole conversation and characterizing Ms. Browning as “erratic” and “threatening acting.”
“It was a bizarre conversation because she repeatedly said her story was not true, but that she was angry and needed money …”
A few weeks back, Sidney Blumenthal said at Harvard that Kenneth Starr had committed a “real crime against history” because no one at the White House keeps diaries out of fear of subpoena, but then high-minded Sid isn’t in the chick loop. ‘Cause somehow he missed the President’s high school reunion diary, nearly 1,000 words in that back-slung slouch of his (I confess I hold the President’s sidling handwriting against him, as a character flaw). I mean, that’s a diary for you, that’s history in the 90’s.
Bill kept these diaries tucked away under his desk in his private briefcase. That’s where he keeps stuff no one gets to look at. Other Presidents kept their impressions of Charles de Gaulle, or their musings on the loneliness of the office. Bill is writing about Dolly Kyle at the high school reunion, and what she’s going to say about him in her novel.
“Parts of what he wrote were true, but the essence of what he wrote is a lie,” said Ms. Browning. “And she absolutely lied. First, I have to tell you it would have been impossible for her to be standing where she says she was. There was a big load-bearing column and our chairs were side by side against it, and there were two Secret Service agents on either side and dance music playing and 300 people in the room. She made up a story about me.”
And, meanwhile, Marsha Scott went on to become the President’s liaison for lesbian and gay issues. “She was very well liked, and she knew her stuff,” said Rebecca Isaacs, political director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “She was good. I felt like she was totally comfortable. Very cool. Very warm.”
Marsha Scott’s effectiveness on an issue we care about and her effectiveness in dastardly ways embodies the contradictions of the White House mob. Scandal called on her sales background and lack of pretension, her smart-stupid, been-there-done-that blond résumé, her tell-me-who-to-kill, tail-to-the-Chief talents. The President may be closer to Bruce Lindsey, but he just plays hearts with Bruce.
But did Marsha find love? The night Webb asked her whether he’d ever been disloyal (“Never, oh God, no!” spake Marsha), she was home alone, watching the Oscars, and sweet spineless Webb called her “babe” and said, “All the guys are wondering when you’re coming back” and they exchanged “I love you”s. Now you could say that’s a lonely ending, buzzing around the Lippopotamus, flirting with the prison boys, buzzing around the big boys in the White House, gossiping about affairs. But I don’t agree. I mean, Who finds love when they’re looking for power? Have you? And how much of these men does anyone want? Would you rather be Suzy Hubbell? On the tapes she emerges as a truly noble person in her devotion to her husband, but look at the giant price she’s paid! Besides, Marsha’s got her man. Bill needs Marsha more than Marsha needs Bill, Marsha’s got Bill by the short hairs, a love story for our corrupted age.
I got Marsha’s phone number off the prison tapes and called her in Washington.
“Spring is here and it’s time to get down and dirty,” said the lusty answering machine message. “Leave your gardening tips.”
I told her about the quince I’d bought, asked her if she thought I could force it in winter. I tried to sound sexy, seasoned and unillusioned, too, tried to sound as down and dirty as she is, tried to fill my voice with the Clinton mantra, Everybody does it. I couldn’t fool her.