Hillary and Alger

It is obvious that Hillary Clinton believes her ends justify any means.  She has earned Bob Woodward’s observation that she is Nixonian.

But before there was Nixon there was Alger Hiss, and Clinton’s tactics strongly resemble those of Hiss some sixty-five years ago. 

Hiss as a common denominator for both Clinton and Nixon is not surprising, particularly given that Nixon was on the committee that exposed Hiss’ deceptions -- Tricky Dick may have picked up a few moves, moves that are now Clinton’s.

As you may know, based on accusations made by his friend Whittaker Chambers, Alger Hiss was charged with being a member of a Communist conspiracy, espionage and the mishandling of confidential State Department information. 

After his testimony to one congressional committee and two grand juries, Hiss’ misrepresentations and discrepancies were so glaring that he lost all credibility.  In January 1950, he was found guilty of perjury and received two concurrent five-year sentences, of which he served three and a half years.

This is not to suggest Clinton is a communist or a spy; just that, as in Nixon’s case and Hiss’ before, obfuscation is a shallow and dicey strategy that depends on the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief.  Once that suspension is unsuspended, the strategy collapses and perjury is obvious. 

What first reminded me of Hiss was Clinton’s reaction to a judge’s simple request that she confirm she had produced all records:

While I do not know what information may be ‘responsive’ for purposes of this law suit, I have directed that all my emails on clintonemail.com in my custody, that were or potentially were federal records be provided to the Department of State, and on information and belief, this has been done.

That’s a far cry from, “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no”; and its slippery complexity immediately brought to mind Hiss’ testimony, so well documented in Chambers’ book Witness:

I have asked counsel to prepare as rapidly as possible a collection of all the available record evidence -- photostats, originals, or copies -- of all the record evidence on these matters, which it is apparent the committee considers of importance.

Both statements are similarly constructed to allow for the withholding of data through qualifiers like “responsive,” “potentially… federal records,” and “a collection.”  And both establish plausible deniability of error and non-responsiveness through a third party who is “directed” or “asked to prepare” the requested data. 

Too clever by half, Clinton is on the same path Hiss trod long ago -- a path to laughable.  The similarities are striking:

Categorical Denial.   Both Hiss and Clinton began with absolute denials.  If Hiss had never met Chambers, then Chambers could not have witnessed anything -- so Hiss claimed to have “never set eyes” on Chambers. 

Likewise, no classified material, no email problem.  So Clinton asserted, “There is no classified material.”

The “Leaky” Committee.  On multiple occasions Hiss accused the congressional committee of leaks, when in fact it was he who was in constant contact with the press. 

Similarly, Clinton attributed a New York Times’ story to leaks from overzealous Republicans on the Benghazi committee, “despite citing no specific knowledge of the Times’ sourcing.”

Attack the inquirersHiss attacked both Chambers and congressional committee members.  He falsely accused Chambers of having been in a mental hospital, attributed the committee’s inquiry to political motives and suggested that one committee member’s zeal was due to a disagreement with Hiss over American foreign policy.

In a campaign email, Clinton asserted that the Benghazi committee was “conducting a partisan witch hunt.”  Likewise, again in reference to the New York Times’ story, Clinton and team observed that reporters “got taken for a ride here by partisan sources on the House Benghazi Committee that have made a habit of routinely and selectively leaking information in an attempt to make Hillary Clinton look bad” and that “this is just clearly an effort to influence the presidential campaign.”

Denying the Subpoena.  Alger Hiss was so sensitive to having received a subpoena that he attempted to deny its role in his testimony.  When asked if he was appearing in response to a subpoena, Hiss defensively non-answered, “… there was no need to serve a subpoena… I would be very glad to be here… to the extent that my coming here quite voluntarily after having received the subpoena is in response to it; I would accept that [I am here in response to a subpoena].” 

Similarly, Clinton was so touchy about her subpoena that she appears to have lied about it.   After having been subpoenaed by the Benghazi committee, she claimed, “I’ve never had a subpoena.”  And, like Hiss, she trumpeted the voluntary nature of her potential appearance.  In her lawyer’s words, Clinton has “accepted the Select Committee’s offer to appear before the committee.”  Her lawyer knows that the Latin “sub poena” means “under penalty,” not an invitation to which one may or may not RSVP.

Sarcasm.  The Hiss committee and grand juries endured Hiss’s constant and blistering sarcasm.  Hiss once derisively mouthed that if the committee hearing lasted more than 10 or 15 minutes he “would have to call the Harvard Club and leave word” that he wouldn’t be there for his six o’clock appointment.

In Iowa, Clinton quipped, “You may have seen I recently launched a Snapchat account.  I love it.  Those messages disappear all by themselves.”  Usually classified national security data isn’t treated so flippantly. 

Evasion.  Hiss feigned ignorance for purposes of evasion.  To the committee’s inquiry about his familiarity with Chambers and its requests for apartment lease records, he responded:

I said that the pictures were definitely of a face that was not unfamiliar to me.

I have now looked in my apartment in New York, and I must have got rid of the leases when I moved from the house into an apartment which meant a certain contraction of possessions.

Exasperated, a committee member responded, “I certainly hope that you will not have to use the phrase ‘to the best of my recollection,’ which you have used over 75 times thus far ….”

Clinton’s recent answer to Ed Henry’s question about wiping her server was similarly unresponsive:

What, like with a cloth or something?

The Name Game, aka the George Crosley Maneuver.

Once Whittaker Chambers had accurately described Hiss’s family, car, home, housekeeper, pet and the prothonotary warbler that Hiss once bird-watched on the shore of the Potomac, Hiss could no longer credibly assert that he had “never set eyes” on the man.  But instead of coming clean, Hiss renamed Chambers. 

In changed testimony, Hiss claimed that he had in fact “set eyes” on the man who knew all these intimate details; but he knew him by another name, George Crosley:

I did not say I have never seen this man.  I said, so far as I know I have never seen Whittaker Chambers.

With this incredible move, Hiss lost any remaining credibility. 

In the face of now 300 classified emails, and counting, Clinton has pulled her own George Crosley by renaming emails formerly known as classified:

The State Department has confirmed that I did not send nor receive material marked classified or send material marked classified.

Clinton has tried to redefine “classified” as an email with a certain title, not an email that contains classified information.

To the contrary, a recent Reuters article details that scores of Clinton’s emails were “born classified” because they were filled with “information the U.S. government… deems classified from the get-go,” regardless of title.  Although she was trained in these details, Clinton now hopes incompetence is a credible defense, and more forgivable than dishonesty.  It is a desperation move.

Clinton should come clean if for no other reason than to avoid becoming a laughing stock like Hiss, not to mention the other consequences Hiss brought upon himself.

You have no memory of having disposed of the car in any other way except by this series of three possibilities…?

How many cars have you given away in your life, Mr. Hiss?  (laughter)

Mr. Hiss:  I do not have a recollection of what I did.

Of course, what Clinton does is her choice.  But the Benghazi committee should be inspired by Whittaker Chamber’s praise of the earlier committee’s fortitude and persistence in the face of intense political pressure.  Even President Truman called the Hiss case a “red herring” whose purpose was political -- then the truth was made known and Alger Hiss was convicted of perjury.