Mayor Hires Maloney, Political Operative, to Sleuth Hillary

During the frenzied final weeks of the 1992 presidential campaign, Gary Maloney, a young Republican operative, journeyed to Oxford University in England to unearth supposed photographs of Bill Clinton protesting the Vietnam War during his stint as a Rhodes scholar. Mr. Maloney cut an intriguing figure on the staid Oxford campus. A heavyset, bespectacled man with an appetite for Tex-Mex cuisine and vast quantities of information, he pored over film and newspaper archives, searching for a picture that would put an end to the Democratic candidate’s campaign against President George Bush. In the end, Mr. Maloney turned up videos and blurred photos of a puffy-faced, bearded demonstrator who resembled the young Mr. Clinton–tantalizing but inconclusive evidence.

Now Mr. Maloney is taking another hard look at the Clinton files, only this time, he is laboring on behalf of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The Giuliani campaign has hired Mr. Maloney to perform “opposition research” against Hillary Rodham Clinton, his opponent in the Senate race, an adviser to the Mayor told The Observer.

“He has met with the Mayor,” the adviser said. “He’s been up there advising him. He’s a thorough guy. He’s the best.”

According to sources close to the campaign, Mr. Maloney is taking orders from Giuliani campaign manager Bruce Teitelbaum and shows up at least once a week at the Mayor’s campaign office on Maiden Lane. He was enlisted less than two months ago after winning the job over another top researcher. Campaign officials declined to detail any aspect of Mr. Maloney’s mission.

Mr. Maloney is something of a legend in New York political circles, having worked on campaigns for Gov. George Pataki and former Senator Alfonse D’Amato, and on Mr. Giuliani’s 1997 reelection campaign. Over the years he has developed the mystique of a secretive information wizard who brings great enthusiasm to the task of rummaging through an opponent’s personal and political past. His tactics, which have reportedly included tracking the activities of supposedly hostile reporters, have led opponents to label him everything from a dirty trickster to a sleaze merchant.

Yet Mr. Maloney, a native of southern California, can be religious. When his mentor, the late Republican consultant Lee Atwater, was dying of a brain tumor in 1990, Mr. Maloney arranged for a Catholic priest to baptize him and administer last rites. In moments of introspection he has been known to describe himself as “a sinner.”

To hear colleagues tell it, Mr. Maloney’s services are invaluable to a campaign. A candidate’s fortunes often depend on the quality and speed of a research team, which shapes day-to-day tactical skirmishes as well as larger strategic decisions about stump speeches and attack ads.

“Gary is excellent,” said Kieran Mahoney, who has worked closely with Mr. Maloney as a top campaign adviser to Mr. Pataki and Mr. D’Amato. “He runs a complete and well-focused effort. He’s my guy of choice when I’ve got a race to run, I’ll tell you that.”

Mr. Maloney’s relentless quest for information can be so zealous and overbearing that he frightens fellow campaign workers. During Mr. Giuliani’s 1997 reelection campaign against Democrat Ruth Messinger, some of Mr. Maloney’s colleagues became convinced that he was gathering dirt on them when he wasn’t investigating Ms. Messinger, according to one operative on the campaign.

“He scared the shit out of me,” the operative recalled. “He’s like a C.I.A. operative who ought to come in from the cold. He was strange and secretive and he snooped. Everyone was convinced that they were being checked into.”

Indeed, coworkers were so perturbed by Mr. Maloney’s furtive manner that Mr. Giuliani’s campaign manager, Fran Reiter, transferred him to another floor, away from his colleagues, the operative recalled. Ms. Reiter declined to comment.

Despite his eccentric demeanor, Mr. Maloney is known for his devotion to clients and his capacity for endless hours of work. “He’ll work all-night long on a project and people will find him the next morning sleeping under a desk,” one longtime colleague noted. “He’s got a head like a computer. He can find out anything about anybody. He can find stuff about candidates that people have never been able to turn up. He can crack computer files that people have never been able to crack.”

Probing First Husbands

No mission is too small for Mr. Maloney. During the 1997 campaign, Mr. Maloney examined the financial assets of Ms. Messinger’s first husband, Eli Messinger, according to the Giuliani campaign operative. His team of researchers also honed Mr. Giuliani’s attack on Ms. Messinger for opposing the Mayor’s first-term ban on some porn shops, dealing the Messinger campaign a lethal blow.

In an interview with Capital Style magazine, Mr. Maloney described the porn-shop attack as a mere “tap,” which, he gladly noted, sent the Messinger forces “into a tailspin.”

“In the end we didn’t use maybe seven of the best 10 hits we had because there was no need,” Mr. Maloney added. “She was collapsing.”

For all of Mr. Maloney’s considerable talents, his mere presence tends to become a campaign issue. He got into trouble back in 1990 when he got caught making a late-night phone call to the ex-wife of an opponent’s employee in the Texas Republican gubernatorial primary. During the calls, he allegedly inquired whether the candidate drank or cursed, and how he treated employees. These, and other, tactics once led Ohio Senator Mike DeWine, a well-respected Republican, to describe Mr. Maloney as among “the nastiest elements our party has to offer.”

Indeed, Mr. Maloney’s zealous pursuit of the enemy occasionally forces a campaign’s high command to publicly disavow knowledge of his activities. In 1993, when Mr. Maloney worked on the campaign of New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Christine Todd Whitman, he penned a memo advising her to “keep [Democratic opponent Jim] Florio’s sleaze-factor before the public eye.” He suggested the Whitman camp raise questions about Mr. Florio’s friends and political allies and issue a dire election-eve warning of Democratic vote stealing. After the episode blew up, Ms. Whitman denied knowing Mr. Maloney and denounced his tactics.

Still, Mr. Maloney remains widely admired in New York Republican circles. In 1992, his team of researchers dug up evidence that Robert Abrams, who was then leading Mr. D’Amato in a tight Senate campaign, was late in paying property taxes. The discovery seriously wounded Mr. Abrams and contributed to his defeat.

“He was the guy who said, ‘We need to go to Dutchess County [where Mr. Abrams owned some property] and get the tax filings,’–and voilà,” Mr. Mahoney said. “We won because we knew more about [Mr. Abrams] than he knew about us.”

Mr. Maloney found his calling when working for Lee Atwater during the Reagan-Bush years. For years he functioned as a top agent to Mr. Atwater, the godfather of modern opposition research. He sometimes read books and summarized them for his boss, who wished to seem well read. Mr. Maloney also honed his craft under the tutelage of other GOP political masterminds, including Ed Rollins and Arthur Finkelstein.

Mr. Maloney, who declined to comment, received a doctoral degree from Oxford, writing a 407-page statistical study of voting patterns in modern American presidential elections. While shuttling between New York, where he was working on the D’Amato campaign, and Oxford, he found time to research Mr. Clinton’s antiwar activities abroad, a vain quest whose outcome disappointed him.

“What if we had found the pictures of Clinton?” he wondered wistfully in the interview with Capital Style . “Can you imagine the ads? It would have been incredible.”