Charges Continue to Haunt Hillary Rodham Clinton

By Elvin, John | Insight on the News, August 19, 1996 | Go to article overview

Charges Continue to Haunt Hillary Rodham Clinton


Elvin, John, Insight on the News


Sworn testimony says Craig Livingstone, the man who obtained those confidential FBI files on top Republicans, was Mrs. Clinton's creature. The first lady denies it. Would this woman obstruct justice?

I didn't want to come right out and say 'the first lady is a liar and a felon,"' says Jerry Zeifman, a former law professor who served for more than a dozen years on the staff of the House Judiciary Committee, explaining in a lengthy interview with Insight why his book, Without Honor: The Impeachment of President Nixon and the Crimes of Camelot, has made less of a media splash than some of the more sensational Clinton books. Zeifman, chief counsel to the committee during impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon, now says he wishes he had come down harder on an impeachment-investigation staffer fresh out of the Yale Law School named Hillary Diane Rodham. By suppressing important documents and lying to the people she was supposed to serve, in Zeifman's opinion, Hillary behaved criminally "It is a felony to obstruct a congressional investigation," he observes.

Both Hillary Rodham and Bill Clinton, the friend with whom she lived during her last year at Yale, were recruited to serve on the investigative staff by Yale law professor Burke Marshall -- in Zeifman's portrayal, the Moriarty of the Nixon impeachment effort. Marshall had not returned Insight's calls by press time. Zeifman says Marshall, who had no official standing in the procedure other than as mentor to many of the players, including John Doar, special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, used his influence to shape the staff in accordance with two objectives. First, says Zeifman, he wanted to block any investigative efforts that might follow Watergate leads to illegal or questionable activities by the Kennedy administration, and particularly the Kennedy Justice Department in which many of his proteges had served. Second, Zeifman says, Marshall wanted to drag out the impeachment process as long as possible to further destabilize the Republican Party and enhance Sen. Edward Kennedy's chances of winning the presidency.

Clinton, by then plotting his own political moves in Arkansas, declined the opportunity to help impeach Nixon. Zeifman says this was because he believed home-state voters might not appreciate a "Get Nixon" attitude -- one he and Hillary shared, having suffered the heartbreak of working for the lost cause of George McGovern.

Hillary, though, seized the chance and soon was on the staff of Doar's senior associate counsel, Bernard Nussbaum. Despite the frequent characterization, Hillary was, in Zeifman's view, hardly just another lowly staffer -- in fact, he says, she was the secret liaison to Marshall and worked in several ways to promote his objectives. Among two of the tactics she orchestrated, says Zeifman, were an attempt to deny Nixon the right to counsel in his pending appearances before Congress, and legislation she crafted that would have prohibited members of Congress from questioning witnesses.

But the centerpiece of Zeifman's charges is a document prepared under Hillary's supervision, but never revealed to the committee, providing historical precedent that might, in effect, have gotten Nixon off the hook.

"In a civil proceeding for impeachment, the prior misconduct of prior presidents is a relevant defence" in charges related to "abuse of power," Zeifman explains. While it has no bearing on a criminal case of, say, prostitution or jaywalking that "everyone else does it," a president's conduct in office can be excused as failing to constitute abuse if previous presidents set precedent by acting similarly. "The staff, including Hillary Rodham, became keenly aware of this," Zeifman says, and "as a result, John Doar directed Hillary to work with a group of 10 eminent history professors ... to prepare a report on allegations of misconduct of presidents from George Washington to Lyndon Johnson. …

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Charges Continue to Haunt Hillary Rodham Clinton
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