I am so excited to tell you that we’re returning to the question of whether Hillary Clinton threw a vase at her husband in the White House.
Really, this one hasn’t come up for about 20 years. But Gary Byrne says he saw the pieces! In a box! Byrne is a former Secret Service officer who has written a tell-all book, “Crisis of Character,” about the (horrible/embarrassing/appalling) things he purportedly witnessed during the Bill Clinton presidency.
It’s coming out next week to what’s supposed to be a big rollout in the conservative media. Donald Trump has been twittering about it, and he quoted from it in his speech Wednesday. (That was the speech in which the new, measured Trump said Clinton “may be the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency,” whose “decisions spread death, destruction and terrorism everywhere she touched.”)
Byrne was a low-ranking officer who could never have gotten near enough to the Clintons to see all the things he says he knew firsthand. His juiciest anecdotes are just a rehash of old rumors.
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The Association of Former Agents of the U.S. Secret Service issued a denunciation: “One must question the veracity and content of any book which implies that its author played such an integral part of so many (claimed) incidents.”
This is typical of what concerned citizens are going through this year. We ought to be diligently examining the downside of Hillary’s history as part of our civic duties. But having Trump on the other side of the ledger makes Travelgate and the Goldman Sachs speeches seem sort of irrelevant. “Crisis of Character” is supposed to give us an insight into the old White House messes, but it’s written by a guy who has doubts about whether Vince Foster really killed himself.
One of the legends Byrne rakes up is that Hillary mistreated her security detail. (He claims the first lady’s bullying drove some of his comrades to alcohol, drugs, prostitutes or — this is a little unusual — performance enhancers.) This is old gossip, but not everyone agrees.
“Those stories have always kind of been out there. I don’t know why; she’s more than pleasant,” said a higher-ranking agent who had been on the Clinton security detail. “I spent close to two years with her — most days, to be honest. I never found Mrs. Clinton to be anything but professional.”
Speaking in a phone interview, on the condition of anonymity, the agent said Hillary tended to get irritable mainly when the agents pushed people out of the way when she was walking or stopped traffic for her when she was driving: “She’s just kind of someone who wants to swim with the fish. She didn’t like royal treatment.”
Although the book is being promoted as a cautionary tale about Hillary’s character, beyond the rudeness stories there’s actually only one juicy anecdote about her. That’s the vase-throwing story. It’s been around almost since the Clintons arrived in Washington, although the object being hurled has traditionally been described as a lamp.
I remember going home to Ohio a few weeks after the inauguration and telling it to my mother, who had already heard it on Rush Limbaugh. Several months later, Katie Couric went on a tour of the White House with the first lady and asked her to “point out just where you were when you threw the lamp at your husband.”
“Well, you know … I’m looking for that spot, too,” Hillary replied.
Gossip is, in part, an expression of public anxiety — people speculated, endlessly, about which politicians might be secretly gay back when there was an overriding fear of homosexuality, and before that, we had periodic rumors about presidential candidates with “Negro blood.” It’s possible the Hillary-lamp stories stemmed from nervousness about a first lady who intended to wield actual political power in the job.
As time went on, a Bible and “punches” were added to the things that Hillary was rumored to have thrown at her husband. Then 23 years later a former Secret Service officer, writing a tell-all book about people he barely glimpsed in the course of duty, breathlessly announced he had once spotted a telltale box full of vase shards. (“The rumors were true.”)
Most of the Byrne book is actually devoted to the sex escapades of Bill Clinton. There’s one bit about an alleged affair with a woman who’s not alive to defend herself. Beyond that, it’s likely that those of us who were around for the Monica Lewinsky era know as much as Byrne does about the subject. We’ve already been there. The country has already demonstrated that it is prepared to accept leaders with stupendously imperfect personal lives if they get us where we want to go in public.
But I vote that if Hillary threw a vase, more power to her.