TRAVELGATE TO FURNITUREGATE: A GUIDE TO THE CLINTON SCANDALS OF THE 90S

Credit to Originally posted at The Guardian by Megan Carpentier.

Donald Trump has promised to resurrect the scandals (and pseudo-scandals) of Bill Clinton’s presidency in his battle with the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, this year.

And he has already begun, this week releasing an attack ad that raised allegations of sexual harassment or assault by the former president. Some of those accusations may be familiar to readers, as might Clinton’s impeachment and his affair with Monica Lewinsky. But only Washington insiders will recall the ins-and-outs of Travelgate and Furnituregate, while Trump’s reference to Vince Foster conspiracy theories this week may have had many scratching their heads. If that was you, allow us to refresh your memory.

Gennifer Flowers

Former Arkansas state employee and longtime Clinton friend Gennifer Flowers told the supermarket tabloid the Star in January 1992 that she’d had a 12-year affair with Bill Clinton, then the governor of Arkansas and running for the Democratic presidential nomination. The Clintons appeared together on 60 Minutes and Bill copped to causing “pain” in his marriage but denied the affair; Flowers held a press conference to play audio tapes she said would confirm it did happen.

They didn’t and, since Flowers was reportedly paid to share her story, the scandal failed to sink the Clinton candidacy. Flowers went on to pose for Penthouse, release a tell-all biography, become a cabaret singer and sex advice columnist and, in 2012, told a New Orleans television station that she was developing a reality TV show.

But in 1998, Clinton did admit in a deposition with Paula Jones’s lawyers (more on that later) that he had had a one-night stand with Flowers in 1977.

Travelgate

The fact that firing people who worked at the White House – for whatever reason – became a political scandal fanned by Republicans necessitating investigations by Congress and an independent counsel should have been an indication to the Clintons that Washington DC was not welcoming to outsiders.

In 1993, Bill Clinton – and, by extension, Hillary Clinton – inherited what could charitably be called a mess in the White House travel office, which was in charge of booking travel and accommodations for the White House press corps and charging media outlets for the trips.

Billy Dale had led the office since 1982 and used a handwritten ledger to record his estimates of the cost of travel and telecommunications services used by the traveling press corps as well as payments, credits and refunds from providers. He did not use a competitive bidding process when choosing providers and, most problematically, he started depositing refunds issued by service providers – intended for disbursement to the media companies – into his own personal account in 1988 to cover the cost of what are euphemistically called facilitation payments to foreign airport and hotel employees.

The full extent of the problems was not known when Clinton took office; however, the press corps had been complaining about the soaring costs of covering the president.

Just before Clinton took office, Catherine Cornelius, a distant cousin of Clinton’s who had arranged travel during the 1992 campaign, proposed outsourcing the White House travel office to World Wide Travel Inc, the Little Rock firm with which she had worked during the campaign. David Watkins, the campaign staffer who took charge of such matters in the administration, attended some meetings and eventually hired Cornelius, who wrote memos suggesting they could save more than $200,000 by outsourcing.

Meanwhile, Hollywood producer Harry Thomason, a longtime Clinton friend who had a financial interest in an air consulting firm (which had worked with the Clinton campaign), a White House pass and an office in the White House’s East Wing, offered his advice on events. He and his business partner in the airline firm, Darnell Martens, soon discovered that Dale did not use a competitive bidding process to book flights, and let Hillary Clinton and others in the White House know.
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Lawyers, including William Kennedy and Vince Foster, were called in, an audit recommended and the lawyers went to the FBI to request an investigation. The FBI hesitated; at that point, the White House counsel threatened to call in the IRS to investigate and Cornelius, who had been furtively copying Dale’s records and bringing them home, told the FBI that she suspected financial improprieties beyond the non-competitive bidding process.

After KPMG conducted an audit and found discrepancies – including $18,200 in petty cash unaccounted for – the staff of the travel office was fired by Watkins and the White House announced that the FBI was investigating.

Eventually, Dale was charged with embezzlement, tried and acquitted. Claims were made that the FBI investigation was instigated in bad faith to justify the firings (which came after), Watkins himself was fired (in 1994) for misusing a chartered helicopter for a golf trip and a memo he wrote blaming Hillary Clinton for demanding the firings surfaced during the Whitewater investigation (because everything surfaced during the Whitewater investigation).

But the third Whitewater investigator – yes, there were three – looking into whether the staffers were fired so they could be replaced with employees the Clintons preferred found no evidence that proved beyond a doubt that Hillary Clinton had any direct role in the firings or that anything had been covered up, long after the Clintons found five of the fired staffers other government jobs and a sixth was allowed to retire.

The office’s functions, in the end, were put out for a competitive bidding process; costs continued to go up.

Read more at The Guardian.

 

 

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