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The Indictment That Made Bill Clinton President

In the wake of FBI Director James Comey’s decision to reopen the Hillary Clinton email probe, there has been an explosion of Clinton and media criticism alleging that the investigation could influence the outcome of the election. And at a rally in Florida on Saturday, Secretary Clinton emphatically charged that Comey’s action was “unprecedented.”

Contrary to her claim, she herself contributed to an even bigger influence on an election: the October surprise four days before Election Day in 1992 that helped then-Gov. Bill Clinton defeat then-President George H.W. Bush. This event was the last-minute indictment of Caspar Weinberger, which the Clintons and the press turned into an indictment of Bush. (The prosecutor himself later claimed credit for having affected the outcome of the election.)

As the 1992 race drew to a close, the polls tightened dramatically, and, in spite of the presence of third-party spoiler Ross Perot, it looked as though Bush would pull it off and win reelection.

Then things started to get strange. Out of the blue, Bill Clinton spent a full day early in the last week of the campaign aggressively accusing George Bush of being a liar. This marked a dramatic shift in the tone of his campaigning. The New York Times took note and described how a stump speech Clinton gave in Louisville, Ky., “marked the climax of a day devoted to the Clinton campaign’s most concentrated effort to date to turn against Mr. Bush the issue of trust that the Republicans had used against Mr. Clinton.”

In Louisville, Clinton said, “Every time Bush talks about trust, it makes chills run up and down my spine.” He also added, “The very idea that the word ‘trust’ could come out of Mr. Bush’s mouth, after what he’s done to this country and the way he’s trampled on the truth, is a travesty of the American political system.” At a different rally, in Houston, Clinton told his supporters, “There’s just no such thing as truth when it comes to him.” And Clinton claimed on NBC’s Today show, “he has gotten away with the most flagrant distortions of the truth in this campaign that I have ever seen.” These attacks seemingly came out of nowhere.

For evidence, Clinton quoted editorials from the New York Times, Sacramento Bee, Portland Oregonian, and Minneapolis Star-Tribune that argued that Bush couldn’t be trusted. Essentially, the New York Times reported that Bill Clinton reported that the New York Times reported that Bush was a liar. That evening on Larry King Live, King asked Clinton directly, “Are you calling the president a liar?” to which Clinton replied, “I’m reading what these newspapers said.” Per his own admission, Clinton and the newspapers were working in tandem.

Given that Bush was known for his sterling character and Clinton was known as “Slick Willie,” it was a bold move for Clinton to do this. The media tried to give a rational explanation for Clinton’s accusations. They claimed that his feelings had been hurt by mean Bush political ads. The Times explained, “Mr. Clinton, aides said, was driven to attack by radio advertisements the Bush campaign has in recent days spread across battleground states in the South and the Midwest.” Newsweek identified one specific television ad that they claimed spurred Clinton’s accusations, writing:

What spooked them [the Clinton campaign] was the sheer, scorched-earth ferocity of Bush’s assault. Its epiphany was the president’s closing attack ad, picturing Arkansas as a wasteland while a narrator did a savage recital of Clinton’s record there; the closing shot showed a buzzard perched on a barren tree.

They added that “for a day or two it rattled Clinton, knocking him off his own message and onto the president’s strongest ground.” But in criticizing the ad, the Newsweek reporters observed it was “only too obviously overstated, and focus groups laughed [it] off.” But if the ad was a flop, why would it have influenced Clinton’s campaign strategy? It defies logic to suggest that Clinton was driven to attack Bush’s character by an ineffective political ad.

So the question remains: what prompted Bill Clinton to call George H.W. Bush a liar?

The answer to this question arrived two days later—the Friday before the Tuesday election—when Lawrence Walsh, the special prosecutor for the Iran-Contra affair, indicted Reagan Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger for the second time in four months. The Iran-Contra affair had plagued Ronald Reagan for much of his presidency, but the prosecutor failed to discover any evidence of criminality on the part of the White House.

The reindictment included notes from Weinberger’s diary that fleetingly mentioned George Bush’s attendance at a meeting and appeared to contradict something Bush had previously said, but not in a way that had any legal significance. And Walsh himself writes in his memoir, “the story of the meeting was not new.”

Apart from the Clinton-media hype, the whole reindictment was flaky to begin with. It involved just one of five counts from the original June 1992 indictment, four counts of which were still pending. The count in question was beyond the statute of limitations, as the judge later ruled. Walsh claimed he was under some unidentified court schedule, but he should have requested an extension, which would have been difficult if not impossible for a judge to deny under the circumstances.

Nevertheless, the media and the Clintons seized upon the indictment to bludgeon Bush. The Associated Press claimed that the indictment “contradicted President Bush’s claim he never knew that arms were being traded for hostages in the Iran-Contra affair or that two Cabinet members were opposed to the deal.” In the New York Times, Anthony Lewis pummeled Bush, asking, “How does George Bush live with the knowledge of his disregard for truth in politics?” The indictment monopolized the news the weekend before Election Day, and Bush’s upward trend in the polls came to an abrupt end.

As president, Bush had considerable successes in the realm of foreign policy, but he stood accused of a criminal foreign-policy act. Thus, the press reaction wasn’t just any condemnation of Bush. It was a condemnation of Bush in his wheelhouse. Moreover, in spite of Bush’s being a decorated World War II veteran, the press had long used his admirable personal qualities to depict him as a “wimp.” Now they were stripping him of these attributes altogether.

The same day the indictment fell, the Clinton campaign emailed its supporters a press release by George Stephanopoulos (Clinton’s communications director) claiming that the indictment was a “smoking gun showing that George Bush lied to the American people about his role in the arms-for-hostages affair.” But the press release was dated the day before the indictment was filed. Also, the two-and-a-half-page, single-spaced release quoted material from twelve different sources: transcripts and articles and a book ranging in date of publication from March 1987 to October 1992. It is difficult to think that they would have been able to pull together such disparate materials, including a quotation from page 244 of Bush’s book Looking Forward, in a matter of hours. Obviously, the Clintons knew ahead of time what the special prosecutor was going to do.

On the evening of the indictment, Bush appeared on Larry King Live, and one of the calls King took was actually from Stephanopoulos, who hammered Bush over Weinberger’s diary notes. After a couple minutes of volleying back and forth, Bush commented about Stephanopoulos, “It’s wonderful how his call gets in,” which elicited cheers from the studio audience. This incident, coupled with King’s weak defense for having taken the call—“We don’t have a private number, we really don’t, I don’t control the calls”—offers further evidence of collaboration between the Clintons and the press.

In his memoirs, Walsh feigns cluelessness about the indictment and its impact. In addition to acknowledging that the Bush reference contained nothing new, he claims of the Weinberger diary notes, “I did not think the quotation would be newsworthy, despite its reference to President Bush.” Walsh reacts to Stephanopoulos’s attack on Bush on Larry King Live, stating, “Although I was not a Bush partisan, I did not want him hurt unfairly.” He then muses:

As I sat with my wife watching the president falter on national television, incredibly I found myself thinking of Tolstoy’s classic narration of the events leading up to the battle of Borodino, which emphasized the role of happenstance in massive operations and a turning point of history. Was it possible that, after six years of contentious, costly, and painstaking effort, the independent counsel could affect the outcome of a presidential election through sheer inadvertence?

While professing that it never occurred to him that the indictment would touch the election, Walsh flatters himself, essentially claiming that, without even trying, he had changed the course of history—and by citing King and Stephanopoulos, he acknowledges the media and the Clintons for helping make this happen.

Six weeks after the indictment was filed, on December 11, 1992, a federal district judge threw it out. The New York Times reported that Judge Thomas F. Hogan “said the new charge violated the five-year statute of limitations in the Iran-contra case and improperly broadened the original indictment that was filed in June against Mr. Weinberger.” On January 20, 1993, William Jefferson Clinton was sworn in as the 42nd president of the United States.

As the press continues to fuss over Comey’s “unprecedented” actions, it is worth remembering that they are wrong, and that they were largely responsible for giving us the Clintons in the first place. And as for Secretary Clinton’s emphasis on the “unprecedented” nature of these circumstances, it raises further questions about her memory, or her dishonesty, or both.

C. Boyden Gray served as White House counsel under President George H.W. Bush and as U.S. ambassador to the European Union under President George W. Bush. Elise Passamani earned her doctorate in French literature from the University of Oxford in 2015.

22 Comments (Open | Close)

22 Comments To "The Indictment That Made Bill Clinton President"

#1 Comment By Alan Vanneman On November 1, 2016 @ 8:05 am

“what prompted Bill Clinton to call George H.W. Bush a liar?”

Perhaps the fact that George H.W. Bush was a liar had something to do with it. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about Iran-Contra:

Ultimately the sale of weapons to Iran was not deemed a criminal offense but charges were brought against five individuals for their support of the Contras. Those charges, however, were later dropped because the administration refused to declassify certain documents. The indicted conspirators faced various lesser charges instead. In the end, fourteen administration officials were indicted, including then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. Eleven convictions resulted, some of which were vacated on appeal.[12] The rest of those indicted or convicted were all pardoned in the final days of the presidency of George H. W. Bush, who had been vice-president at the time of the affair.[13]

This piece is partisan pap.

#2 Comment By connecticut farmer On November 1, 2016 @ 8:17 am

What goes around comes around.

#3 Comment By jim mayer On November 1, 2016 @ 10:12 am

.
– I’ll tell you the year you were born after these words-
Perot is responsible 4 giving us Bubba, taking 19% of vote.
—-
A Weiner should find a hole to go into & not pleasure self by constant in & out, going & coming, w/o protection.
If Anthony did contact HC by email, it’d be 1st time she’d come in contact with a Weiner.

My advice, Run & hide bc if H thinks u cost her election, u in danger- like Mr Assange. HC’s squirreled away $2Bil offshore, she has $ to hire all the hitters for all her haters. Security caught 1 scaling Assange’s Emb but he, ‘got away.’ Police response- 2hrs. Police distance by foot-120 secs.
——
MedBias: WeatherChannel is completely biased. They don’t even try to disguise their pro-weather far-wing agenda. It’s clear bc of high pressure, they’re a front for Big Weather.
——
1)Think of a disgusting person. If they scream- ‘A meteor is going to hit US in 4 hours!’ Do you say- ‘They’re disgusting so I’m not gonna even see if it’s true?’ 2) A low IQ man says 4+4=8. Do u say- ‘His IQ is so low, 8 can’t be right.’ Whats more important: The source, or the info’s accuracy?

Even if known liar HC told me a meteor was about to strike the US, I’m not gonna stand around bc I distrust source, U betcha, I’m gonna find out if it’s true!

Bringing us to the weak attempts by Dems to convince us to ignore truths being revealed by WLks- ‘bc they were unfairly obtained.’ – It makes tears well up in my eyes.

We dislike Russia. Dems want us to disregard the ems bc they claim Russia’s behind them. So the hell what? Even giving Dems benefit of the doubt, Russia didn’t create the ems, they just hacked ‘um & revealed them to us.

I don’t know their source. I DO know Dems don’t contest their truth. They don’t even go, ‘Nuh uh!’ when confronted. They just throw up ‘Jazz Hands’ & shout, ‘RUSSIA!’ – Like that matters. Just how stupid do we are they think?

Bible has 66 books. Subtract your age from 66, & add 50 – that’s the year you were born. Speaking of witches, shame on you Brazile for dragging Christ’s Name thru mud when you invoked your so-called Christianity when lying to Meg Kelly about giving Clinton questions. You’re not only a liar, you support the murder of babies. WWJD? You may sit in a pew on Sunday, but that doesn’t make you a Christian.
.

#4 Comment By Fran Macadam On November 1, 2016 @ 10:31 am

Does anyone remember the unprecedented pre-election TV interview where the Clintons sat side by side, Hillary forgiving his infidelities, and Bill promising her and the American people that he was repentant, and it was all behind him, never to be repeated again?

Fool us once, shame on them. Fool us three times, shame on us.

#5 Comment By bt On November 1, 2016 @ 11:43 am

Perhaps the fact that the Grand Jury indicted him 1 day before the statute of limitations on the Crimes ran out had something to do with it. Not to worry, he got one of those presidential pardons for his patriotic behavior.

And yes selling weapons to Iran to fund an illegal war in Central America is totally the same as when Hillary used a private email server like Colin Powell and George Bush and Dick Cheney did.

#6 Comment By Joe F On November 1, 2016 @ 11:48 am

Umm, the first sentence of this article is incorrect and disingenuous. He did not announce that the probe was being reopened, but rather that further emails had been discovered and needed to be examined. Most likely, if any emails are discovered to or from Hillary, they will have already been part of the record from Hillary’s side. Frankly I don’t care that Comey did what he did. All relevant information should be shared with an electorate tasked with making a choice, but it does irk me that the media has misrepresented what Comey is actually doing and this article is a prime example.

#7 Comment By EliteCommInc. On November 1, 2016 @ 1:19 pm

“Perhaps the fact that George H.W. Bush was a liar had something to do with it.”

Your comment reflects the what the article itself acknowledges. That a diary reference devoid of content is filled by speculative assumptions about what said meeting was about. A non-suspicious vet made to be sinister, not by evidence but by speculation an innuendo. Muddying the water.

Further, the methodology foes a long way to the roots of the marital bed behavior of the press corps and the Clinton family. Speculated by Pres. Bush and now abashedly clear based on the behavior, the devastating revelations and outright admissions by the press corps itself.

I am not sure the press ill ever recover from the fallout.

#8 Comment By JonF On November 1, 2016 @ 1:20 pm

I was 25 in 1992, and politically engaged (I was supporting Perot). I do not remember any indication that Bush would pull it off and win: going into election day it was fairly obviously Clinton was ahead.

#9 Comment By Viriato On November 1, 2016 @ 1:44 pm

“Contrary to her claim, she herself contributed to an even bigger influence on an election…”

I kept reading, eager to learn what Hillary Clinton’s contribution to the Weinberger case was. All I found were *Bill* Clinton quotes and repeated references to “the Clintons.” Not one Hillary Clinton quote. Not one reference to any role she might have played in this episode.

I smell propaganda.

#10 Comment By sps On November 1, 2016 @ 2:01 pm

Yes, why wouldn’t Bush I’s former counsel believe that his boss was well on his way to winning re-election until this happened? An indictment handed by a fellow Republican who they named as special counsel. And what Gray didn’t mention is Bush I’s novel way of solving this problem: Pardon everyone involved with Iran-Contra! And right before Christmas too! It made for lovely gifts for those involved that’s for sure.

All things being equal a man of Bush I experience and stature and leader of a successful war effort shouldn’t have been losing to a scandal-tarred the Governor of Arkansas running for re-election in the first place. That he was showed that he was damaged goods and no amount revisionism lamenting what might of been isn’t going to change that. Read my lips anyone?

#11 Comment By Michael Price On November 1, 2016 @ 2:37 pm

” “what prompted Bill Clinton to call George H.W. Bush a liar?”

Perhaps the fact that George H.W. Bush was a liar had something to do with it. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about Iran-Contra:”
No, the fact that something is the truth has nothing to do with why a Clinton says it. You can call Bush a liar all you want, I sure won’t stop you, that doesn’t explain why the change in strategy. Nor does it explain why the press changed emphasis. Again, I’m not saying that convincing people GHWB is a liar is wrong, just why the happened to do it at such a convenient point for Bill.

#12 Comment By Simon94022 On November 1, 2016 @ 2:37 pm

Excellent piece. I am skeptical that Bush could have won in 1992, but Walsh’s maneuver was a blatantly partisan dirty trick that clearly shaped the outcome — and was intended to.

This is sadly what we are going to get for the next four years: Evidence emerges of the the kind of sordid, low-brow dishonesty for which the Clintons are famous; followed by hysterical attacks on the source of that evidence.

#13 Comment By Keystoner On November 1, 2016 @ 3:44 pm

@Allan Vanneman : “Perhaps the fact that George H.W. Bush was a liar had something to do with it. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about Iran-Contra:”

Except that the Wiki quote doesn’t indicate in any way that G. H. W. Bush lied.

#14 Comment By Joe On November 1, 2016 @ 3:46 pm

Comey didn’t “reopen” the Clinton email probe.

#15 Comment By Joe On November 1, 2016 @ 3:58 pm

Here’s some more context, Weinberger had already been indicted in June and he was pardoned in December so it worked out for him. Doubt if Clinton would have done the same.

#16 Comment By Weiner Mobile, Oscar Myer esq. On November 1, 2016 @ 6:26 pm

It’s amazing how some people can just ignore evidence that contradicts their narrative. @bt No, Hillary’s use of email is nothing like those whom you mention. There weren’t any federal regulations on this subject when Powell, etc. we’re using email. Those regulations were put into place while Clinton was Secretary of State, she and her staff knew about them, were told what they were doing was wrong, and they continued doing it anyway. You don’t get to claim that it’s okay to rob banks just because there was no law against it the first time it happened.

#17 Comment By Weiner Mobile, Oscar Myer esq. On November 1, 2016 @ 6:36 pm

“I smell propaganda”

You need to get your nose checked, and your reading comprehension and memory while you’re at it. The author notes by paraphrasing Clinton that she claims that this is “unprecedented.” The author then uses an incident involving her husband to 1. show that to be incorrect 2. show her to be a liar because she was directly involved with her husband in a campaign where something much more substantial than this happened on the eve of an election. Facts that disprove your narrative don’t qualify as propaganda. If you want regressive propaganda, head over to the Huffington Post.

#18 Comment By Robert Levine On November 1, 2016 @ 8:36 pm

It defies logic to suggest that Clinton was driven to attack Bush’s character by an ineffective political ad.

So the question remains: what prompted Bill Clinton to call George H.W. Bush a liar?

The answer to this question arrived two days later—the Friday before the Tuesday election—when Lawrence Walsh, the special prosecutor for the Iran-Contra affair, indicted Reagan Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger for the second time in four months. The Iran-Contra affair had plagued Ronald Reagan for much of his presidency, but the prosecutor failed to discover any evidence of criminality on the part of the White House.

1. Bush wasn’t going to win in 1992 regardless, at least according to the best political models of how presidential elections work.

2. It hardly “defies logic” that Clinton was stung by a vicious Bush ad, whether or not it was viewed by some pundits as “ineffective.” Does it “defy logic” that Trump was moved to run by the roasting he received at Obama’s hands at the White House correspondents dinner? Yet that appears to have been the case. It takes a big ego to play in that league, and big egos can take things very personally.

Claiming that Clinton’s charge that Bush lied was because he knew an indictment was coming down assumes facts not in evidence – and not in existence either.

#19 Comment By Robert Levine On November 1, 2016 @ 8:40 pm

Contrary to her claim, she herself contributed to an even bigger influence on an election: the October surprise four days before Election Day in 1992

Assumes facts most definitely not in evidence. Maybe the authors of this post think that the Wiener emails will show that she bribed Walsh to pursue the indictment, though.

#20 Comment By ElteCommInc. On November 1, 2016 @ 10:17 pm

“– I’ll tell you the year you were born after these words-
Perot is responsible 4 giving us Bubba, taking 19% of vote.”

What cost Pres. Bush the election, and it was painful, was the economy. Nothing in my vie was more damaging than the question about the rice of loaf of bread.

No on in the wh goes shopping for groceries as if they are going to be making breakfast. But that question revealed just how out of touch the executive branch is with the essential mundane concerns of the rest of the country.

Candidate Perot’s fortunes were vested in the same confluence of being in touch during hard economic times. It’s easy to blame Mr. Perot.

But in the end Pres. Bush was wrestling with forces he could neither control and worse was unable to identify with in his relationship to the public.

#21 Comment By ML On November 1, 2016 @ 10:37 pm

I was 29 in 1992 and remember the 1992 economy -not as bad as post-2008 but still bad. Caspar Weinberger could have won the Nobel Peace Prize, decapitated Sadaam Hussein with his bare hands, and cured cancer, and Bush still could not have been reelected.

#22 Comment By Lawrence Rupp On November 2, 2016 @ 10:34 am

Says they “re-opened” the investigation. Not true. Get it right to see the implications.

There is an open criminal investigation on Clinton. Law enforcement people do not close an investigation till
they are certain that all the possible evidence has been examined. Since there are still multiple missing
electronic devices in this case, if Clinton becomes Pres. we will have a sitting Pres. with an open investigation
and no probability that it could soon be closed, and the possibility that further damaging evidence could emerge.