Everything I needed to know about Hillary Clinton* [*until now], I learned in the first year of law school, the first year of Bill's presidency. We didn't have the internet, so we had to remember news events and utterances that were important to us, and we couldn't -- and weren't required to -- whip out a shareable web link to prove everything we said. (Such exercises were reserved for the junior law review editors, miserable creatures who lived in the library seeking citations to back up such statements as "The sun rises in the East".). I didn't have a TV, and newspaper reading varied depending on exam preparation, internship work, etc. I heard a lot but I missed a lot. Like most people who nonetheless think they have a right to express opinions about their government.
Since 1993 or '94 I haven't been much interested in anything purporting to prove Hillary's criminal or corrupt, because I already knew I wouldn't vote for her based on what I "knew" about the Travel Office firings and her "Let them eat cake" moment -- saying she wasn't responsible for "every undercapitalized entrepreneur in America" as a way of shrugging off any concern about her health care proposal's effects on small businesses and jobs. This piled elite nonchalance on top of an ugly tactic I was then observing in bullies everywhere, from brutal, racist cops to university administrators to politicians who would leave a market half-free, half-constrained, and then blame the resulting chaos on the free market. Cuffing a guy's hands behind your back, knocking him down and then laughing at him and belittling him because he can't pull yourself up by his bootstraps, can't hold his pants up, etc. Or saying students, employees or customers needed to be "responsible", but only as a way of disclaiming any responsibility for what you and your institutions do to them.
The Travel Office firing was chilling and clearly very wrong to five or six of its seven employees, but there's a whole history of investigation that shows no crime Hillary could be reasonably prosecuted for, and only ambiguous scraps of evidence that might point to her being flagrantly unethical. And likewise, even a cheat sheet covering a lifetime of possible scandals, by the unsympathetic Washington Examiner, shows nothing really damning. Bottom line, her character is dingy and battered, grungy, and if she has committed crimes herself, the most likely and numerous ones are the administrative/regulatory kind that many respectable people accumulate over a lifetime. But her zeal and anger inspire loyal staff to do cruel and unusual, perhaps criminal, things on her behalf, for reasons ranging from Arkansas patronage, to foiling potential enemies, to transcendent ideology.
Whoever really was responsible for the firings was pretty clearly acting (1) legally and (2) unethically, meanly, nastily, and with utter disdain for ordinary working people and how one's actions affect them. Which fit perfectly with the "undercapitalized entrepreneur" attitude. The Travel Office staff formally served "at the will of the President" and could be dismissed at any time, so it was totally legal to fire them. But in practice they were non-political career employees, just like the kitchen and housekeeping staff. Five "had no financial authority in the office."
The director of the travel office, who had worked his way up from the bottom from 1962 to 1982, may have been doing a fine job getting travel arranged for everyone, but he had no use for, nor knowledge of, conventional accounting, and devised his own "country storekeeper" method for collecting advance payments from media businesses sharing the costs of press pool travel, and refunding or collecting any difference afterwards. It sounds like whenever paper records were left over he piled them in a closet. All of that was not necessarily illegal -- this wasn't a business that had to pay taxes, and I don't know what kind of record-keeping the law actually required for that government office, but it reasonably could dovetail with the only criminal charge against any of the travel staff -- embezzlement of $54,000 from refunds and $14,000 from petty cash, using a personal account as the office's petty cash fund. He was tried for that, and acquitted. But the White House can't be blamed for investigating -- it would have been a scandal not to.
But White House had fired the entire seven-person staff at once and meanwhile called in the FBI to investigate the office's finances, announcing both actions to the press at once. On top of the usual effects of being fired, this certainly made it look to any potential future employer, and everyone else they interacted with, as if they had all been fired for some criminal wrongdoing. All seven later "testified that the accusations by the Clinton White House had ruined them financially by forcing them to incur massive legal bills to clear their names," the LA Times said. And replacing them with the Clintons' associates and cousin, who had been lobbying for the investigation and the positions, made it look as if the Clintons had not only fired, but tried to incriminate and prosecute, ordinary, innocent working people simply to make jobs for their cronies. As if, as Vince Foster wrote in his suicide note, "Ruining people is considered sport." That's probably not a crime, but it's still vile.
But Hillary's actual involvement is not so black-and-white. After all the investigations by Kenneth Starr and his successor, long after I had stopped listening, it sounds like all she had to do is indicate once that she implacably wanted those people gone, and the Clinton's senior staffer did the rest, leaving the Clintons' hands sort of clean. Like with Henry II and St. Thomas à Becket. Well, she also apparently kept reminding aides that she wanted the situation resolved through swift action, but she may not have had to get any more specific than that, at least on paper. The Special Prosecutors' verdict was thatHillary had testified falsely when she said two years later that she had no involvement at all, but that there was insufficient evidence to convict her of knowing or intentional perjury or obstruction of justice. Indeed, it looks like the firing was mostly the doing of staffers who firmly believed from experience that they had to move ruthlessly to not only remove, but discredit and destroy, anyone who stood in the way of what Hillary wanted. As Clinton aide David Watkins wrote, "We both know that there would be hell to pay [if] we failed to take swift and decisive action in conformity with the First Lady's wishes."
There is a remarkable level of consensus about the known facts of this scandal. Even a site claiming that all Clinton scandals have been debunked has nothing to say about this one except that the firings were legal and the Special Prosecutors found insufficient evidence of perjury or obstruction of justice by Hillary. The White House later issued a self-critical report, apologized to the staffers and found jobs for five of them; the director and one other staffer retired.
- "For White House Travel Office, a Two-Year Trip of Trouble" By Toni Locy, Washington Post, Monday, February 27, 1995
- "Memo Places Hillary Clinton At Core of Travel Office Case" - NY Times 1/5/96
- "Travelgate Inquiry Suggests Signs of Lies by First Lady" - LA Times 6/23/00
- "In old memo, a glimpse of conflict ahead for Hillary Clinton?" - LA Times, March 15, 2014|By Cathleen Decker
- "White House Rebukes 4 In Travel Office Shake-Up" By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, NY Times July 3, 1993
- "A brief guide to Clinton scandals from Travelgate to Emailgate" By 5/17/16
- "Hillary's Arrogance" - October 13, 1993|By Tanya K. Dietrich
- "An archetypal analysis of Clinton: Her former mentor reflects on where the first viable female presidential candidate may have gone wrong."LA Times May 12, 2008|By Robin Abcarian