Jeff Gerth rides again -- UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

Jeff Gerth rides again -- UPDATE



Help. Memory refresher needed.

The Hill reports that Republicans are hoping to cut up Hillary Clinton over the report -- in Clinton hater and shoddy journalist Jeff Gerth's failed book on Mrs. Clinton -- that 15 to 20 years ago in Arkansas she listened to a taped phone conversation in which a political enemy talked about some dirt on Bill Clinton.

The story implies -- and a quick Republican news release (on jump) suggests -- that a law was broken because it was illegal to intercept wireless telephone calls. At a minimum, the idea is that Hillary is a hypocrite for snooping on political opponents while making privacy and the Bush administration's invasions on privacy a campaign issue.

It goes without saying that the Gerth story is anonymous and lacking in particulars, such as who intercepted the call, who was on either end and how Hillary came to be able to listen to it, if she did. It also goes without saying, RPA, that the statute of limitations on this long ago expired. The Hill article is hazy about whether this allegation relates to 1992, when Clinton was running for president, or earlier.

Here's where a memory jog comes in. I have a memory of a famous tape of what I recall was a recording made by happenstance of a cell phone call back in the infancy of wireless communication, when it was possible to scan radio frequencies to pick up  traffic. Somebody picked up some chatter from a Clinton opponent as I recall. I also recall that this tape fell into the hands of the Arkansas Gazette, where I then worked. It closed in 1991. I also recall that we were hot to run a story about the recording, but decided not to on account of advice from the Rose Law Firm, which then employed Hillary Clinton, on account of privacy questions surrounding use of a tape (presumably) illegally gotten. I recall newsroom people bridled at the advice.

UPDATE: The phone has been ringing off the wall with people with better memories than mine, access to Arkansas Democrat clips and tales of many intercepted cell phone calls back in the day when a good police scanner picked up all kinds of juicy stuff -- "mostly doctors talking to their mistresses," as one chap put it to me.

The year was 1990. The cell phone call I remember -- though not necessarily the one to which Gerth refers -- involved a couple of Tommy Robinson staffers badmouthing Sheffield Nelson, TR's opponent in that year's Republican primary. Nelson would win and go on to be thumped by Clinton in the general election.

The Gazette did get legal advice not to run anything about the tape, over news department objections. The reward was that the tape found its way to the Arkansas Democrat, which ran a story and beat up the Gazette for its timidity, back during the late, great newspaper war.

Again, this call may not be the one to which Gerth refers, though it's certainly plausible, in that Sheffield was Gerth's go-to guy on the Whitewater snipe hunt. Did Hillary hear this tape when the Rose Law Firm was reviewing the matter? I don't know. But it was widely circulated. If there be investigations done of such, as the Repubs ask, I say spread it around to operatives in both parties, right? Since Sheffield Nelson was widely presumed the source of the leaked communication, how about we start there?

PS -- Attorney General Dustin McDaniel reminds the Republicans that the attorney general is not a prosecutor and redirects them to the county prosecutor, presuming there's anything other than unsourced, hazy Jeff Gerth fable to investigate. That slim reed was enough to put Ken Starr in motion for a decade, however.


LITTLE ROCK-Today, Republican Party of Arkansas Chairman Dennis Milligan called on State Attorney General Dustin McDaniel to investigate the fact that New York Senator Hillary Clinton may have eavesdropped and recorded political opponents' telephone conversations while her husband was Governor of Arkansas.

According to The Hill newspaper, "In their book about Clinton's rise to power, Her Way, Don Van Natta Jr., an investigative reporter at The New York Times, and Jeff Gerth, who spent 30 years as an investigative reporter at the paper, wrote: "Hillary's defense activities ranged from the inspirational to the microscopic to the down and dirty. She received memos about the status of various press inquiries; she vetted senior campaign aides; and she listened to a secretly recorded audiotape of a phone conversation of Clinton critics plotting their next attack." (Bolton, "GOP Targeting Clinton On Phone-Call Snooping," The Hill, 10/16/07)

Arkansas state law says that: "It is unlawful for a person to intercept a wire, landline, oral, telephonic communication, or wireless communication, and to record or possess a recording of the communication unless the person is a party to the communication or one (1) of the parties to the communication has given prior consent to the interception and recording. Any violation of this section is a Class A misdemeanor." (§ 5-60-120)

"This is a very serious allegation, which is why Arkansas Attorney General McDaniel should investigate whether or not Hillary Clinton eavesdropped and recorded her and her husband's political opponents' phone conversations without legal authority," said Milligan.

The Hill wrote that, "Several legal experts said it was illegal to intercept cell phone conversations in 1992. 'It's been clear that since 1986 it was illegal to intercept an individual cell phone call,' said Barry Steinhardt, the director of the technology and liberty program at the American Civil Liberties Union." (Bolton, "GOP Targeting Clinton On Phone-Call Snooping," The Hill, 10/16/07)

"If these allegations are true, Arkansans have a right to ask the Senator from New York: why were you willing to break the law and use wiretapping for personal political gain, but you're unwilling to vote for measures that would provide our nation's intelligence community with the tools they need to catch potential terrorists, as they plot and plan to kill Americans?" Milligan continued.

Earlier this year, Clinton voted against updating the nation's nearly 30-year-old terrorist surveillance law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978. The legislation, which expires at the end of 2009, enhances America's foreign intelligence surveillance laws and provides federal officials with critical tools needed to fight the Global War on Terror. (S. 1927, CQ Vote #309: Passed: 60-28: R 43-0; D 16-27; I 1-1, 8/3/07, Clinton Voted Nay)

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