Let's face it: the Clintons will say anything in their quests for the presidency. Just as Bill Clinton railed against Republican corruption in 1992, promising his would be "the most ethical administration in history," Hillary Clinton now is presenting herself as the antidote of the Republican "culture of corruption," and the antithesis of the Bush administration's penchant for secrecy. What makes this argument all the more laughable is that secrecy has always been their modus operandi, and their key method of their scandal damage control.
It's on display again. In the October 30 Democratic debate on MSNBC, Tim Russert asked if Senator Clinton would lift the 12-year ban on "confidential communications" between the president and his advisers that Bill Clinton requested from the National Archives. Russert was referencing a letter Clinton wrote to the Archives in 2002 loosening the restrictions on these documents - while suspiciously leaving in place his request to keep White House documents between Bill and Hillary Clinton secret.
Hillary rejected the question by dismissing as incorrect the premise: "That's not my decision to make, and I don't believe that any president or First Lady ever has," Hillary said.
But every president is granted control of his White House documents. Hillary knows this. And as for the "not my decision" line, Newsweek reported that according to a National Archives document they obtained, Bill Clinton in 1994 formally designated both Hillary and his chief scandal-scuttler Bruce Lindsey as "co-representatives for control of his papers in the event of his death or disability." Hillary's attempt to paint herself as utterly helpless and outside the loop on making these documents public is beyond clumsy. It's just false on its face.
Why would she play the clueless victim here? Because she knows the left will ride in and trash Tim Russert as a mean-spirited attacker. Asking Hillary about making White House records available isn't pursuing wild personal allegations - say, like whether she's snorted cocaine (as reporters did to Bush in 2000).
But The Hill newspaper reported that a Clinton campaign conference call was full of Russert-bashing. Hillary's top pollster Mark Penn complained that "Russert made it appear that President Clinton had done something new or unusual," while the other candidates were asked easy questions like, 'Is there life in outer space?' " One caller said Russert's questions "were designed to incite a brawl," and that the moderating by Russert and Brian Williams was "an abdication of journalistic responsibility." A female supporter even suggested Russert "should be shot" for challenging Hillary.
The same insults rolled in from the liberal corners of the Internet. Paul Waldman, who works for the Hillary support group "Media Matters for America," fantasized about how he wished a Democratic candidate would just denounce Russert: "Your fondest hope is that the answer to your question will destroy someone's campaign. You're not a journalist, you're the worst kind of hack, someone whose efforts not only don't contribute to a better informed electorate, they make everyone dumber."
Many Hillary-loving pundits ganged up on Russert in 2000 when he asked Hillary in a Senate debate if she regretted misleading the American people when she claimed the Monica Lewinsky sexual sheananigans would not be "proven true" and whether she would apologize for branding people who deplored the Lewinsky affair as a "vast-right wing conspiracy." Journalists from Geraldo Rivera to Gail Collins of the New York Times scorned Russert for punching below the belt.
Tim Russert does wield political power and influence as a pundit and prognosticator, as a Washington bureau chief for NBC, and as an interviewer and debate moderator. His questions can be criticized as too soft or too hard, or not fair or accurate. But it's a little hard to sell the claim that the former Cuomo and Moynihan aide wants to destroy Hillary Clinton's campaign. The real concern here is: was the question on the Clintons' presidential records really unfair?
Every citizen should expect journalists to press presidential candidates for answers on their public positions and their public records. Sadly, in the past, our media have been so cowed by Clinton spin controllers that they haven't demanded elementary public records. Back in 1992, no one in the media banged a can as the Clintons failed to release federal tax returns from the late 1970s. Inside those returns was proof that Hillary Clinton had made a mysterious $100,000 fortune from a $1,000 investment in the highly risky cattle-futures market. It's bad enough that the media to this very day have never gotten to the bottom of that smelly and mysterious quid pro quo with Hillary's pal Jim Blair, the lobbyist for Tyson Chicken.
How many more episodes of Team Clinton's corruption are still locked away in Hillary's airtight archives?