Hillary Clinton's Achilles Heel
On the night of July 17, 1996, President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary attended a gala for the Women's Leadership Forum of the Democratic National Committee at the Sheraton Washington Hotel. We know this from the 11,000 pages of Hillary's schedule as first lady that the National Archives released in 2008.
At 8:35 that evening, after working the rope line, the Clintons left the Sheraton by presidential motorcade and headed back to the White House where they arrived at 8:45.
A 8:31 that same evening, two FAA veterans at the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center observed a target arching and intersecting with the Paris-bound TWA Flight 800 as the 747 headed east off Long Island's south shore.
The controllers reported what they saw immediately. A manager from that center rushed the radar data to the FAA technical center in Atlantic City for further analysis.
In Atlantic City a playback of the data was recorded on videotape and plotted on to paper. From there, it was faxed to FAA headquarters in Washington and rushed "immediately" to the White House.
"Holy Christ, this looks bad," said Ron Schleede of the National Transportation Safety Board upon first seeing the data that "suggested something fast made the turn and took the airplane."
As he reported in his bestseller Against All Enemies, Clinton anti-terror czar Richard Clarke got the message, too. By 9 p.m., he was driving in to the White House to convene a meeting of his security group. He did not call such a meeting after the ValuJet crash two months earlier. Clarke was clearly worried.
"I dreaded what I thought was about to happen," he wrote, "The Eisenhower option." Had Iran been behind the downing of TWA Flight 800, the president would have had to respond. Two weeks later, in his monthly interview with historian Taylor Branch, President Clinton actually traced the seeming missile attack to Iran. "They want war," he told Branch.
When the Clintons returned to the White House that July 17 evening, they chose not to join Clarke and the other agency representatives in the White House situation room. Instead, they holed up in the family quarters, much as Obama did on the night of September 11, 2012.
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Robert "Buzz" Patterson has confirmed the same. Patterson was in a position to know. He carried the nuclear football for the president, and he too was in the White House, though clearly out of the loop. The one person Patterson can tentatively cite as being in the family quarters with the Clintons was the always-reliable Sandy Berger, the deputy national security adviser.
By 3 a.m. the Clintons had apparently gathered enough information to call National Security Adviser Lake with the following message: "Dust off the contingency plans." Yes, the Eisenhower Option. But right now, especially on these terms, with the 1996 election comfortably in the bag, the Clintons no more wanted an international dust-up than Obama did in Benghazi in 2012.
Given that the destruction of TWA Flight 800 was the biggest news story of 1996 and almost took us to war with Iran, one would think that this incident would get serious attention in the Clintons' respective biographies. But the Clintons know how to keep secrets.
Hillary dedicated one-third of a sentence in her 500-plus page memoir, Living History, to the disaster. Bill gave it one small paragraph in his 900-plus page memoir, My Life. By contrast, he wrote more words about a June 1996 day in Albuquerque where he discussed that community's curfew program.
A year ago, there was little reason to believe that the truth would ever be told about the demise of the plane and the death of 230 innocent souls, but a new documentary released this summer, TWA Flight 800, got considerable press attention. Even our reliably corrupt media found it hard to ignore the six high-level whistleblowers to a conspicuous cover-up.
TWA Flight 800 is now available on Netflix. The media will not follow-up. The NTSB will likely let the sleeping dogs sleep, but a Democratic primary opponent just might find it interesting enough to watch. We'll see.