WASHINGTON – Papers released Friday from the National Archives show the Clinton White House kept a dossier on what Hillary Rodham Clinton famously once called the “vast right-wing conspiracy.”
The binder of opposition research on Republicans – part of the massive release of roughly 7,500 pages from the Bill Clinton presidential library in Little Rock, Ark., – was indexed with topics ranging from “Richard Mellon Scaife – The Wizard of Oz Behind The Foster Conspiracy Industry” to “Communications on the Net Between Congressional Republicans and Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory Proponents.”
The binder’s contents mirror the allegation that Hillary Clinton lobbed at Republicans in a January 1998 television interview when she said, “The great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he ran for president.”
Although the research file is undated, the last newspaper clippings in it are from 1995, suggesting the idea that Republicans were building a network against the Clintons had taken hold in the administration long before the former first lady articulated it on television.
The research file was kept in the office of special counsel Jane Sherburne and laid out a “communication stream of conspiracy commerce” theory which detailed exactly how the conspiracy supposedly played out.
“This is how the stream works,” the author of the document, who isn’t identified, wrote. “First, well-funded right-wing think tanks and individuals underwrite conservative newsletters,” then post them on the Internet “where they are bounced all over the world” before landing in mainstream media.
“After the mainstream right-of-center American media covers the story, congressional committees will look at the story” and then “the story now has the legitimacy to be covered” by everyone else.
Richard Mellon Scaife, the newspaper publisher and Mellon fortune heir, is the central player identified in the dossier.
He is singled out for sowing doubt about whether White House Deputy Counsel Vince Foster committed suicide and for his financial backing of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Republican organizations.
“Scaife uses his financing of the fringe, right-wing publications and non-profits to create a communications stream of conspiracy commerce,” the author wrote. “The stream effectively conveys the rantings of the fringe into legitimate subjects of coverage by the mainstream media.”
Among other highlights from Friday’s document release:
The 1994 midterms – The papers underscore the sense of desperation in late 1994 and early 1995 as Republicans seized control of Congress and Clinton was left to argue his relevance in a new political era.
A Nov. 1, 1994, memo just days before the landslide they knew was coming, several Clinton aides wrote a plan for the president to get out in front of public mistrust in government institutions. “Voters believed that Bill Clinton understood this situation and would rectify it,” they wrote. “But for all of our efforts over the past two years, the public is now more disillusioned, more embittered, than it was in November 1992.”
Financial deregulation – The financial crisis of 2008 and the recession that followed cast a critical light on legislation signed by Clinton nearly a decade earlier that deregulated much of the financial services industry. It also provoked criticism of Robert E. Rubin, Clinton’s Treasury secretary, who took a lucrative job at one of the law’s main beneficiaries, Citigroup, after he left office.
But in 1998, as senior administration officials prepared to meet with the chief executives of Citicorp and Travelers, who were proposing a megamerger to form Citigroup that relied heavily on deregulation, Rubin expressed concern over the regulatory effects of combining retail banking, investment banking and insurance, which was prohibited at the time.
“It would upset the existing balance between the elected administration and the independent agencies – diminishing the role of the elected administration in a critical area of economic policy-making,” Rubin wrote.
Health care legislation – The memos chronicle aspects of the Clinton-era fight over health care that are familiar today. In a May 1993 memo, Ira Magaziner, the architect of the administration’s health care plan, made a lengthy argument to the president and first lady, urging them to maintain the push for a health care overhaul even though many in the administration wanted the president to focus more on his economic programs.
“Great presidencies are defined by a few major achievements,” Magaziner wrote. “You should pick the ones that really count and plan for them carefully. Comprehensive health care reform is clearly one that has such potential.”