PHILANDERER IN CHIEF - Clinton in Exile: A President Out of the White House - Carol Felsenthal

Clinton in Exile: A President Out of the White House - Carol Felsenthal (2008)


ON APRIL 26, 2006, THE NELSON SHANKS PORTRAIT of Bill Clinton was unveiled during a private ceremony at the National Portrait Gallery. It is a big painting—including the frame, more than eight and a half feet high—depicting the former president standing in a jaunty pose, with his hand on his hip. “I tried to get sort of the timbre of the way he moves,” Shanks says. “He’s not stiff and rigid, yet he’s not utterly relaxed, either. It’s a little bit self-conscious.”

Reporters quickly noticed that Shanks painted Clinton without his wedding band. “He was wearing it,” Shanks says. “To be honest with you, I forgot it. I was so busy getting the gesture of the hand.” When he showed Hillary a photograph of the painting, she also didn’t notice, even though she studied the hands “very, very carefully.”

She insisted he do justice to the hands. “And there’s no doubt, he has very long fingers, very attractive hands.” Hillary complained that Bill’s fingers are slimmer than Shanks painted them. “I changed them very minimally just in respect for her thoughts. But I think I got it right the first time.”1

More than eight years after the fact of Clinton’s tryst with Lewinsky, reporters turned an innocent omission into a laugh line. “The artist who painted Bill Clinton’s…portrait managed to do what Monica Lewinsky could not: make Bubba’s wedding ring disappear.”2

At the unveiling, he was wearing his wedding band. Asked by reporters if Senator Clinton wanted the painting corrected, her spokesman, Philippe Reines, replied, “Can you just quote me giving you a different finger?”3

Shanks found the former president looking “pretty good,…maybe a little thinner than when I painted him. He seemed…pretty moved. A few people said he got tears in his eyes.”4

Hillary referred to the missing wedding band as “a little tempest in a teapot.”5

COMPARED WITH the real tempests in her marriage, the missing wedding band was “little.” In her memoir, Hillary attempted to preempt potential stories so that they would be old news by the time of a presidential campaign. She revealed, for instance, that she and Bill had had marriage counseling. The president had also confirmed that in the fall of 1999 when Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter had attempted to deflect the president’s anger from the question of whether he was seeking psychiatric help. “I understand you’re in pastoral counseling.” “Well, why don’t you ask me about that?” Clinton responded. “Well, how’s your pastoral counseling going?” “If you ask it that way,” Clinton responded, “I’ll answer it. It’s going very well.”6

One of those pastors was Tony Campolo, who first met Clinton in October 1993, when he and other Evangelicals were invited for breakfast with the Clintons and Gores. Subsequently, Campolo met Clinton every four or five weeks, usually in the Oval Office, occasionally “upstairs in his private apartment.” Campolo describes their conversations as reflecting “on the meaning of scripture in his own life and in his work as president.” Clinton would often telephone Campolo “and ask for some of my reflections on how the Bible should guide him in what he was about to say to the American people.”7

Campolo would not respond to questions about meetings related specifically to the Lewinsky affair, writing instead, “President Clinton is very committed to maintaining his family…. I believe he is committed to making his family life successful and his marriage meaningful and loving.”

Postpresidency, Campolo has seen Clinton “several times,” less than before because “he is constantly traveling.”8 In 2002, Campolo was quoted (by Jonathan Alter) as saying of Clinton, “Any rumors of affairs are erroneous.”9

Another pastoral counselor—a man who has had his own sexual scandals—was the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who was often at the White House during the Lewinsky crisis and, according to Alter, “prayed with them, talked to Chelsea.”10 Former Clinton military aide Robert Patterson who sometimes screened the president’s calls—and always screened them at Camp David—recalled that Clinton would often refuse to take calls from Jackson, who, Patterson claims, “was always calling in favors.”11

THE AFTERMATH of Lewinsky and impeachment matured Clinton, says Mark Thomann, who was Clinton’s Midwest finance chairman. Thomann suggests that today Bill Clinton is a faithful husband. “I think his new passion is…his legacy, and I think he understands that…if he was involved in another type of scandal like that, it would take away from his second chance, his redemption.”12

Much more common is the belief that Bill Clinton is simply missing the faithfulness gene, that somehow a dysfunctional childhood and a hedonistic mother caused him not really to understand the concept of fidelity. Anson Beard, who calls the former president “an amazing human being” and supports his CGI, nonetheless says of him: “When you say Bill Clinton, you say a lot of things in superlatives—leader, persuasive, genuine, etc., but personal integrity would not be one of the first words out of my mouth.” He compares Clinton with George H. W. Bush, whose upbringing gave him “a tremendous moral compass. That guy knows where north is.” The good news about Clinton,” Beard adds, “is he is actively dedicating his postpresidential career to doing positive good around the world. He is clearly energized to restore his legacy behind the unfortunate misjudgments and lost opportunities of the last [three] years of his presidency. He is by far this country’s best ex-president—to the world’s benefit.”13

One woman who knows Clinton well describes him as almost pathological in that he doesn’t recognize lapses in his behavior, just does not see them. “He has never seen his own bad behavior as being a liability; he has always managed in his own mind to rearrange it in some way…. I don’t think he ever fears the consequences of his behavior. I think it’s like a missing piece of his brain.”14

It’s almost a given among people who follow politics that Clinton continues to chase women. “I travel in political circles and I hear things constantly,” says University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, who has written much about the underbelly of campaigns and politicians. “Given his history, would anybody be surprised if there were things going on? I mean, let’s get real.”15

One moderate Republican, a well-connected veteran campaign strategist, says, “He’s dating!” He recalls a story in which Clinton was in a restaurant and he introduced a beautiful woman as his chief of staff. “He leaves to go to the bathroom and my friend’s talking to her: ‘Oh, you’re chief of staff?’ and she’s like, ‘What the hell are you talking about? I’m not his chief of staff.’”16

A Democrat who has been a close and sympathetic friend, before, during, and after his presidency, says of Bill Clinton: “I don’t think somebody like him changes much. If he was doing this when he was governor, if he did what he did when he was president, now that he’s wealthy and he’s free, obviously he’s still going to be the same person.”17

One person who has traveled with Clinton describes him as surrounded by yes men and enablers, pointing particularly to his traveling companion Doug Band. “His whole identity has been completely annihilated. He identifies totally with the guy…. He spends something like three hundred nights a year with the president and plays cards with him until four and five in the morning. And sees the world exactly as Clinton does. Clinton never sees himself as making mistakes…and Doug is the kind of guy who will sit there with a very straight face and looks at you and says, ‘Bill Clinton is sleeping with no one but his wife.’” This person thinks that Clinton has the equivalent of a woman in every port.18

“A man is only as moral as his options,” a Clinton staffer has been known to say. One woman who has traveled with him postpresidency says, “No less than five hundred women will all make it clear that they will sleep with him that night.”19

Irena Medavoy sees Clinton as a man who has so many temptations that how could one expect any normal male to resist them all? “I think a lot of…girls get crushes on him…. Have you ever been around a movie star?”20

For all of Clinton’s regrets about leaving the White House, there was one aspect, friends say, that he savored—his freedom to have more of a private life. One woman who had seen him around Hollywood for years says, “There probably was a part of him that couldn’t wait to get out and be free…. I don’t think he can help himself…. He’s a flirt.” She describes his technique as, “I got the holding your hand just a little too long, putting the hand on your back, ah, just a little too long.”21

In an interview in the debut issue of Tina Brown’s short-lived Talk magazine, Hillary attributed Bill’s philandering to a troubled childhood.22

John Schmidt, another Democrat and longtime Bill Clinton supporter, says that Clinton has always had “a taste for a certain kind of personality…. There’s a Hot Springs side of Clinton…. Hot Springs is gambling and who knows what else.” Schmidt says that meeting Clinton’s mother, who lived outside of Hot Springs at the time of her death—she and Schmidt were on the same plane going to the Kentucky Derby—“I thought once you met her you knew there was a side of Clinton that had come from her. She was having a very good time…. It’s a style that you get…in…resort communities with gambling and horse racing and a little bit of other things…. And Clinton obviously likes that.”23

The twenty-first-century version of Hot Springs for Clinton and his friend Ron Burkle, says one woman, is “Vegas.” She recalls a business meeting that was being arranged involving the Clinton Foundation and Burkle’s Yucaipa Capital, and Clinton and Burkle themselves. The two men insisted that the group meet in Las Vegas. “He’s still the son of a…mother [who] wore tube tops and went to Hot Springs to gamble; there’s that part of him, very much,” she says.24 Betty Sheinbaum, who, with her husband, Stanley, was a Hollywood supporter of Bill Clinton’s when he was still governor of Arkansas, also speaks contemptuously of Clinton’s taste for Las Vegas, claiming that he and Burkle “spend a lot of time” there. When asked what’s in Las Vegas, she answers, “Fun.”25

As for other enablers, often mentioned is Vernon Jordan, former head of the National Urban League, now a partner at Lazard Frères, to whom Clinton remains extremely close.26 It was Jordan, then a director of Revlon, who called Revlon chief Ronald Perelman and asked him to give Monica Lewinsky a job in New York as a way of getting her out of Washington.27

The biggest enabler of all, say many, is Hillary. When the subject of Bill’s continued philandering was raised with Hillary, she responded, says one man who knows both Clintons well, “Screw ’em. If they want to go vote for a pro-life Republican, let ’em.”28

Friends speculate that she likely cared very much about Bill’s infidelities at the start of the marriage, but then she gave up, knew she could not control them, and just insisted he be discreet.

Both friends and foes talk about the Clinton marriage as a partnership. Don Hewitt calls them “a team.”29 The more cynical say it’s a business deal. She helped him and put up with him despite the humiliation of Gennifer and Monica and likely many others whose names are not known to the public. But the deal is that now it’s her turn and he is to behave himself—this doesn’t mean that he can’t have affairs; it does mean he can’t have them with chatty twenty-one-year-old interns—and help her get elected president. Nothing he does between now and November 2008 is to distract from the image or viability of Hillary’s candidacy.

“I think early on it was a situation where they were attracted to each other both physically and mentally,” says one man who is a longtime friend and financial supporter of both Clintons, “and that they both felt that they could do great things together for the world…. He’s looking at Hillary in her twenties and saying, ‘Boy oh boy, she’s brilliant and has a lot of skills and, boy, think of what we could do together.’…Then as time went on, she came to understand certain things about his lifestyle, but she came to the conclusion that most of their time together was wonderful. She loved him. She believed he loved her and couldn’t stop himself, and this stuff kind of got excused along the way. As the years passed they kept…moving on this odyssey…. I think she…persuaded herself…this is a great skill that this man has; every woman loves him,…and unfortunately he is not able to turn it off…. And so I think she came to accept it over time.”30

In his recent biography of Hillary, Carl Bernstein reports that two of her Rose Law Firm partners were hired to make certain that women with whom Clinton allegedly—they were named in a lawsuit—had flings while governor would be quiet. The Rose lawyers, Bernstein contends, managed to coax signed statements from the women denying they had had sex with Clinton. Bernstein alleges that Hillary attended one of the meetings at which the women were questioned.31

Not only was Bill Clinton unfaithful, he was insultingly indiscreet, but, at key times, Hillary still came to the rescue. At a certain point, she must have calculated that she had put too much time, sweat, and tears into the relationship to end it; that without it she would never reach her political goals, so she did what was necessary to keep him viable. The first time the public watched this dynamic was during the 1992 run for the nomination, when Gennifer Flowers, a receptionist at the Arkansas Unemployment Appeals Board and a part-time nightclub singer, produced audiotapes of telephone conversations to back up charges that she and Bill Clinton had a twelve-year affair. Hillary went on 60 Minutes then; she went on the Today show after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke; she likely saved his 1992 campaign and made him president the first time and saved his presidency the second.

Don Hewitt got an inside look at the marriage, and at the vulnerabilities of both partners, on Super Bowl Sunday, January 26, 1992, in a room at Boston’s Ritz-Carlton when Bill’s campaign was imploding over the Gennifer Flowers allegations. For a segment to air on 60 Minutes, they were questioned by Steve Kroft, who, Hewitt later wrote, was unable to get any real answers. They “weaved and bobbed and ducked and left the ring, I thought, unbloodied.”32

“That night in that hotel room,” says Hewitt, “when I knew he was lying and she knew he was lying and he knew she was lying and I knew they were both lying, and yet that’s the night they got the nomination, when she said,…‘I’m no Tammy Wynette standing by my man,’ and somehow that resonated with the American public. I think that was the one line that came out of that thing that people remember the most.”33

The Clintons’ performance was so brilliant that instead of derailing the campaign as the Donna Rice episode did Gary Hart’s—a photograph surfaced of the young model on Hart’s lap aboard a yacht sailing off the island of Bimini and unfortunately named Monkey Business—they were able to survive and bask in Bill’s second-place finish (behind New Englander Paul Tsongas) in New Hampshire, which he turned into a victory—he made second place the new first by declaring himself “The Comeback Kid.”

Bill’s real challenge that night, Hewitt later wrote, was not Kroft but Hillary after they left the hotel.

Oddly, Hillary seemed to channel her anger to Don Hewitt, the man who could be credited with rescuing Bill’s political future, and hers, by giving them this important national forum. “I had gone to White House dinners going back as far as Dwight Eisenhower,” Hewitt says, “and I was locked out of there and it was her and not him.” In 1999, Hewitt accompanied his correspondents, Wallace, Safer, Bradley, Kroft, and Stahl, to discuss Bosnia with the president. “I said to [Clinton’s press secretary] Mike McCurry,…‘I know why we’re here…because she’s out of town.’ He said, ‘You happen to be right.’”34

Hewitt recalls that Tim Russert, moderator of Meet the Press, “used to say to me all the time, ‘What’s the matter with her? You guys made him president. He got the nomination, the night he did that.’”35

Hewitt and Hillary “kissed and made up,” he says, in July 2001 at the funeral of Washington Post owner Katharine Graham. Hewitt had just published a memoir. “She…came up to me said, ‘Hey, congratulations on your book.’ I said, ‘Gee, that’s awful nice of you to say that because I think I say some things in the book that aren’t all that flattering…. But, you know something, I’m glad you’re my senator.’ And she threw her arms around me and said, ‘Well, I’m glad you’re my constituent.’ From that day on the feud was over.”36

Cynics might suggest that Hillary was shrewd enough, now that she was senator and contemplating a run for president, not to want to keep Don Hewitt an enemy. Could she have also figured that who knew what Bill-related scandal might break on her way back to the White House? Would they need another airing on 60 Minutes?

THE WOMAN’S name repeatedly linked to the former president’s is Belinda Stronach, a forty-one-year-old blonde—twenty years younger than Bill Clinton—twice divorced, mother of two, Canadian heiress and member of Parliament, representing a riding just north of Toronto. She was seen as an up-and-comer—on Time magazine’s 100 most powerful people list—both in business and in politics.

In the New York Times’ deconstruction of the Clinton marriage—including an analysis of how much time they spend together pre-presidential race*—Stronach was the only alleged paramour mentioned by name. “Several prominent New York Democrats, in interviews,” Patrick Healy wrote, “volunteered that they became concerned last year over a tabloid photograph showing Mr. Clinton leaving B.L.T. Steak in Midtown Manhattan late one night after dining with a group that included Belinda Stronach, a Canadian politician. The two were among roughly a dozen people at a dinner, but it still was enough to fuel coverage in the gossip pages.”37

Toronto Life mentioned it in a story headlined “Bubba’s Got a Brand New Blonde.”39

Some describe Stronach as a younger, prettier version of Hillary; others, such as Eric Reguly, a business reporter for the Globe and Mail in Toronto, as a younger version of Martha Stewart.40

Don Martin, a National Post and Calgary Herald columnist, and Stronach’s biographer, described her, in an interview in December 2006, as five foot eight with a “hard body,” a “workout fiend” who’s up every morning at five. “She has the proverbial buns of steel and the big breasts. Some say artificially big…. For forty years old, she’s still a 10.”41

“She’s not the kind you’d want to ask for her favorite muffin recipe,” Martin said. “She tends to ooze sexuality and when she puts her mind on a guy I have a feeling he’s pretty much going to be taken over and smitten by her.” She has, he added, “a pretty vigorous sex appetite; I think in some way she likes to command men and control them.”42 In Martin’s biography he quoted her as saying that sex is “great. Better than golf…. What better thing is there? Let’s face it. I don’t sit at home and knit on Friday nights.”43

She was not known for her brains.44 One writer called her “Canada’s own version of Paris Hilton.”45 A high-profile businessman with Canadian roots who counts himself a friend of Stronach’s father says of her, “I never heard her give a public speech that I thought indicated that she had any intelligence. I’m told that while she’s not a world beater, she’s adequately bright. I’ve never seen any evidence of it.”46

Don Martin is more generous, but the bottom line is about the same: “Belinda’s got a very strong compassionate streak. She wants to help the hungry and the starving in Africa.” But, he added, if you sat down with her and tried to talk about history or political philosophy, you’d “probably draw a blank.” She had less than a year of university before dropping out.47

She was certainly no intellectual soul mate for Bill Clinton. “I watched Clinton give a speech here a couple of months ago,” says Martin. “You just watch the guy talk off the cuff and you go, What does he see in Belinda? This is a guy who could call any intellectual powerhouse in the world and yet he seems to fixate on our billionairist babe…. He’s going on about the genome and all these other things. We’re sitting there going, Huh?”48

“Billionairist” and “babe”—and perhaps a fleet of private planes—could have been enough to explain the attraction.

In 2001, at age thirty-five, she became CEO of her father’s auto parts empire, Magna International.49 Frank Stronach, an Austrian tool-and-die maker who came to Canada in 1954 at the age of twenty-two, is a multibillionaire. His empire, according to the Globe and Mail, includes much more than auto parts—he has a “Magna air force of executive jets at his disposal; 800 race horses stabled in Ontario, Florida and Kentucky; racetracks from Aqueduct to Woodbine, and all the assets that his massive paycheques—usually the largest in Canada—have enabled him to amass.”50

The Canadian heiress and the former American president met at her family’s compound in Aurora in 2002. At the time, she was married to former Norwegian speed skater Johann Olav Koss. Frank Stronach was hosting a charity golf tournament to inaugurate his private golf course on the corporate land in Aurora. “He wanted Clinton there,” says Don Martin, “so I know that the presidential library donation was dangled as the carrot to get him there.” Martin says that Frank Stronach told him that “Clinton was pushing hard to get a bigger contribution for the presidential library…. They gave a million dollars…. And I think Frank thought that was enough for his purposes.”

Martin explains “his purposes” as: “Frank loves to be a man who can call up presidents and former presidents and leaders of foreign countries, and he has the business clout to be able to do that.”

According to Martin, who interviewed Belinda Stronach for the biography, “She talks in very eloquent and glowing terms about [Clinton] and she seems to basically be enraptured by the fact that he’s a man of great intellect and doing a lot of humanitarian work.”51

“Just connect the dots,” says the Canadian newspaper columnist, “and consider the probabilities and possibilities and you’ve got to think that this is something more than an intellectual connection…. But every time you bring up the speculation on other aspects, she clams up and says nothing happens, we’re just friends.”52

Martin had arranged to interview one of her security guards, but the guard seemed to be “gagged…days before I was going to interview him and…it’s not like the woman had a cocaine habit or something…. So the only thing I could wonder is if this guy knew more about [their relationship].”53

He recalls a tribute to Belinda Stronach on a night when Clinton was in China, “and in the middle of the night…[Clinton] found the motivation to pick up the phone and call directly in to the tribute and send greetings. I’m not sure he does that for many people.” Another time, she mentioned to Martin, as if in passing, that she had been in New York the weekend before and saw the president.54

She went to Clinton’s first CGI in September 2005, but she did not go in 2006. Don Martin claims that she did not go because “Hillary didn’t want her there.”55

Stronach has also seen Bill Clinton in Los Angeles. One Hollywood wife who is an active political fund-raiser remembers meeting Belinda in Steve Bing’s private box when the Rolling Stones played for global warming activist Laurie David’s Natural Resources Defense Council. Bill Clinton was also there. After the concert, this woman says, they all went back to Ron Burkle’s house.56

“She was in the audience when Clinton went to do Larry King Live,” says Don Martin, “and after that they went out and had dinner.”57

Eric Reguly, who has written about Belinda Stronach but never interviewed her, alleges that “Bill Clinton was very much a part of her life.” Reguly reasons that she was “safe for him. She’s not married; she’s very discreet.” He adds that he assumes that “anything that happens happens at thirty thousand feet.” He also surmises that it would not be difficult for them to find “hideaways” because “the Stronach family has resorts and hotels and cottages all over the place and golf courses. There are probably fifty places around the world they could meet and no one would know about it.”58

The same Hollywood fund-raiser wonders if Belinda’s biggest attraction to Bill is the private plane. “I was just trying to figure it out, is it a plane thing?” She decides that it probably is.59

Belinda Stronach has recently returned to the family company, but she received much press, some of it smirking, for leaving Magna International and her $9.1 million salary in January 2004 to run for a Tory seat in Parliament.

Don Martin says that Stronach saw Bill Clinton as “a mentor,” but accepts her denial that she consulted with Clinton on her improbable political career. “She was asked that question at a news conference,” says Martin, “and she said no and I tend to believe her.” It all happened so fast that she had time to consult only with the people who live and breathe Canadian politics.60

She created headlines, many angry, in May 2005, when she “crossed the floor,” moving from the Tories to the Liberals, after only eleven months as a Tory. By doing so, she temporarily propped up Liberal Paul Martin’s government, helping to delay an election the Conservatives were likely to lose until a time a few months later when they could win. Don Martin calls her the “Liberal godmother of today’s Conservative government.”61

Belinda then became a powerless backbencher, and, at the time, Martin describes her as “Sit[ting] on the opposition benches and ask[ing] questions about the status of women.”62

She became something of joke. “Sellout Barbie” was one new name.63

Her betrayal of the Conservatives ended her relationship with Peter MacKay, who would later become foreign minister in Stephen Harper’s Tory government. One politician joked that “the only Conservative bone Ms. Stronach had in her body was that of her former boyfriend, Peter MacKay.”64

“She took a lot of heat for crossing the floor,” says Eric Reguly, “because it was considered opportunistic and sleazy.” Her constituents voted for a Conservative and ended up with a Liberal. “That was distasteful.”65

By May 2007, the Canadian press had pronounced the alleged affair over: “They looked hot a year ago, with the charisma of power, but Belinda has since quit Canadian politics to return to the family firm selling car parts to Detroit,” and is involved “with a ‘tough guy’ from the Maple Leafs ice hockey team.”66

The next month, the Canadian press reported that Stronach had breast cancer and had had a mastectomy and reconstruction.67

Before the news of her illness surfaced, Eric Reguly had also pronounced the supposed affair with Clinton likely over. He noted that while she was “rich and attractive,” she was no longer “rich, attractive and politically ambitious. One third of the three crucial elements has just disappeared. And maybe Bill is going, ‘Well, I could find rich and beautiful anywhere.’” Reguly argues that one of Belinda’s attractions to Bill was that she “potentially was the next prime minister of Canada…. His girlfriend is prime minister; his wife is president. Where do I go this weekend for a little fun—Ottawa or Washington, D.C.?”68

The answer would almost certainly have been Ottawa.

Closer to home, rumors persisted about a married woman, a neighbor in a woodsy, hilly village north of Chappaqua.69 The tabloids identified her as another Canadian heiress. The two reportedly met at a Christmas party thrown by an investment banker, according to an item in Canada’s Globe and Mail, which dubbed Clinton “America’s First Flirt.”70 One friend of the woman’s now ex-husband confirms the story, although she says she has no idea whether Clinton was the cause for the breakup of the couple’s marriage.71

Mark Updegrove, who has written a book on postpresidencies, describes Clinton’s reckless side. “I think he feels entitled to a certain extent.” He mentions a conversation that Clinton has had with people in which he ruminates about the tradition of southern governors keeping mistresses and that was just the way it was and nobody investigated it or worried about it.72

“Of course Clinton’s still screwing around,” says a Democrat who has worked diligently for him and mixed often with him socially. “He’s never paid a price for his transgressions…. I think he’s running around like crazy…. There are a lot of people who were angry at him then who aren’t angry anymore…. I would say that in his heart of hearts when he puts his head on the pillow at night, he probably has a little wry smile and says to himself, ‘You know, considering everything, I kind of got off okay.’”73

To some extent when they were in the White House—but definitely now—Bill and Hillary led separate lives. “They’re rarely side by side,” says one prominent journalist. Even when they are at the same event, “they’re rarely together.”74

Vartan Gregorian, a fan of both Clintons, says that this separateness is by design. “What you have there is his trying to give…room to her…. I think he created room for her in Washington and even New York City by moving to Harlem…. The two of them are never together in places.” He describes a recent event, a dinner at the Four Seasons in New York for the twentieth anniversary of Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy: “Hillary left as the president was coming in.”75

Hillary did not respond to invitations to attend the Hofstra conference on her husband’s presidency. Eric Schmertz, who directed the conference, seems somewhat sensitive on the subject, saying first that she was not invited but, when pressed, saying, “I’d rather put it another way. Of course she was invited, but we received no reply from her office to the invitation.” He says the assistants to the president of the university also followed up on the invitation but “she neither responded nor came.”76

“I was actually at Hillary’s house for an event recently,” says Mark Thomann. As usual, the former president was not there.77

In December 2000, Hillary had settled on the six-bedroom, seven-and-one-half-bath house, built in 1951, in a cul-de-sac in Washington’s fashionable Embassy Row. At first she was going to rent but decided to buy—$2.85 million, down from the $3.5 million asking price—after she received the $8 million advance for her memoir. Sandy Berger’s wife, Susan, a Washington Realtor, helped Hillary find the neo-Georgian, which has a formal garden, a terrace, a pool, and an elevator, and so did Kathy Sloan, the New York agent who found them their Chappaqua house.78

Her mother, Dorothy Rodham, eighty-seven, moved in with her in the fall of 2006. (While campaigning for president in Iowa in December 2007, in an apparent attempt to warm up her image, Hillary brought her mother along and certainly exaggerated—lied, really—when she told potential voters that her mother “lives with Bill and me.”)79 Hillary holds political strategy meetings there, and, according to Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta in their recent biography of her, “visitors are asked to check their bags, cameras and cell phones at the door, pictures are taken by an authorized photographer.”80

Hillary supporter Melvin Gitler describes going to the senator’s home in Washington for a dinner. Bill Clinton was not there. “Very seldom do they come together to events. He’s very overpowering,” Gitler says, and in the room of twenty-five at that dinner, had he attended, she would have been diminished.81

Before Hillary announced her run for the White House, when the former president came to Washington, it was what Chris Jennings called a quick “pit stop,” and he didn’t do too many of those. He didn’t want to be “a big distraction,” Jennings added. When the Clintons got together, it was generally in Chappaqua.82

“I have to believe that he is smart enough to make sure that there is no more bimbo gossip,” says Don Hewitt of 60 Minutes, “because if Hillary has to put up with that, in addition to putting up with a Republican challenger to her candidacy, that’s the kiss of death.”83

“I hear and everyone hears,” says another top Democrat, “rumors that they live separate lives and that the president has friends. It could blow up in her face.”84

One close friend of both Clintons says that at the point Hillary concludes that his lack of discipline is going to torpedo her chance to be the country’s first woman president, that’s when she divorces him. Hillary will not put up with him ruining her opportunity.85

This same man, shortly after the Lewinsky scandal broke, overheard Hillary’s end of a midnight telephone conversation with Bill. “They talked forever that night on the phone.” Her words and her tone were “adoring,” he says. Inadvertently hearing that conversation “kind of told me that it became acceptable, but it would be unacceptable if it interfered with her great vision of her personal political future.”86

David Schulte, who knew both Clintons at Yale Law School, assesses Hillary as the embodiment of ambition. “Look how she stayed with this guy no matter what…. If Hillary had divorced Bill, would we be talking about her as a candidate? I think not. We might not be talking about her as a senator…. She put up with even this final indignity for her own ambitions.”87

In a column that appeared while Bill Clinton was campaigning in Iowa with Hillary over the Fourth of July weekend in 2007, trying to boost her numbers in the state with the first caucus, Maureen Dowd posited an imaginary conversation between the two. Hillary reminded Bill, “You promised me two terms after your two terms, and I’m not going to get that if you’re caught Burkling or Binging.”88 A month later, New York magazine reported that the former president “ventured to Paris with playboy pals Ron Burkle and Steve Bing.”89 By the fall of 2007 one national magazine was rumored to be readying a story on Clinton’s “mistress.”

Others maintain that the Clintons will stay together until one of them dies. A television network executive who knows both well says, “My gut tells me that if she didn’t divorce him before, she’s not going to divorce him now.”90

“Nobody who’s close to them thinks she’s going to divorce him,” says Jonathan Alter. “That sort of reminds me of this line from Billy Graham’s wife: ‘Divorce, never; murder, maybe.’”91

And then there are the friends who insist that this is a real love affair—tested, yes; stressed, yes; but genuine. One woman who knows them well and was a guest at the White House during Bill’s presidency (pre-Monica, she specifies) says that people, knowing her relationship with the Clintons, would say, “‘Oh, it’s got to be a deal; it’s like an arrangement.’…My impression is that on a certain level…she is mad about him,…and he couldn’t do it without her. They were joined at the hip…. People would say, ‘She’s going to divorce him.’ I said, ‘No way, you’re crazy.’ I don’t see how they could not be together.”92

The panoply of affairs from Gennifer to Monica made some women pity her, says former DNC chief Don Fowler, and some “took umbrage at her because she stayed there and took it. Why should she stay with a dog like that? I think she loved him.”93

Susie Tompkins Buell threw a fund-raiser for Hillary in September 2000 in an old theater in New York. The entertainment was Elton John. Bill and Chelsea were there, along with Barbra Streisand, her husband, James Brolin, Mary Steenburgen, and her husband, Ted Danson. In order “to spread out the celebrities,” says Mark Buell, Chelsea was at one table, Bill at another, and Hillary at a third. “When Elton started to play, [Bill] came over and sat next to Hillary and I was at that table and underneath the table, they’re holding hands, not for public view, just the two of them, and Chelsea came over and sat on her father’s lap…. Forget about the psychology of horsing around that went on in his life; they have an enormously close connection and it’s really a very tender one.”

Buell speculates that growing up, Bill Clinton was lonely. “I think that he has always suffered from being the smartest kid in the class and that’s a lonely life.” He suggests that one of the reasons that Bill is so bonded to Hillary is that “she’s one of the smartest people as well and that they can communicate on a certain level.”

When Buell plays golf with Bill Clinton in San Francisco at the Olympic Club, Hillary sometimes calls, and, says Buell, he’ll step aside to talk to her. “Every conversation ends with ‘I love you, too.’”

Six weeks after Bill Clinton’s surgery, Buell saw the former president and Hillary and Chelsea together. “They were standing together the three of them and I realized that they are a very tight-knit little group and that this really scared them. They could have lost him.”94

People were so fascinated by the Clintons’ marriage, says Jake Siewert, that he was often asked, What is it really like? “I’ve been around my parents for forty years,” he would answer, “and I don’t really understand their relationship. I’ve spent a hell of a lot more time with them than I have with President Clinton and Hillary, so don’t ask me to explain their relationship…. They get along like any married couple. They talked to each other; they talked past each other…. There are plenty of times when, at least in our presence, they acted like any…couple that had been married for a long time. They have an awful lot in common…and there’s some real affection between them.”95