June 25, 2004

Ah. A Dispute: Bill Clinton vs. Roger Porter

Ah. Here we have something that isn't the non-denial denial of "recollections differ"; it isn't the denial of "I didn't say it that way; what I said was ____; he's confusing what I said with what somebody else said"; it's the "he fabricated the conversation" super-denial denial:

Political Wire: Taking Clinton to Task: Harvard professor Roger Porter claims that President Clinton "fabricated a damning conversation between the two of them in his newly-published memoir," the Harvard Crimson reports.

According to Clinton’s book, Porter -- then Bush’s Economic and Domestic Policy Adviser -- said that while other potential Democratic opponents could be undermined through weaknesses grounded in their politics, the Arkansas governor was 'different.'

Said Porter: "We never had any conversation as he has described in his book. You don’t remember every conversation in life, but I would certainly remember a conversation like that."

What Clinton writes in My Life (pp. 368-9):

One July day [in 1991], Lynda Dixon told me that Roger Porter was on the phone from the White House. As i've said, I had worked with Roger on the education goals project and had a high regard for his ability to be loyal to the President and still work with the governors. Roger asked me if I was going to run for President in 1992. I told him that I hadn't decided, that I was happier being governor than I'd been in years, that my family life was good and I was reluctant to disrupt it, but that I thought the White House was being too passive in dealing with the country's economic and social problems. I said I thought the President should use the enormous political capital he had as a result of the Gulf War to tackle the country's big issues. After five or ten minutes of what I thought was a serious conversation, Roger cut it off and got to the point I'll never forget the first words of the message he had been designated to deliver: "Cut the crap, Governor." He said "they" had reviewed all the potential candidates against the President. Governor Cuomo was the most powerful speaker, but they could paint him as too liberal. All the senators could be defeated by attacks on their voting records. But I was different. With a strong record in economic development, education, and crime, and a strong DLC message, I actually had a chance to win. So if I ran, they would have to destroy me personally. "Here's how Washington works," he said. "The press has to have somebody in every election, and we're going to give them you." He went on to say the press were elitists who would believe any tales they were told about backwater Arkansas. "We'll spend whatever we have to spend to get whoever we have to get to say whatever they have to say to take you it. And we'll do it early.

I tried to stay calm, but I was mad.... I told Roger that what he had said made me more likely to run. Roger said that was a nice sentiment, but he was calling as my friend to give me fair warning. If I waited until 1996, I could win the presidency. If I ran in 1992, they would destroy me, and my political career would be over.

After the conversation ended, I called Hillary and told her about it. Then I told Mack McLarty. I never heard from or saw Roger Porter again until he attended a reception for the White House Fellows...

Certainly doesn't sound like the Roger Porter I know. I don't have a dog in this fight, but phone records for the White House for July 1991 presumably still exist. That much could be checked by one of the many, many reporters hanging around Washington today...

Posted by DeLong at June 25, 2004 01:53 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post


Could it be...Bill Clinton...is prevaricating?

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on June 25, 2004 02:23 PM


Could it be... Patrick R. Sullivan... is trolling?

Posted by: Matt Weiner on June 25, 2004 02:26 PM


God save us all! The records, phone or otherwise, of a Republican White House are a black hole, a gaping void of which we can know nothing, with an expanding event horizon threatening to swallow any who venture too close to the edge.

Flip a coin and call it good.

Posted by: serial catowner on June 25, 2004 02:59 PM


Patrick, i can't help but notice that while you've had the time to pursue your theory that North Vietnam actually lost the Vietnamese war, but John Kerry pissed away the victory, that you still haven't follow up on your first claim regarding clinton's book: that he didn't know that scalia was appointed to the supreme court before the robert bork nomination.

So, Patrick, before you get caught up with who's got what right or wrong about this story, could you pretty please either make clear that clinton got it wrong or acknowledge that he didn't? (and by make clear, as i asked you when you first posted the claim that clinton got it wrong, i mean would you please post the complete passage so that we can all tell? thanks)

Posted by: howard on June 25, 2004 03:00 PM


> The records, phone or otherwise, of a Republican White House are a black hole, a gaping void of which we can know nothing

I've been wondering about this. When a president leaves office, I notice that it's not traditional for his successor to dig through his old papers and reveal the truth about what just happened. Why not? Fear of quid-pro-quo? Or do they just burn the old files?

Posted by: Josh Yelon on June 25, 2004 03:19 PM


Brad is right. Anyone who knows Roger Porter knows that he never talks this way. Maybe someone from the Bush 41 White House called and had this conversation with Clinton, but I guarantee it was not Roger Porter.

Posted by: Bruce Bartlett on June 25, 2004 03:35 PM


This just isn't your day, howard. Stroll into a Borders Bookstore, turn to page 337 of My Life, and read it for yourself; Clinton claims that Scalia was nominated when Bork was rejected.

Which is pretty silly, given the resulting hullabaloo over Doug Ginsburg's pot smoking with his law students. (And will Lawrence Boyd now vent about Clinton not having an editor, since he gave Ann Coulter so much grief for referring to Dean Acheson as the Sec'y of State during an episode when he was only the Asst Sec'y? After all, Clinton was a participant in the Borking.)

Now, how about you providing some evidence that Nixon's strategy DIDN'T result in a victory for the non-Commies?

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on June 25, 2004 05:21 PM


I hate to disagree with usually astute Bruce Bartlett, but Clinton is surely making this up out whole cloth. In 1991 Bush I was so popular that--in the glum words of Chris Matthews--he could have won the DEMOCRAT's primary.

No one, in 1991, feared an obscure Governor from Arkansas, most famous for his verbosity at the '88 Dem convention. Clinton lucked into the presidency. Then he lucked into a growing economy, and a Republican Congress to check his (and his overbearing wife's) worst instincts.

Bill Clinton was the luckiest SOB ever in American political life.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on June 25, 2004 05:31 PM


As I recall, Clinton was widely regarded as a hot
prospect from the mid 80's at least. And he wasn't
just lucky. He worked his ass off and was very smart.
Bush is also lucky, but lazy and incurious.

Posted by: jimbo on June 25, 2004 05:54 PM


I don't especially have time to stroll into the bookstore this weekend, Patrick; that's why i asked you for your backup. I suppose someday i'll have to find the time. (And while i don't have any particular recollection of Lawrence Boyd on Ann Coulter, surely you aren't trying to compare the endlessly dishonest Coulter's books with this mistake, if indeed it was one?)

As for Vietnam: there was no victory to be had and we didn't have one, nor did John Kerry have anything to do with why there was no victory to be had. I think that's enough server space for that matter, at least at this moment.

As for luck, well, it's also known as the residue of design....

Posted by: howard on June 25, 2004 06:00 PM


Was Clinton in the governor's office when he took the alleged call? Wouldn't there be records as his end as well?
And Hillary and McLarty can be got on record, too.

Posted by: WanttheBestEvidence on June 25, 2004 06:04 PM


This has been a source of contention for years.


Posted by: bakho on June 25, 2004 06:36 PM


"but phone records for the White House for July 1991 presumably still exist. That much could be checked by one of the many, many reporters hanging around Washington today...
For Christ sake, Brad. If the press could work up any gumption, certainly they could spend the time better. I suspect that there are more interesting and important things happening in Washington that they should be checking on, don't you?

Posted by: King Bonehead on June 25, 2004 07:48 PM


Who is Patrick Sullivan, why would anyone clear, and does he constitute evidence of parallel universes impinging on our own?

Posted by: Brian Wilder on June 25, 2004 08:00 PM


Lets see now.

Clinton claims that he had a friendly working relationship with Roger Porter from their work on education issues. He claims that Porter rang him in July 1991, they had a brief discussion about Clinton's intentions wrt the 1992 race and that Porter delivered a warning that the Bush political team had considered how to deal with his candidacy and chosen personal destruction, and that Clinton might be better off politically to wait a cycle.

Porter acknowledges a conversation in which he discusses a possible candidacy but claims he did not say what Clinton writes. According to David Maraniss, "Porter, a mild-mannered policy wonk, said he had no such conversation with Clinton and was not aware of anyone else in the Clinton White House who knew Clinton well enough to say such a thing. In the only conversation he had with Clinton in 1991, Porter said, he told Clinton that he ought to switch to the Republican party if he wanted to become president."

So Porter did at one point remember a conversation with Clinton about running for President during 2001. Obviously Clinton would not switch Parties and challenge a sitting President with 90% approval ratings, so suggesting he run as a Republican is certainly consistent with telling him to sit out the 1992 race.

It is not clear from what Clinton wrote whether he thought Porter was personally threatening him if he decided to run eg "we will destroy you", delivering a message for the Bush Political team, "they want you to know that they will destroy you" or trying to give Clinton a heads up, "these guys play hard and they will destroy you".

Apparently Porter was not part of the Bush dirty tricks squad so the first is unlikely in any event. That seems to be the interpretation that could be "unlike Porter". The second interpretation is certainly consistent with Porter's claim that nobody else really knew Clinton. Its not hard to imagine the conversation where the Bushies ask if anybody knew Clinton and could warn him off the 2000 race "for his own good". The "cut the crap" line sounds to me like someone uncomfortable with such a role and unable to work it into friendly banter.

I wonder what Porter's explanation of his advice to switch parties would be. Other than the now obvious fact that the Republican machine is capable of being very nasty, what advantage would Clinton have gained as a Republican?

For Clinton's part I dont understand why he would make such a thing up. Attributing it to Porter instead of an unidentified White House source only makes it easier to deny and doesn't really add credibility, and the Hunting of the President and the involvement of Bush campaign people (other than Porter) is by now so obvious that it's hard to see how this little tidbit contributes to anything except an understanding of Clinton's own frame of mind. We know now that Republican operatives were out to destroy Clinton, and we know Clinton believed they were out to get him, this just tells us why Clinton held that belief. It is hardly damning now to claim that the Bush campaign felt that Clinton was vulnerable to personal charges or that they acted to exploit that vulnerability, after 12 years of watching Republicans dredging every sordid detail of Clinton's life both real and imagined it is not even news.

Posted by: economaniac on June 25, 2004 08:42 PM


Is this really so difficult to figure out?

Clinton's a liar, always has been, always will be. Bob Kerrey commented how good he was at it, which indicates he has plenty of practice.

It's a story that shows Clinton in a good light and his enemies in a bad one. It's extremely convenient for Clinton's paranoid argument that the Republicans were out to get him, which is why you want to believe it's true. But for heaven's sake, don't let your partisan instincts get in the way of your common sense.

Posted by: Brainster on June 25, 2004 09:51 PM


There are all kinds of possibilities here that do not involve lying. People generally make poor witnesses. The most unreliable evidence in a trial is eyewitness evidence. Physical evidence is much more reliable. Maybe one or both parties mis-remembers or maybe a conversation was attributed to the wrong person. It does not seem to be a major point in the whole scheme of things.

Of course GOP operatives were out to destroy Clinton. That is how politics in Arkansas works. The elite press does not want to admit that they were duped by the modern day Dukes and Dauphins of Arkansas. David Brock and others at American Spectator spilled the beans on Scaife funding of the effort. No one now questions that the Starr investigation main witness in Whitewater, David Hale, was an indicted felon who was being paid by GOP operatives.

The GOP strategy was to force Clinton to testify under oath and then hit him with perjury charges. This is what they did to Julie Hyatt Steele for telling the trut and contradicting Willey. Starr planned to charge Susan McDougal with perjury if she would not lie about the Clintons. McDougal went to jail for refusing to cooperate. McDougal refused to answer grand jury questions rather than talk and get charged with perjury for telling the truth and contradicting Starr's witness, David Hale.

The whole Ken Starr operation was a political hatchet job.

Posted by: bakho on June 25, 2004 10:38 PM


The most likely thing is that Clinton has the caller's identity confused, I think. On the other hand...Prof. Delong, is it possible you know Prof. Porter less well than you think? Porter, after all, is a defender of some people who are most definitely Not Nice. It's perfectly possible you've only seen his good-mannered public face.

Posted by: Randolph Fritz on June 26, 2004 12:21 AM


Well if David Maraniss says it's x, we almost certainly need to question his assertion on it. And YES the effort to 'get' and 'Demonize' Clinton began early with the direct attention of Bush's campaign manager Lee Atwater by 1989. See 'The Hunting of the President' for details.

Posted by: VJ on June 26, 2004 03:56 AM


The Howler concludes that Porter's assertion about what he said in defence of the phone call are not verified by Maraniss.

Here at THE HOWLER, we have no way of knowing whether Bill Clinton was “telling a tale.” We have no way of knowing whether Porter did in fact make the alleged call. But we don’t think it’s clear that Porter is truthful just because he’s “mild-mannered” or wonkish. Maraniss “reflexively” accuses Clinton of lying on the basis of no evidence at all.

However we know that a coversation happened, because Porter confirmed it. Whether Bill morphed the conversation into a warning phone call or not we need calling records to verify. If its true though Porter has more reason to deny it then Clinton has to lie, based on the implications of the content of the call.

Posted by: observer on June 26, 2004 07:42 AM


One can gauge the IQs of the posters here by whether they have bothered to read the link that bakho provided. That link shows that

1) Clinton has told this story since at least *1994*, when Woodward's The Agenda was published-- and before "Whitewater" even began.

2) Hillary also remembered the event.

3) Foreshadowing the vacuous debate on these pages by six years, Somerby says, "Maraniss never presents any evidence at all that Clinton was fibbing to Hill. He never presents any evidence at all that Porter was telling the truth. He asserts that Porter didn’t make the call simply because Porter says he didn’t. He seems to say that Porter is truthful because Porter’s 'a mild-mannered wonk.'"

As Somerby says, there's no proof one way or another, but it's truly idiotic to believe that a man *couldn't* do something because he's such a nice guy.

Just ask Jeri Ryan.

Posted by: Charles on June 26, 2004 07:51 AM


"I don't especially have time to stroll into the bookstore this weekend, Patrick..."

Sheesh, it's on sale in grocery and drug stores, pal. You want to know what he said, get off your ass and do it.

And, yes, Coulter's books have been criticized for trivial inaccuracies by the usual suspects here. Now, along comes Clinton with a book filled with outright lies (ask Monica Lewinsky) and suddenly a known serial liar is being given the benefit of the doubt by the same people.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on June 26, 2004 08:41 AM


It seems the tenor of Lewinsky weeping is that Clinton doesn't acknowledge how devastated she was by the affair.

However, I think that it isn't anyone's job to tell how devastated another person is, unless a biographer. Since this isn't Lewinsky's biography, she is out of line.

I also don't think using your 15 seconds of fame to parlay a mediocre TV show is showing much devastation.

Posted by: i ain't telling on June 26, 2004 09:09 AM


Oh, Patrick, really, i'm inclined to use the Cheney "feel better" approach, but unlike the veep, i can retain some vestiges of civility. Perhaps you have no other life; perhaps you live next door to a book store; neither is the case for me. I'll get to it, and given your proven abilities at cherrypicking that we've seen in other situations, patrick, my approach is going to be the reaganesque trust but verify.

The idea that Ann Coulter's book has "trivial inaccuracies" couldn't be more untrue. It is a ridiculous, parallel universe notion.

Meanwhile, as i ain't telling notes, the idea that what lewinsky says brands clinton as a liar is frickin' ridiculous.

About as ridiculous as your notion that clinton made the story about porter up out of whole cloth. He may or may not accurately represent the conversation - this we'll never know. But it's clear that there was a conversation....

Posted by: howard on June 26, 2004 09:34 AM


howard, all you need is a Safeway or Rite-Aid drugstore. The book is on sale virtually everywhere. If you're going to shoot your mouth off by calling me either a liar, or someone who can't read plain English, then you're obligated to find out what the truth is (I already know).

As for Lewinsky calling Clinton a liar, she surely did--and what an idiot he has to be for thinking he could get away with what he said about her in the book. Here, let me do all the work for you poor boys again:


LONDON – Monica Lewinsky begs to differ.

The former White House intern scorned Bill Clinton's explanation that he had an affair with her "just because I could," and accused the former president of failing to correct the record and make clear their relationship was mutual in his new memoir.

In her first public comments on the book, "My Life," Lewinsky accused Clinton of trying to destroy her with his characterization of the affair as something dirty and wrong, and argued the liaison was one of mutual affection.

"I really didn't expect him to go into detail about our relationship" in the book, the 30-year-old Lewinsky said in an interview with The Daily Mail.

"But if he had and he'd done it honestly, I wouldn't have minded. ... I did, though, at least expect him to correct the false statements he made when he was trying to protect the presidency."

"Instead, he talked about it as though I had laid it all out there for the taking. I was the buffet and he just couldn't resist the dessert," she was quoted as saying.

In an interview with Independent Television News broadcast Friday, Lewinsky said she was especially upset by Clinton's assertion on CBS' "60 Minutes" that he embarked on the affair "for the worst possible reason. Just because I could."

"I was really upset when I first heard it," Lewinsky said.


Lewinsky said she had spent the past several years trying to "move on" and build a life.

"It has been so difficult because of so many of the lies that he has told about me and about what happened," she told ITN.

"I can understand someone wanting to save his presidency. But I don't accept that he had to completely desecrate my character, which not only affected me, but my family, my friends and my future."

Lewinsky noted that when prosecutors began pressuring her about her affair with the president, she was the same age his 24-year-old daughter, Chelsea, is now.

"How would he feel if (Chelsea) was trashed by the person she had had the relationship with – a person who has denied it to save himself – if she was called a liar, a stalker, crazy, stupid?" the Daily Mail quoted Lewinsky as saying.

She said Clinton, 57, has tried to rewrite history in his book.

"Having read some accounts of what was in this book, I was already disappointed, but curious," she said. "Probably still a bit naive, thinking, well, maybe there's a surprise, maybe he'll be a different, more mature person than what we have seen in the past few days. But I was wrong," she told ITN.

"I really didn't expect him to talk in detail about the relationship, because he is a married man and he has worked hard to stay married and it would be inappropriate, I think, to discuss the details.

"But what I was hoping, and did expect, was for him to acknowledge and correct the inaccurate and false statements that he, his staff and the DNC (Democratic National Committee) made about me when they were trying to protect the presidency. His strategy to try and defeat (former special prosecutor) Ken Starr was to debase my character."

"In the process he destroyed me."

Lewinsky said her relationship with Clinton had been mutual, "from the way it started, all the way through."

I leave it as an exercise for the usual suspects to count the number of times Monica says Bill is a liar in the above.

Posted by: Patrick R. Sullivan on June 26, 2004 04:21 PM


Oh, go fuck yourself, Paddy.

Posted by: ahem on June 27, 2004 12:26 AM


Actually, Patrick, you can bate me all you want, but i do have a life. We've seen you cherrypick before; we've seen you produce information from a parallel reality before; i've said all along show us the actual cite and i'll happily acknowledge that clinton got it wrong, and you've declined the honor (the cite you showed did not prove what you said it proved).

And yes, i've read the lewinsky account; saying that it makes clinton a liar is silly. She wants to be recognized as his lover; he doesn't want to do it, he want to recognize her (not to put too fine a point on it) as a groupie. Exactly how do you know what the truth is?

Oh yes, i remember - if bill clinton said it, it must be untrue, an awesome line of reasoning for which we all respect you enormously....

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