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Did the Clintons Try to Whack a Cat?

Sure, Citizens United's Hillary documentary is a political hit piece—but it's also a preview of the mudslinging to come should she receive the Democratic nomination.

| Tue Jan. 15, 2008 4:00 AM EST

The criminal past that makes Paul a problem for Clinton also makes him a problem for the filmmakers. To address this issue, Citizens United hired a professional polygrapher to administer a lie-detector test to Paul on film, which of course he passes. It’s a laughable scene, and it’s tempting to dismiss the guy’s story, except that a lot of it is true. The Clintons have still never explained how they hooked up with Paul. As Paul points out in the film, his house was prepared for presidential visits, and he also visited the White House on several occasions, so it’s hard to believe that the Clintons didn’t know he was a crook long before the gala. You don’t need to be James Carville to see how the episode may play out in campaign ads next summer.

Right-wingers generally aren’t famous for their sense of humor, but Hillary manages to land some zingers. The movie deftly uses clips of Sandy Berger, the former Clinton national security advisor who stole classified documents from the National Archives in 2003. The film claims he did it for the Clintons. There’s Berger giving a statement to the press about making a "mistake," followed by Senator Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor, sporting a mischievous smile, commenting on the whole affair: "Were I to engage in a little literary flair, I might say it seems Sandy walked out of the National Archives with some PDBs in his BVDs and some classified docs in his socks."

The film, however, goes overboard on conspiracy theories about how the Clintons have tried to suppress information that Bill Clinton failed to kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance—and the documents Berger destroyed, Hillary suggests, were part of that effort. But the fact that Berger is now advising Hillary’s presidential campaign is a legitimate issue that can’t be brushed off as right-wing propaganda.

And finally, you can already see the making of the campaign ads in the film’s segment on Bill Clinton’s pardoning of 16 members of the Puerto Rican terrorist group Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional, which the film lays at the feet of Hillary. The film tries to jerk some tears by interviewing Joseph Connor, whose father was killed in a FALN bombing of the Fraunces Tavern in New York City in 1975 when Joseph was nine years old. Hillary strings together grainy home-movie footage of Connor and his father with narration about the bombing. Connor returns to the tavern with a retired FBI agent who investigated the crime. There’s lots of lip biting, and overkill is the operative word, especially given that none of the people Clinton pardoned were personally responsible for the tavern bombing. Nonetheless, it’s great agitprop, as it strikes at the heart of Hillary’s national-security bona fides.

At 90 minutes, the film is way too long, in part to make room for all the nasty commentary from the conservative chattering class. They’re all in there: Bay Buchanan, Tony Blankley, an utterly vicious Dick Morris, Robert Novak, Michael Barone, Larry Kudlow, as well as such luminaries as Indiana Congressman Dan Burton, for whom Citizens United president David Bossie worked in the 1990s, Newt Gingrich, and Buzz Patterson, a retired lt. colonel who carried the "nuclear football" as the senior military aide to Clinton but who has since churned out a host of books attacking his former boss for wrecking the military.

The odd man out in all this is former New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth. In contrast to everyone else in the film, Gerth’s comments are measured and mostly refer to the research from the book he recently coauthored on Hillary, Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton. His biggest knocks on Clinton are that not one of the 200 speeches he reviewed addressed counterterrorism and that she is constantly wrestling with her own identity. But Gerth’s appearance in the film will bolster suspicions among those in the Clinton camp that the reporter was in cahoots with the vast right-wing conspiracy to bring down Bill with his reporting on Whitewater.

Gerth hadn’t returned a call for comment at press time, but Citizens United’s Bossie told me last night that Gerth sat for an interview because he knew Bossie from his days on the Senate Whitewater committee and believed he was a straight shooter who wouldn't take Gerth's comments out of context.

Despite all its significant flaws and misrepresentations, Hillary is a useful reminder that Clinton carries a lot of baggage. It should give voters pause if only because the film lays waste to any notion that the vast right-wing conspiracy slithered under a rock. The Clinton-haters are alive and well, and in fighting form.

Whether anyone outside the Free Republic universe will actually see the film is another matter. While it will be screened in theaters across the country starting this week, federal election law has prevented Citizens United from advertising the film on the grounds that it is a campaign ad. Bossie has sued the FEC, arguing that it should be protected commercial speech and thus exempt from the campaign laws, which would require the group to disclose its donors, something it clearly doesn’t want to do. A panel of federal judges recently heard arguments in the case, but no decision has yet been made. For now, Bossie will have to rely on Sean Hannity and word of mouth for promotion, which in a way is too bad. Democratic primary voters ought to watch it, just to make sure that they fully understand that a vote for Hillary is also a vote to bring back the people behind this film. It’s clear that the American public won’t be able to have one without the other.

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