Two of the most corrosive dirty-tricks schemes in modern American history lead right back to her.
There’s always been a kind of paranoid streak in American politics,” former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told Jennifer Senior at The Atlantic Festival recently. “But it never was given such voice, such a platform, or had so much money behind it until we saw the rise of the right-wing radio voices like Rush Limbaugh, and we saw the rise of Fox News. And then, of course, the Internet just put it on steroids.”
It’s true, no doubt, that democratized media exacerbates the worst (and best) of human tendencies. Yet, it is quite jarring to hear this complaint coming from a person whose operatives were likely involved in birtherism and later were the driving force behind the Russian “collusion” hoax — two of modern political history’s most corrosive conspiracy theories.
Even as Hillary was going on about the devastating role that paranoia plays in our political interactions, Senior somehow forgot to ask her a single question about an ongoing investigation by Special Counsel John Durham into her campaign’s role in concocting an oppo file and creating a narrative that the 2016 election was stolen by Putin. The week of the interview, Durham was reportedly handing down a new set of subpoenas on a law firm with ties to Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Last month, Hillary’s former lawyer Michael Sussmann was indicted for allegedly giving false statements to the FBI in connection to a Clinton-campaign deception that engulfed nearly the entire political world for nearly five years. There has now been one more indictment for allegedly lying about Russian “collusion” in 2016 than there was for any criminal conspiracy tied to the election. Has anyone even asked Hillary about these indictments?
Even if Clinton was kept in the dark about the oppo file that was filled with half-baked lies and unverified bar talk — and being kept in the dark is the excuse she’s heavily leaned on her entire scandal-ridden career — she wasn’t merely an innocent bystander, looking on while dirty tricksters damaged trust in the system for political gain. In 2019, for example, Clinton claimed that Donald Trump was an “illegitimate president,” one who “knows” that the 2016 election was stolen. Clinton suggested that Putin had kompromat on Trump, without ever offering any evidence. Of course, Democrats argued, preemptively, that 2020 would was as good as stolen if Trump won again. At one point, over 60 percent of Democrats believed that Russians had not only bought a smattering of Facebook ads to mislead gullible voters but also tampered with real-live vote totals.
“Fact-checkers” will assure you that birtherism, a notion that Barack Obama was ineligible for the presidency because he was born in Kenya, was hatched by right-wing writers in the summer of 2008. And certainly Donald Trump, joined by some fringe conservatives, took to the idea and then widely spread it. The origins of the theory, however, are opaque.
More than a year earlier, in 2007, Clinton chief strategist Mark Penn was sending memos imploring Clinton to attack Obama’s “lack of American roots.” Patti Solis Doyle, then Hillary’s campaign manager, admitted to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that a staffer had forwarded an email promoting the birther conspiracy in 2007, as well — for which the person was allegedly fired. Also, James Asher, then the Washington Bureau chief of McClatchy, contends that Sidney Blumenthal, one of the Clintons’ most notorious smear merchants, met with him to push the birther theory. “During that meeting, Mr. Blumenthal and I met together in my office and he strongly urged me to investigate the exact place of President Obama’s birth, which he suggested was in Kenya,” Asher wrote. “We assigned a reporter to go to Kenya, and that reporter determined that the allegation was false.” There is no reason for McClatchy to fabricate such a story. And anyone who remembers Blumenthal’s dirty work in 1990s slandering Clinton accusers would not find it surprising that he would engage in such disinformation.
Senior didn’t bring any of this up — though she did drop this amazing bit of historical revisionism:
You, in I want to say 1998, described a vast right-wing conspiracy. You were mocked for it. You were then vindicated — it turned out there was an incipient right-wing ecosystem of whack-a-doodle news out there.
How was Hillary “vindicated?” Does Senior understand that when Hillary appeared on the Today Show with Matt Lauer in January 1998 and, in tones of outrage, dropped that contrived “right-wing conspiracy” talking point, she was specifically refuting allegations that her lecherous husband had had sexual encounters with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky — which, of course, he had? Does Senior know that Bill Clinton’s own attorney general, Janet Reno, not a staff writer at American Spectator, appointed the independent counsel, Kenneth Starr, to investigate accusations of Clinton fiscal wrongdoing, for which there was plenty of evidence. It was through the subsequent Starr report that the president’s affair with Lewinsky became known, which soon led to Bill’s impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice. Both Clintons had flat-out lied.
For years, Clinton’s “vast right-wing conspiracy” moment was rightly treated as an embarrassment for Hillary. But since then, this defense has been adopted by Democrats to avoid policy debates by accusing opponents of being bought off by shadowy groups and puppet masters.
Hillary can’t grouse about Republicans injecting “doubt” and causing “a loss of confidence” in our system and then complain about losing the “popular vote,” which “the system” unambiguously rejects as a means of electing a president. Certainly she’s in no moral position to lament the rise of paranoia in American politics when two of the most popular made-up conspiracies of the age lead right back to her.