[This story was originally published June 2, 1996.]
In the four years that Hillary Rodham Clinton has been questioned about her role in the related events known as Whitewater, her public posture has changed very little. She has asserted that she has done nothing wrong and that “at the end of the day, the American people will know that we have nothing to cover up.” There is no connection, she has said, between anything she did and the criminal cases being pursued by the Whitewater independent counsel, including the trial that ended last week with the fraud convictions of the couple who brought the Clintons into the original Whitewater land deal and the man who succeeded Bill Clinton as governor of Arkansas.
Her partisan critics, the first lady has said, are so intoxicated by what they believe is the scent of scandal that they ignore exculpatory evidence and are impossible to satisfy; as soon as one accusation dissolves, they grasp for another line of inquiry that might embarrass her and President Clinton. Whatever mistakes she might have made, she says, were the result of naivete. If she appeared secretive or defensive, she says, it was because she overestimated the “zone of privacy” that is allowed public figures. And exacerbating her troubles, she has concluded, has been a Washington culture that “thrives on rumor, gossip and innuendo.”
In a television interview with Barbara Walters in January, the first lady recited a favorite children’s verse to explain her predicament:
As I was standing in the street as quiet as could be,
A great big ugly man came up and tied his horse to me.
The image is of a mere bystander, a good person victimized. But an examination of Hillary Clinton’s public statements suggests someone less passive in her behavior, less consistent in her answers, and less committed to full disclosure than the figure in her own self-portrait.
In interviews before her billing records were made public in January 1996, the first lady could not remember anything that was said during the telephone call. Even after the billing records were released, she said she could not remember who she talked to at the securities commission. The purpose of the call was perfunctory, she told lawyers for the RTC: “I was seeking public information as to who in the securities department would handle savings and loan inquiries.”
While Hillary Clinton said she could not remember whether she talked to the Arkansas securities commissioner or someone else in that office, Schaffer recalled the telephone conversation in some detail when she testified later before the Whitewater committee. She said Hillary Clinton asked in passing whom the law firm should work with in the department. But the essence of the call, as Schaffer remembered it, was more substantive: Hillary Clinton told her “that they had a proposal and what it was about.”
Why would Hillary Clinton remember asking who Madison should talk to, but not remember that she asked that question of Schaffer? And why would she forget what Schaffer testified was the major point of the call: a discussion of the substance of the Madison proposal? It could be that she was trying to avoid any appearance that she was misusing her position as the governor’s wife.
Q: As of July 14, 1986, had you learned from any source, including your husband, that the federal regulators were about to take action or contemplating action with respect to Madison Guaranty or McDougal?
A: I do not recall learning that from any source.
Q: Were you aware that an examination of Madison Financial was underway and had been underway for some months?
A: I do not recall knowing that.
[Read the rest of this comprehensive explanation of Mrs. Clinton's 1996 'memory issues' here.. ]