Hillary’s Baggage: A Story From My Former Life as a Clinton-Hater

Right now we’re in a Hillary moment, already discussing whether she will be the nominee, and I hear Democratic friends say, “Hillary’s baggage,” and worrying about the distraction it could cause. Yesterday a friend said to me, “Those Clinton haters will try to tie her to murders…”

I won’t vote for Hillary because of Iraq. To me her decision to side with a dangerous president, creating a crisis for America’s legitimacy in the world, is disqualifying.

But I’m also a former Clinton-hater. Hating’s no good for anyone, I like to think I’ve gotten over it. But I do know something about Hillary’s baggage, and if she runs for President, I think one piece of that baggage (apart from the commodities score) will legitimately come out on the carousel. That’s what this entry is all about.

Back before he had a beard, blueskinned Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, made his bones as chief counsel to a Senate committee that was investigating Whitewater and related stuff. (I should warn the reader right now, some of my little facts are going to be wrong here. It doesn’t matter. The facts are generally accurate, and in the end this is about interpretation.) At the time, 1996, then-Senator Al D’Amato wanted to use Whitewater to delve into the Vince Foster death, the deputy White House counsel who died six months into the Clinton presidency, his body discovered in a park on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. D’Amato later thought better of it. It was a bad move for him politically in New York, and much as he loved the seamy side of politics, and was steeped in it himself, D’Amato backed off. But for a while he investigated aspects of the death, and held hearings in the Senate that touched on it.

One of the problems surrounding the investigation of Foster’s death (apart from the disappearance of his pager from the evidence collected by the Park Police!) was that in the hours after the police and White House learned of his death, his office was not secured. And later, files belonging to Foster (maybe from his Little Rock office) turned up in the White House residence. Hillary produced them. Chertoff brought forth strong evidence that in the day after Foster’s death, people went into Foster’s office and nosed around, looking into his files. Chertoff demonstrated that before investigators finally got access to Foster’s office, Hillary was on the phone with her friends—her close political associates. Susan Thomases was in on the phone calls. So were Maggie Williams, Hillary’s chief of staff, and Bernie Nussbaum, the white house counsel. Several phone calls, right after one another. The pattern was a little feverish.

And then in the end, these files that Foster, a meticulous man, had maintained, wound up in the White House residence. The ones that Hillary produced were billing records having to do with the Rose Law Firm, back in Arkansas, at which Hillary and Foster had both worked, and the file spoke to questions about Hillary’s role on a land deal called Castle Grande. All that is very boring. I didn’t understand it then, I’m not going to understand it 15 years out. If anyone brings it up in a presidential campaign I will jump out the window.

Here’s what’s interesting, and what is bound to be brought up.

In the weeks before Vince Foster died, by whatever means, maybe his own hand, he was under a ton of pressure. He couldn’t handle it. He was cracking up. Basically this abstemious upright repressed lawyer had taken this big job with his old “friends,” and he found out who his friends were, and it was a super-political job. Foster was a rube. He wasn’t ready for big time politics. He should have gotten out of there, but he had such a giant superego he couldn’t do it. It’s a true tragedy.

Some of the pressure Foster was under involved the beginnings of Whitewater, Travelgate, the real estate stuff—boring stuff. He made a famous “can of worms” notation on some tax record. But there is plausible evidence that Foster was also involved in the beginnings of a far more significant political process, as history would later show: the issue of Clinton’s relationships with women. Everyone knows about the Paula Jones case which so deranged the country (and myself) in the second Clinton Administration—after a 9-0 vote by the Supreme Court to let the case go forward, something no partisan Democrat ever wants to think about, but a Court acting unanimously, on a principle best expressed by Bob Dylan, that even the President of the United States sometimes must stand naked. Anyway, that happened much later, and as you know, Paula Jones’s civil case led to Monica Lewinsky. But the Paula Jones case was actually brought about by events that gelled in the first six months of the Administration. To wit: As Clinton himself knew, a group of Arkansas state troopers were for whatever reason (greed, resentment for not being brought to Washington, jealousy, or honest plaindealing, take your choice) getting together back in Ark. with the idea of going public about his sexual peccadilloes. They finally came forward in October 1993, in the American Spectator. What matters to this story is it was known in the spring, as early as May, maybe earlier, that the Troopers were talking about going public. Clinton dangled a federal job to one of them, there was an effort to buy them off.

The general point here is that that portion of the democracy that cares about marital fidelity in their leaders (a principle I myself couldn’t give a fig about)—that component or its agents was taking steps to expose Bill Clinton, and the Clintonites justly regarded this as dangerous. And, I’d argue, the Clinton machine was gearing up to do what it had always done in those circumstances: lie and abuse power and trash women.

What follows is more arguable, so let me talk about my source on it. In Little Rock in 1996, for the New York Times Magazine, I interviewed a Clinton hater named Gary Parks. Parks was a former auto salesman and something of a troubled youth. He’d kicked around, he’d had physical injury. His dad had been murdered: Luther “Jerry” Parks, a former state cop, who had been head of security for the Clinton headquarters in Little Rock during the presidential campaign in 1992, had been murdered less than a year after the election. This is incredible and true: Two months after Vince Foster dies, Jerry Parks, Clinton’s former security aide, is slain gangland style, with a semiautomatic handgun, his car shot up in West Little Rock. The media didn’t touch it, and they were allowed to drop it. There was no internet then, as there is now, able to play the media as it did with Dan Rather.

I liked Gary Parks. I felt he was honest and smart. His assessment of Bill Clinton’s personality was the best I heard. He said if Bill Clinton had gone to bed with your sister and then screwed her over, and you were enraged with him, he could walk in the room and ten minutes later you’d have forgotten about it completely, he was that seductive. Parks said he’d hung out some with Clinton, back in the day, at the State House.

It was Parks’ assertion that his late father and Vince Foster had once investigated Clinton’s affairs at Hillary’s behest. He said that Vince Foster had called up his father, who was working as a private investigator, to look into Clinton’s romantic life in about 1980, after Bill Clinton had lost the governor’s office following his first term. Parks said Hillary wanted a divorce. It looked like maybe the juggernaut she’d believed in, and married, was over. Clinton had by then lost two big races and won two. Till the Comeback Kid—boy is Bill Clinton gutsy—won back the governorship in 1982. But in the early 80s, Parks said, Hillary asked her law partner Vince Foster to prepare a divorce case and Foster called Parks, who compiled a dossier of women’s statements. Parks said that Hillary later decided against a divorce, but that his father held on to the dossier. Then in 1993, Parks said, after Vince Foster went to Washington, he demanded the return of the file, and even called Jerry Parks in the days before his, Foster’s, death, to demand it. And that two months later his father was murdered, because, Parks said, he had held out on returning the file. (The L.R. police never solved his father’s murder, not when I was looking into it a few years afterward.)

Clintonites will say there’s a lot of supposition in what I’ve laid out here. They’re right. There is. But there is little supposition in the statement that Clinton’s personal life, which became so politicized in his second term, had been intermittently politicized before then, and the Clintonites feared that more than Travelgate. (This is, by the way, a big plot point in the bestseller Primary Colors by Joe “Anonymous” Klein). To make the leap that Vince Foster’s agonies, and Jerry Parks’s death, had some connection to the coming-forward of the Troopers is supposition, based on Gary Parks’s story. But it’s logical. What was the White House most fearful of that spring? I wonder if Vince Foster was worried about that stuff, and what they were looking for in his office.

Myself, I think I might forgive Hillary her connection to these events. They were so long ago, she was hitched to Bill’s horse. She’s done a lot on her own since. She’s been gutsy and strong on her own two feet. She has great presence. But I don’t think we know all the facts about this case, and people are going to bring it up and ask about it. Real baggage.