Hillary Clinton’s email shenanigans should come as no great surprise. After all, they follow a pattern that emerged in her first government job, as a Yale Law School graduate on the staff of the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment inquiry in 1974.
According to that committee’s chief counsel, Jerry Zeifman, in his 1995 book, Without Honor, the Crimes of Camelot and the Impeachment of Richard Nixon, the young Hillary Rodham suppressed a study by the Yale historian C. Vann Woodward that committee members had requested and she had initiated. The study compared President Nixon’s alleged abuses of power with those thought to have been committed by prior presidents, stretching all the way back to George Washington. The similarities, as it developed, were too striking: The charges leveled against President Nixon differed little from those alleged by Congress against a number of his predecessors. When Congress and the White House are controlled by opposing parties, the tension between them easily escalates into prosecutorial misadventures like the Watergate investigations, whose numerous legal and ethical infractions are the subject of my latest book.
Hillary’s aim was not to educate the members of the Judiciary Committee but to keep details of the study from them. Zeifman fired Hillary for that act of obstruction as well as for the omission of opposing precedents in a memo analyzing whether a president could be represented by counsel during the House investigation. Hillary’s memo concluded that he couldn’t, while there were clear, but omitted, precedents going the other way.
Another documented deviation from legal standards occurred when Hillary was First Lady. For the two days following the discovery on July 20, 1993, of the body of Vincent Foster, Hillary’s former law partner who had followed her to Washington as White House deputy counsel, federal investigators were kept out of his office while staff members removed boxes of his files. Two other former Watergate investigators were involved in this affair—Harvard Law School’s Philip Heymann, a senior member of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force and then deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, and Bernard Nussbaum, Hillary’s superior in the House impeachment inquiry and later Foster’s boss as counsel to President Clinton. “Are you hiding something from us, Bernie?” Heymann is quoted as asking, noting that the Clinton White House was making “a terrible mistake” by sealing off Foster’s office. Hillary’s own book, Living History, later acknowledged the removal of “personal files concerning work [Foster] had done for Bill and me when he was our attorney in Little Rock, including files that had to do with the land deal called Whitewater.”
Heymann, who thought nothing of riding roughshod over Republicans as a Watergate special prosecutor, quietly resigned and returned to his ivory tower in Cambridge. Nussbaum stayed longer but was eventually forced to resign as the president’s counsel. As a New York Times editorial put it, “He seems to conceive of his being ‘the President’s lawyer’ as a license to meddle with the integrity of any federal agency.”
A couple of years later, the First Lady again demonstrated her aversion to transparency. This time the documents in question were missing billing records from her previous employer, Little Rock’s Rose Law firm, which was under federal investigation by Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr. The subpoenaed records mysteriously appeared in a White House anteroom, discovered by the remarkably thorough cleaning staff, earning Hillary a four-hour appearance before the Whitewater grand jury. Many suspect that the truth behind those records’ reappearance won’t be fully known until the transcript of her testimony is unsealed.
While one may wish for a return to the good old days when White House meddling in federal agencies was frowned upon even by the New York Times, it should come as no great surprise that Hillary continues to deem herself to be above the law.
She certainly has gotten away with it so far.