Fact Check

Dick Morris on Hillary Clinton

Former Clinton White House advisor Dick Morris made several assertions about Hillary Clinton in a column that was subsequently circulated as an e-mail forward.

Published Jan. 19, 2016

A column written by Clinton adviser-turned-opponent Dick Morris pointed out details elided in a 2007 Hillary Clinton campaign ad narrated by President Bill Clinton.

Circulation of the above-quoted e-mail, attributed to political commentator Dick Morris, has escalated sharply as the 2016 presidential election draws nearer, but this item began making the online rounds several years ago. Often titled "Bill Clinton's Loving Wife" or "The Truth About Hillary Clinton," this piece has circulated in a number of forms since at least as far back as August 2007. The text has remained mostly constant across iterations.

As the message's introduction section frequently states, Dick Morris worked closely with the Clinton White House as a consultant and strategist through much of Bill Clinton's presidency. By the mid-2000s, Morris had became openly critical of both Clintons, and the item reproduced in the example field is similar in tone to his other Clinton-related commentaries.

The bulk of the e-mail's content was published under the title "DICK MORRIS' '08 PLAY-BY-PLAY ANALYSIS Vol 1, #11" on 25 May 2007 and was framed as a point-by-point rebuttal by Morris of statements Bill Clinton made about Hillary as captured in a 2007 video:



Go to www.hillaryclinton.com and check out Bill Clinton’s syrupy five minute ad for Hillary. He introduces the commercial by saying that wants to share some things we may not know about Hillary’s background. His version of her biography is about as reliable as if it appeared in Pravda!

So, I wanted to make a few corrections.

An archived copy of this video reveals that Morris often misrepresented what Bill Clinton had actually said in the video and therefore ended up "rebutting" claims that hadn't been made in the first place.

Bill says: Hillary never wanted to run for public office, but she did want to work at public service.

The facts are: When Clinton was considering not running for another term as Governor of Arkansas in 1990, Hillary said she would run if he didn't. She and Bill even had me take two surveys to assess her chances of winning. The conclusion was that she couldn't win because people would just see her as a seat warmer for when Bill came back licking his wounds after losing for president. So she didn't run. Bill did and won. But there is no question she had her eye on public office, as opposed to service, long ago.

Determining exactly what Hillary Clinton's political aspirations might have been in the 1970s, or the 1990s, is rather difficult and subjective. However, determining what Bill Clinton actually said in the video is simple and doesn't match what Morris asserted:

[W]hen we met, over 35 years ago in law school, I was interested in public office, but she wasn't. She thought she'd never run for anything. She was just interested in public service.

In other words, Bill Clinton said that when he first met Hillary, back when both of them were law school students in the 1970s, Hillary's aspirations at that time didn't include eventual election to public office. He didn't say, as Morris misleadingly implied, that Hillary never changed her viewpoint on that subject at any time in the ensuing decades.

Bill says: In law school, Hillary worked on legal services for the poor.

The facts are: Hillary's main extra-curricular activity in law school was helping the Black Panthers, on trial in Connecticut for torturing and killing a federal agent. She went to court every day as part of a law student monitoring committee trying to spot civil rights violations and develop grounds for appeal.

Bill Clinton's specific words were: "In law school, [Hillary] worked for legal services for poor people," a statement not very different from Morris' paraphrasing. But Bill Clinton additionally stated that Hillary worked at the Yale Child Study Center during her law school years, an assertion matched by information found in sources such as a biography of Hillary Clinton hosted at the The National First Ladies' Library:

During her second year in law school, Hillary Clinton volunteered at Yale's Child Study Center, learning about new research on early childhood brain development, as well as New Haven Hospital, where she took on cases of child abuse and the city Legal Services, providing free legal service to the poor. Upon graduation from law school, she served as staff attorney for the Children’s Defense Fund in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Morris' claim that "Hillary's main extra-curricular activity in law school was helping the Black Panthers, on trial in Connecticut for torturing and killing a federal agent" is partly true and partly an exaggeration. As noted in our lengthy article on this topic, Hillary was one of a number of Yale students who played a minor, tangential role in the trial of several Black Panthers (accused of murdering an informant) by organizing volunteers to monitor the legal proceedings for civil rights violations. This activity was far from Hillary's "main extra-curricular activity," however: during her time at Yale, Hillary also worked at the Yale Child Study Center, took on cases of child abuse at Yale–New Haven Hospital, volunteered at New Haven Legal Services, served on Senator Walter Mondale's Subcommittee on Migratory Labor, worked on the 1970 campaign of Connecticut U.S. Senate candidate Joseph Duffey, and interned at the Oakland law firm of Treuhaft, Walker and Burnstein.

Bill says: Hillary spent a year after graduation working on a children's rights project for poor kids.

The facts are: Hillary interned with Bob Truehaft [sic], the head of the California Communist Party. She met Bob when he represented the Panthers and traveled all the way to San Francisco to take an internship with him.

This claim is a misleading non-sequitur. Hillary both interned with a law firm that included Robert Treuhaft among its name partners while she was a Yale law student, and she performed a year of postgraduate study at the Yale Child Study Center after receiving her law degree. Morris deceptively makes it sounds as if these activities took place at the same time and were therefore mutually exclusive.

Morris' emphasis on Robert Treuhaft's former Communist connections is somewhat incongruent with what he stated in his 2004 book about Hillary Clinton, Rewriting History:

Hillary was no Communist, nor should her work at the Treuhaft firm imply that she was," Morris wrote. "But the fact that she chose this job out of all the summer jobs that might have been available, traveling three thousand miles for it, tells something about her orientation at the time. Just as the fact that she does not describe the firm's work or reputation says something about her today.

Morris' column continued by stating:

Bill says: Hillary could have written her own job ticket, but she turned down all the lucrative job offers.

The facts are: She flunked the DC bar exam and only passed the Arkansas bar. She had no job offers in Arkansas and only got hired by the University of Arkansas Law School at Fayetteville because Bill was already teaching there. She only joined the prestigious Rose Law Firm after Bill became Attorney General and made partner only after he was elected governor.

Again, this is a subject covered in a separate article on this site which notes that Hillary indeed failed the Washington D.C. bar exam on her first attempt at it in 1973, but the circumstances were more complicated than suggested:

Even one of the most embarrassing episodes of Hillary's young life, when she failed the Washington, D.C., bar exam, didn't appear to result from a lack of discipline. She enrolled in a bar study class with a professor, Joseph Nacrelli, who had a reputation for knowing every nook and cranny of the D.C. test. But in 1973 the exam was in its second year of including a multistate portion that tested more generally on American law rather than just city-specific questions. Hearing the professor lecture on a topic they knew well, some of the students in the class determined that portions of the material he was teaching were wrong. Those students panicked because the bar would test them on subjects they hadn't taken in law school. So they began to study those subjects independently, in addition to continuing the class, and they passed. It's hard to know whether Hillary failed because she studied the wrong information — some of those who relied solely on the class made the grade.

Morris also deceptively reversed the nature of events to make it sound as if Hillary had no job prospects and was only able to obtain work in Arkansas due to the influence of her husband. In fact, Hillary had significant prospects in Washington, D.C., but she passed them up in order to move to Arkansas and remain close to her beau, Bill Clinton:

[Hillary] Rodham was viewed as someone with a bright political future: Democratic political organizer and consultant Betsey Wright had moved from Texas to Washington the previous year to help guide her career, and Wright thought Rodham had the potential to become a future senator or president. Meanwhile, Clinton had repeatedly asked Rodham to marry him and she continued to demur. After failing the District of Columbia bar exam and passing the Arkansas exam, Rodham came to a key decision. As she later wrote, "I chose to follow my heart instead of my head". She thus followed Bill Clinton to Arkansas, rather than staying in Washington, where career prospects were brighter.

Morris maintained:

Bill says: President Carter appointed Hillary to the Legal Services Board of Directors and she became its chairman.

The facts are: The appointment was in exchange for Bill's support for Carter in his 1980 primary against Ted Kennedy. Hillary became chairman in a coup in which she won a majority away from Carter's choice to be chairman.

Morris' claim here is anachronistic: Hillary Rodham's appointment (along with four others) to the Legal Services Board of Directors by President Jimmy Carter was announced on 12 December 1977, while Ted Kennedy didn't officially enter the 1980 presidential race until nearly two years later, in November 1979. Certainly there were earlier indicators that Kennedy was mulling a White House bid against the incumbent President Carter, but at time of Hillary's appointment in December 1977 Carter had been in office less than a year and was almost certainly not planning for a largely unthinkable challenge from within his own party for an election three years in the future.

Bill says: She served on the board of the Arkansas Children's Hospital.

The facts are: Yes she did. But her main board activity, not mentioned by Bill, was to sit on the Walmart board of directors, for a substantial fee. She was silent about their labor and health care practices.

Here again Morris deceptively presents a "Yeah, but ..." argument that jumps from one item to another, falsely suggesting that two referenced activities (which took place several years apart) were somehow related and/or mutually exclusive. Hillary Clinton was appointed to both the boards of both the Arkansas Children's Hospital (in 1979) and the giant Walmart retail chain (in 1986):

After Bill Clinton was sworn in as governor for the first time in 1979, he appointed his wife to be the chairwoman of Arkansas' Rural Health Advisory Committee — a group that worked to expand health care access within the state's large rural population.

Around the same time, Hillary became a board member of the Arkansas Children’s Hospital, where she helped establish the state's first neonatal nursery while she was pregnant with Chelsea. The facility has since expanded several times over.

Walmart board members who served alongside Clinton suggested she selected her battles strategically:

Fellow board members and company executives, who have not spoken publicly about her role at Wal-Mart, say Mrs. Clinton used her position to champion personal causes, like the need for more women in management and a comprehensive environmental program, despite being Wal-Mart's only female director, the youngest and arguably the least experienced in business. On other topics, like Wal-Mart's vehement anti-unionism, for example, she was largely silent, they said.

During their meetings and private conversations, Mrs. Clinton never voiced objections to Wal-Mart’s stance on unions, said Mr. Tate and John A. Cooper, another board member.

"She was not an outspoken person on labor, because I think she was smart enough to know that if she favored labor, she was the only one," Mr. Tate said. "It would only lessen her own position on the board if she took that position."

Morris' column went on to say:

Bill says: Hillary didn't succeed at getting health care for all Americans in 1994 but she kept working at it and helped to create the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that provides five million children with health insurance.

The facts are: Hillary had nothing to do with creating CHIP. It was included in the budget deal between Clinton and Republican Majority Leader Senator Trent Lott. I helped to negotiate the deal. The money came half from the budget deal and half from the Attorney Generals' tobacco settlement. Hillary had nothing to do with either source of funds.

Again, Morris has misquoted what Bill Clinton said about Hillary Clinton: the former didn't claim his wife "created" the Children's health Insurance Program; what he he said was that as First Lady "she kept working, first to expand healthcare coverage to children ..."

It is true in a strictly literal sense that Hillary Clinton did not "create" the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), since she held no elective office at the time of its passage and therefore had no power to enact it. However, contrary to Morris' assertion of Hillary's non-involvement with CHIP's 1997 creation, contemporaneous news accounts reported that CHIP was based on a plan Hillary Clinton had originated four years earlier:

The $23.4 billion "Kid Care" health insurance program included in the budget package was to be the "precursor" to universal health care sought by first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in a secret White House fallback plan prepared in April 1993, according to internal administration documents.

As an option drawn up by the first lady's health care task force, the White House plotted to push a "Kids First" insurance program as the start of a universal health care program if Mrs. Clinton's grander effort failed, as it did.

"This is absolutely their fallback position and it gets them gradually to where they wanted to be all along. The 'Kids First' scheme is a template for what the president signed into law," said attorney Kent Masterson Brown.

A September 2015 Washington Post article also quoted the late Senator Ted Kennedy saying that as First Lady, Hillary Clinton's lobbying efforts with her husband were "invaluable" in bringing CHIP to fruition:

[CHIP] was created and driven by two senators, Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). At one point, then-President Bill Clinton turned against it, fearing that it would destroy a balanced-budget deal, and Hillary Clinton defended her husband, saying, "He had to safeguard the budget proposal."

But she did come to Kennedy's assistance when the children's health insurance measure was resurrected, lobbying privately within the White House for it. Kennedy, who had been furious at what he considered an initial betrayal by both Clintons, later said she was "of invaluable help."

Morris' next claim stated:

Bill says: Hillary was the face of America all over the world

The facts are: Her visits were part of a program to get her out of town so that Bill would not appear weak by feeding stories that Hillary was running the White House. Her visits abroad were entirely touristic and symbolic and there was no substantive diplomacy on any of them.

This is another misquote on Morris' part. In the video clip from which this statement was taken, Bill Clinton actually said only that his wife "went to 82 other countries representing the United States," not that she "was the face of America all over the world."

In any case, since First Ladies hold no elective office, cabinet position, or official diplomatic post, and thus have no power to enact or enforce legislation or policy, their solo visits to other countries are typically about goodwill gestures and publicity, not substantive diplomatic efforts. The motive assigned by Morris for Hillary's travels abroad — that her husband sought to get her "out of the way" to avoid negative press in the U.S. — is a subjective one for which Morris presented no evidence.

Bill says: Hillary was an excellent Senator who kept fighting for children's and women's issues.

The facts are: Other than totally meaningless legislation like changing the names on courthouses and post offices, she passed only four substantive pieces of legislation. One set up a national park in Puerto Rico. A second provided respite care for family members helping their relatives through Alzheimer's or other conditions. And two were routine bills to aid 9-11 victims and responders which were sponsored by the entire NY delegation.

Hillary Clinton was elected as U.S. senator representing the state of New York in 2000 and served in that capacity for eight years, from 3 January 2001 until 21 January 2009. A full track record of her legislative tenure is available on Congress.gov and shows that she sponsored only three bills that became law, all of them relatively minor: A bill to establish the Kate Mullany National Historic Site in the State of New York, a bill to name a post office the Major George Quamo Post Office Building, and a bill to designate a highway in New York as the Timothy J. Russert highway.

Whether Hillary Clinton's achievements in that elective office were more substantive or meaningless is a primarily subjective judgment, as sponsoring bills that become law is only one metric by which the effectiveness of legislators might be measured. Members of Congress might also be measured by their efforts in introducing and sponsoring bills that fail (but prompt the subsequent passage of similar legislation), by co-sponsoring successful bills (which Senator Clinton did 74 times), by introducing amendments to bills, by lobbying colleagues to vote in favor of pieces of legislation, by rallying public support in favor of particular policies, and other means.

In general, although some of the claims made here by Dick Morris were rooted in truth, many of them were straw man arguments made in response to points no one had raised, were exaggerated or misrepresented, were juxtaposed with irrelevant information, or were misleadingly truncated to what could generously be described as half-truths.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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