On Thursday, March 19, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and the National Archives opened 11,046 pages of Hillary Clinton’s White House schedules from 1993 to 1998. Given the current dispute between presidential Democratic rivals Barack Obama and Clinton over whether then First Lady Clinton supported the North American Free Trade Agreement when her husband pushed it through Congress in November 1993, it’s hardly surprising that Nafta drew the first headlines. And it didn’t take long for Clinton’s critics to rough her up in no uncertain words.
“Clinton Lie Kills Her Credibility on Trade Policy,” proclaimed the March 20 headline in The Nation magazine. “Now that we know from the 11,000 pages of Clinton White House documents released this week that [the] former First Lady was an ardent advocate for Nafta,” wrote John Nichols, Hillary Clinton has been revealed as “a liar — a put-in-boldface type ‘L-I-A-R’ liar.” The Obama For President campaign quickly agreed. Obama senior strategist David Axelrod told Associated Press reporter Pete Yost that Clinton’s claim that she was a Nafta skeptic back in 1993 was the “political equivalent of consumer fraud.” Clinton now “owes an apology to the people of Ohio and an explanation to the people of this country,” Axelrod added. In case anyone missed the point, Obama’s communications director said that now that the White House papers have been released, “we know that one thing that she was hiding was the truth.”
Clinton spokesman Phil Singer retorted that Obama was the one who couldn’t be trusted on the Nafta dispute. “Senator Obama said that he would not engage in personal attacks, Singer told the AP. “Now, after losses in Ohio and Texas, the Obama campaign is explicitly attacking Senator Clinton’s character.”
So who was right? What did the papers really show? I’ve read them carefully, and can report with confidence that…
Let’s just say that the Obama campaign and The Nation got a little carried away. The papers from Hillary Clinton’s 1993 White House schedule do not show that she was an ardent Nafta advocate, much less that she is now lying about her Nafta views in those days. They do show, clearly, that immediately after her husband took his oath of office on January 20, 1993, Hillary Clinton and her staff became deeply involved in pushing health care reform — the only substantive issue that the meeting logs show the First Lady as a major player all that year.
On September 14, President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and other dignitaries including former presidents George H. W. Bush and Jimmy Carter headed up a grand ceremony to celebrate Nafta’s signing. But the highlight of Hillary Clinton’s day was when she went up to Capitol Hill to speak with with 44 members of Congress — on health care.
On Oct. 5, the First Lady participated in a “Nafta healthcare meeting” in the Roosevelt Room, after which there was a photo op. Bill Daley — the Chicago pol who was running the president’s so-called “war room” — was at that meeting. It was the only time that the logs show that Hillary Clinton met with Daley in a Nafta meeting, which appeared to be focused on the small part of the trade agreement dealing with health issues that the First Lady would naturally have been interested in. This is not evidence that Clinton played a major role in Nafta, one way or the other.
On November 9, the First lady participated in a satellite feed from the White House to an annual meeting of the American Dental Association held in San Francisco. She attended a health care meeting with 40 people. And at 11:30 that morning, Clinton “dropped by” a Nafta briefing in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building, where 120 people were meeting. She made some “brief remarks,” the logs show, but we don’t know what Clinton said.
[It is highly unlikely that the First Lady would have undercut her husband by expressing public misgivings about Nafta to 120 people. Indeed, two people from the private sector who attended the Nov. 9 briefing vividly recall that Hillary Clinton made a clear pitch for Nafta’s passage that morning. At the same, time, according to every published account of those days — including Hillary Clinton’s own account in her Living History memoir — the First Lady and her staff had also been unhappy that President Clinton had decided to put his fight for Nafta ahead of their top priority: health care. In any event, the just-released White House logs don’t reveal what the First Lady really thought of Nafta’s merits, one way or the other. And they certainly do not show her up as a liar.]
On November 17, the day the House of Representatives voted to pass Nafta, Clinton was busy talking about health care to congressional spouses, and making television videos for various national health groups.
On November 20, 1993, the day the Senate passed Nafta. Hillary Clinton flew to Orlando, Florida, and went over to the Epcot Center at the Walt Disney World. The White House logs show that the First Lady was greeted by Mickey Mouse, who was accompanied by 100 children.
The logs are silent on what, if anything, the First Lady whispered in Mickey’s giant mouse ears about her views on international trade.