Hillary Clinton has what pollsters call high negatives, which essentially means that lots of people really don’t like her and never will. But her supporters have long argued that she is a formidable candidate despite these negatives because those numbers aren't likely to go any higher. As the theory goes, Americans are already well acquainted with the Clintons' dirty laundry—Whitewater, Monica, etc.—and as a result, any more mud slung at Hillary isn’t likely to stick. Unlike the less-seasoned presidential contenders, she's been through the mill, and is still standing. But if last night’s Washington premier of Hillary: The Movie is any indication, this particular case for Clinton the candidate is wishful thinking.
Created by the conservative political group Citizens United, the anti-Hillary movie makes the Democratic primary season look like a polite college-debate tournament. It hurls all the down-and-dirty opposition research her opponents have thus far declined to touch. Moreover, it doesn’t simply recycle the old anti-Hillary stuff; it raises a new slew of charges to spin the New York senator as a cross between Machiavelli and Lady Macbeth. The movie offers a preview of what the general election could look like should Clinton become the Democratic nominee. Despite far too much ranting by Ann Coulter and a few silly moments, the movie hits hard at Clinton’s weak spots and lands some solid punches that can’t be dismissed just because they come from the right-wing’s usual suspects.
Hillary dips briefly into some of the old Clinton scandals, including Bill's well-documented skirt chasing. An alleged victim of the former president's sexual advances, Kathleen Willey, appears in the film a decade after her moment on the national stage. Willey shows extensive signs of plastic surgery and paranoia and reprises some of the material from her recent book, Target: Caught in the Crosshairs of Bill and Hillary Clinton. In a taut-lipped interview, she suggests that after her name surfaced in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill Clinton, the Clintons arranged to have her kitty assassinated. Willey, who attended last night's screening, says she got an anonymous phone call taunting her about her missing cat and later discovered a cat skull on her porch. She says a private investigator tipped her off that the White House was having her investigated. (The investigator, a pockmarked Jared Stern, also appears in the film like some sort of Deep Throat, interviewed in a parking garage.)
To great effect, the film also digs into the tale of Billy Dale, the former longtime head of the White House travel office who was allegedly sacked on Hillary’s orders so she could staff the office with cronies boasting Hollywood connections. According to the movie spin, the White House falsely accused Dale of embezzling thousands of dollars from the travel office as justification for the firing. He was prosecuted and acquitted by a jury in two hours. His story of how the Clintons ruined his life brought some audience members to tears. Of course unsaid in the film is that there was substantial evidence in his trial that Dale had mismanaged the travel office, that he was getting freebies—like sporting-event tickets—from contractors, and that he had diverted $54,000 in refund checks into his own bank account and lost track of $14,000 in petty cash, all solid reasons to fire the guy.
But the movie’s producers smartly skip over most of the ancient history from the Clinton administration and stick to fresher material, much of which will be unfamiliar to the average viewer (or voter). The fundraising scandals alone provide a mountain of fodder. And Hillary makes great use of the video footage from the 2000 "Hollywood Farewell Gala Salute to William Jefferson Clinton." The star-studded event was organized and paid for by Peter F. Paul, a repeat felon and con artist who had cozied up to the Clintons in the waning days of the administration. Aiding him was Aaron Tonken, another con man who was later convicted of defrauding charities, who helpfully provides an interview for the film from prison.
Paul, who is interviewed extensively in the movie, paid $1.2 million to put on the gala, which raised money for Hillary Clinton’s Senate race. Her Senate campaign, however, reported to the Federal Election Commission that the event only cost $523,000. (In-kind donations such as hosting a party count toward candidate spending limits.) The FEC eventually fined Clinton’s campaign $35,000 for underreporting the cost of the party. Hillary Clinton’s finance director was tried and acquitted for his role in reporting the event cost.
After the Washington Post reported on Paul’s criminal history, which included drug charges and all sorts of financial shenanigans (even defrauding Cuba, if you can imagine the level of criminal ingenuity that would entail), Hillary Clinton distanced herself from him. But Hillary showcases lots of footage and chummy photos of the former first lady with Paul, even a video of a conference call she made to him. All this suggests a close relationship that’s going to be tough to avoid addressing if she ends up facing off with a Republican next fall.