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Hillary Clinton's Path to Power
The White House
Friday, January 19, 2001
Hillary Clinton was furious. Furious at the U.S. Supreme Court for handing the presidency to George W. Bush. Furious at George W. Bush for pushing his obvious advantage in Florida (where his brother was governor) to wrest control of that state's decisive electoral votes, and furious at Al Gore for blaming his defeat on the Clintons' own scandal-stained reputation.
In these waning days of their administration, the one person she was not furious at -- for a change -- was her husband. Throughout their marriage, it had always been Bill who screwed up and Hillary who came to the rescue. She had chosen to overlook his myriad past indiscretions as governor of Arkansas, and during their eight years in the White House stood squarely with Bill in the face of Whitewater and Travelgate and Filegate and Vince Foster and Paula Jones and the mother of all Clinton scandals, Monicagate. Hillary, in fact, went far beyond merely standing by her man. It was the First Lady who confronted each crisis head-on, master minding legal strategies and mounting counterattacks to debunk charges and discredit those with the audacity to have made them.
Now it was Bill's turn, and he did not have to be told what was expected of him. For years, White House staffers had been murmuring about "The Plan," the long-standing agreement that, once the Clintons left the White House, they would reverse roles: in return for all the sacrifices Hillary had made over the years -- all the dreams and ambitions put on hold, not to mention the heartache and searing humiliation she had had to endure because of his rampant womanizing -- Bill would throw himself behind his wife's political career. If all went according to The Plan, he would return to the White House as America's first First Gentleman. Hillary had already taken a step toward making The Plan a reality; just sixteen days earlier, she had been sworn in as the junior United States senator from New York -- the only First Lady ever elected to office.
It would be hard to overstate the potential historic significance of The Plan. After all, only the first half had been implemented thus far. If all went according to schedule, Hillary would serve two terms in the White House -- a combined total of sixteen years during which the Clintons would share power in the Oval Office. That would far outdistance the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, who was elected to serve sixteen years but died after twelve. Constitutionally, there was nothing to prohibit a continuation of the informal, his-and-hers "co-presidency" the Clintons had always practiced.
In the meantime, there were some pressing issues to contend with -- foremost among them the President's eleventh-hour deal to avoid prosecution in the Monica Lewinsky case. In secret meetings with independent counsel Robert W. Ray, Bill had hammered out an arrangement whereby he would admit to wrongdoing, pay a $25,000 fine, and agree to have his Arkansas law license suspended for five years. Hillary worked with her husband on characteristically contorted wording of his so-called confession. "I tried to walk a fine line between acting lawfully and testifying falsely," he admitted, "but I now recognize that I did not fully accomplish this goal and that certain of my responses to question about Ms. Lewinsky were false."
Neither Hillary nor Bill gave the slightest indication that, behind closed doors at the White House, they had been negotiating with Ray for weeks in a desperate effort to stave off indictment. During that time, Hillary and Bill had smiled gamely through countless farewell parties, pumped the hands of hundreds of staff member and supporters, and churned out a steady stream of heartfelt thank-you notes. Tonight, their last in the White House, they would drag themselves to one last, emotion-charged function -- this one an engagement party for her longtime press aide Kelly Craighead. "He could barely stand up, he looked so tired," said a guest. "But Hillary, even though she had bags under her eyes and had been working just as hard as he had, well, she looked energized."
Hillary looked so energized, in fact, that when several aides fantasized about playing some sort of practical joke on "W" and his incoming administration, Hillary nodded her approval. "Wouldn't it be hysterical," she said with a wry smile, "if someone just happened to remove all the w's from the computer keyboards?" Taking Hillary at her word, outgoing staffers dashed from office to office plucking the offending w keys from scores of keyboards. Others went much further, pouring coffee into file cabinets overturning desks, leaving X-rated messages on voice-mail machines, soiling carpets, tinkering with computers, and drawing obscene pictures on office walls. (Unlike Hillary, Tipper Gore would later apologize for the vandalism of government property and the disrespect shown toward the incoming president and his family.)
While younger staffers carried out what they believed to be the First Lady's wishes, Bill, who had insisted on packing up the Oval Office himself, raced to meet the deadline. Hillary, as organized and punctual as her husband was chronically tardy (for eight years the administration ran on what was derisively known as "Clinton time"), spent what little time remained walking the halls of the residence. The walls leading to the third-floor solarium, a glassed-in room on the south side of the building, were papered with framed family photographs: a tutu-wearing Chelsea fresh after her performance in The Nutcracker, the Clintons sitting at a picnic table, Hillary and Chelsea sharing a hammock. Hillary looked out over the pink geraniums on the terrace, toward the Washington Monument. Next to Chelsea's Beanie Baby collection were several colorfully painted Russion nesting dolls, each fashioned in the image of the Reagans, Bushes, and the Clintons ...American Evita
Hillary Clinton's Path to Power. Copyright © by Christopher Andersen. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.