Is Hillary or Obama More Vulnerable to Right-Wing Attacks?
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Even as Hillary Clinton's operatives were dropping hints that Republicans would exploit Barack Obama's youthful drug use, some Clinton insiders privately worried about her own vulnerability because the Bush administration possesses detailed knowledge of her movements -- and her husband's -- over the past seven years.
Because of Sen. Clinton's unique status as the first former First Lady to run for President - and because her husband was succeeded by a Republican -- she is the first candidate to have both her and her spouse be subject to regular, long-term surveillance by an Executive Branch agency controlled by the opposing political party.
Since they left the White House in 2001, Bill and Hillary Clinton have been under the protection of the Secret Service, formerly a branch of the Treasury Department and now part of the Homeland Security Department. Records are maintained showing where they go and whom they meet.
Homeland Security is under the control of Michael Chertoff, a longtime Clinton nemesis dating back to his work as a Republican lawyer on the Senate's Whitewater investigation in the 1990s. In 2003, Sen. Clinton cast the sole dissenting vote against Chertoff's nomination as a federal judge in protest against his abrasive conduct during the Whitewater inquiry.
Though Secret Service records are supposed to be closely held secrets, a source close to the Clintons told me that it is believed that senior Republicans have received regular briefings about movements of the Clintons that might prove embarrassing if released during the general election campaign.
Given this possibility, Clinton operatives were walking a tightrope when they began raising questions about what bare-knuckled Republican operatives might do with Sen. Obama's public acknowledgement that he experimented with drugs, including cocaine, as a young man.
As part of the Clinton campaign's broader effort to raise doubts about Obama's electability, Clinton's New Hampshire co-chairman Bill Shaheen told the Washington Post that "one of the things [the Republicans are] certainly going to jump on is his drug use. ...
"It'll be, 'When was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone?' ... There are so many openings for Republican dirty tricks. It's hard to overcome."
Though an uproar over the remarks soon forced Shaheen's resignation, Clinton's chief strategist Mark Penn managed to slip the word "cocaine" into a denial that the Clinton campaign was playing its own dirty trick.
"The issue related to cocaine use is not something the campaign is in any way raising," Penn said on MSNBC's "Hardball."
The Clinton campaign's gamesmanship prompted more protests from the Obama camp and a satire by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd who recounted a mock Iowa debate in which Hillary Clinton inserted drug references at every possible opportunity. [ NYT, Dec. 16, 2007]
But there is a history to the Clinton and Bush families possessing damaging secrets about the other, a kind of balance of terror in which the Bushes usually have the upper hand and the Clintons have chosen mostly to make concessions and seek favors from the more powerful family.
On Dec. 17 in South Carolina, Bill Clinton demonstrated that tendency, saying Hillary Clinton's first act as President would be to send Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush on an around-the-world mission to repair America's image.
"The first thing she intends to do is to send me and former President Bush and a number of other people around the world to tell them that America is open for business and cooperation again," said Bill Clinton, who is proud that he has accompanied the senior Bush on many international humanitarian missions.