From First Lady to Mrs President?
Hillary Clinton’s journey to Super Tuesday began when the Democratic Party needed to save face post the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, writes Karen Blumenthal
In late July, after months of negotiations, the special counsel finally granted immunity to Monica Lewinsky. In January, she had said in a sworn statement that she hadn't had a sexual relationship with the president. Immunity meant she could change her story and testify about what happened without facing charges for lying. It also meant she would turn over her Gap dress to Starr's team for testing. Starr subpoenaed Bill to testify before the grand jury. After some back and forth, Bill agreed to testify via video from the White House on Monday 17th August, for no more than four hours. He would be asked the most personal questions, the most embarrassing details about what happened, and his testimony would be compared with hers. Bill was also required to provide a blood sample so that his DNA could be compared with the stain on her dress. His months-long story was crumbling.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her husband former US president Bill Clinton greet supporters during a caucus day event at Caesers Palace on February 20 in Las Vegas. Hillary defeated Democratic rival US Sen Bernie Sanders in the Nevada Democratic caucuses. PIC/AFP
On the Friday night before the testimony, Bob Barnett, Bill and Hillary's lawyer, tried to warn Hillary about what was ahead.
"What if there's more than you know?" he asked her. "I don't believe there is," she told him. "I've asked Bill over and over again." Barnett pushed the issue. "But you have to face the fact that something about this might be true."
A November 2000 picture of Hillary Clinton with daughter Chelsea and husband Bill (the then US President) celebrating Hillary’s victory over Republican Rick Lazio in the race for US Senator from New York. PIC/GETTY IMAGES
She wasn't buying it. "Look, Bob," she said. "My husband may have his faults, but he has never lied to me." Early the next morning, Bill shook her awake. He had been up all night, agonizing. Now, unable to stay still or to lie any longer, he began to confess, his words hitting Hillary like punches to the gut, making it hard for her to breathe. He did have an inappropriate and physically intimate relationship with the young woman, he told her.
He had been too ashamed to admit it. He knew how angry Hillary would be and how painful the truth would be for her and Chelsea.
A photograph showing former White House intern Monica Lewinsky meeting President Bill Clinton at a White House function submitted as evidence in documents by the Starr investigation and released by the House Judicary committee on September 21, 1998. PIC/GETTY IMAGES
As Bill talked, Hillary's tears mixed with rage. She roared back at her husband: "What do you mean? What are you saying? Why did you lie to me?" All Bill could do was pace and apologize. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he told her. "I was trying to protect you and Chelsea."
She was stunned. One emotion tumbled over another. Her heart was broken. And she was "outraged that I'd believed him at all."
It was, she said later, "the most devastating, shocking, and hurtful experience of my life." Everything she had believed about their long and intense relationship was in question. "I didn't know whether our marriage could-or should-survive such a stinging betrayal," she said.
They were supposed to have started their summer holiday that weekend, so she didn't have to appear in public for a couple of days. Just dealing with Monday was difficult enough.
Bill was to testify and then make a speech to the nation, where he would have to tell Americans and the world that he had lied to them as well.
Before she left, Hillary's press secretary issued a supportive statement, keeping the First Lady's anger in check: "Clearly, this is not the best day in Mrs. Clinton's life," it read.
"This is a time that she relies on her strong religious faith. She's committed to her marriage and loves her husband and daughter very much and believes in the president, and her love for him is compassionate and steadfast. She clearly is uncomfortable with her personal life being made so public, but is looking forward to going on holiday with her family and having some family time together."
In reality, she was hurt and furious, and not at all looking forward to that holiday. She didn't want to be with Bill or hear his apologies, and the next few days were excruciating, so much so that she could hardly share what she was feeling with anyone.
Her friend Diane Blair tried to reach her a couple of times, but couldn't. The pain was just too intense, too raw to share. Immediately after the holiday, Hillary and Bill took off for Russia for a state visit, and then Ireland for meetings, before returning to Washington just before Labor Day. That week, Hillary returned to her usual schedule, visiting an elementary school, supporting a colon-cancer prevention event, and attending a Democratic Business Council dinner.
Blair finally caught up with Hillary in September, and they exchanged small talk about upcoming White House events and books they had read. Finally, Hillary told her friend that she was very sorry for her silence. She was still trying to work through what to do. Bill had been her best friend for twenty-five years, Hillary told her, and they were "connected in every way imaginable." He had made a huge mistake-but, she added, maybe she hadn't been smart or sensitive enough to see the pressure he was under.
…In between the two disclosures, while the news and the Internet overflowed with stories, analysis, and opinions about the scandal, a group of Democratic congresswomen visited Hillary at the White House. Rather than offering comfort or consolation to the First Lady, they had an urgent request. They needed Hillary to fight for something more than Bill. They needed her to work for them, on behalf of Democrats seeking office or re-election.
Though the public still supported Bill as president, his tattered reputation wasn't going to help them on the campaign trail. But Hillary's star was soaring as she again showed strength and resilience in coping with a crisis. Polls showed her popularity reaching new highs.
"We honest-to-goodness need her," said Lynn Woolsey, a House member from California. "We don't want the issues in this country to be buried."
With their urging, Hillary hit the road with less than two months to go before the election. She made six appearances in California on behalf of Senator Barbara Boxer, who also happened to be the mother-in-law of Tony Rodham, Hillary's brother. She supported Senator Patty Murray of Washington state, campaigned for candidates in Illinois, Florida, and Georgia, and hit stops in Ohio, Nevada, and Wisconsin.
She recorded more than a hundred radio spots and telephone messages and spoke at fifty fund-raisers. Women, in particular, came out to see her at coffees, lunches, and rallies. She spent so many hours on aeroplanes that she developed a dangerous blood clot behind her knee, causing her leg to swell. Rather than cancel appearances, she took a nurse on the road to help her with medication and monitor her condition.
Hillary campaigned especially hard for Representative Charles Schumer's effort to unseat New York Senator Alfonse D'Amato, who had led the Whitewater hearings that took aim at her. She travelled to New York several times to stump for Schumer, giving him a much-needed lift and winning friends in the powerful state. Representative Charles Schumer of New York gives Hillary a Yankees cap at a fund-raiser supporting his campaign for the U.S. Senate.
When the votes were tallied in November, Schumer won, a particularly sweet victory. Boxer won, too. Even the unsuccessful races were closer than expected. The political columnist Mary McGrory called Hillary a "political force," and "a one-woman rescue squad for her party."
Later that day, two busloads of Democratic members of Congress converged on the White House to show support for their president. To the surprise of Bill's aides, Hillary showed up as well. She put her arm in Bill's and walked with him to the Rose Garden, where he gave a short speech. No one had expected her to be there-but once again, she would stand by her man.
As personal as that choice was, her decision to stand with him had much larger consequences. Had she left Bill, he might well have lost the presidency. "All she had to do was just push, and Clinton would have been out of there," ABC News White House correspondent Sam Donaldson told People magazine, echoing the view of other Washington insiders. Once again, she had saved Bill.
But she wasn't done. Out of that wretched and wrenching experience, she would also forge a new path for herself.
Excerpted from Hillary: A Biography Of Hillary Rodham Clinton by Karen Blumenthal with permission from Bloomsbury India