As I was writing my new book on TWA Flight 800 – TWA 800: The Crash, The Cover-Up, The Conspiracy, now available wherever you buy books — I wondered how Hillary Clinton’s success would affect the book’s.
On the up side, if Hillary were nominated, the book would be more relevant as she was at the quiet center of the action. On the down side, her nomination would increase the odds that a protective major media would continue to ignore the great untold story of our time.
The media run the risk of the being the only adults who do not know this story. It began at 8:19 p.m. on July 17, 1996, when TWA Flight 800 left JFK Airport in New York bound for Paris. At 8:31 p.m., the 747 exploded off the coast of Long Island, killing all 230 people on board.
According to Hillary’s logs, at 8:35 p.m. a motorcade whisked the Clintons from a Women’s Leadership Forum nearby to the White House. Soon after they arrived, Clinton’s chief of staff Leon Panetta called the president with the grim news out of Long Island.
By roughly 9 p.m. Richard Clarke, chairman of the Coordinating Security Group (CSG) on terrorism, had called a meeting of the CSG in the White House Situation Room. The meeting was prompted in no small part by the news out of New York TRACON that “a primary radar return (ASR-9) indicated vertical movement intersecting TWA 800.” The eyewitness testimony would reinforce the radar data.
The president chose not to join Clarke. Instead, as retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Robert “Buzz” Patterson confirmed, Bill and Hillary holed up in the family residence with — Patterson believes — one other person, Sandy Berger, the deputy national security advisor. At the time, Patterson carried the nuclear football for the president, which kept him in close proximity.
By 3 a.m. the Clintons had settled on a strategy. At that fabled hour — the one Hillary would mythologize in her run against Barack Obama — Bill called Berger’s boss, National Security Advisor Tony Lake, with the following message: “Dust off the contingency plans.” For the time being, the president, in private at least, would blame terrorists for the attack, Iran the chief suspect among them. Clarke would call the aftermath of TWA 800’s destruction, “The Almost War of 1996.”
A week after the crash, Bill and Hillary spent three hours meeting with the victims’ families. Hillary could have made literary hay with a scene this poignant. She chose not to. In her 528-page memoir, Living History, Hillary spent just one-third of a sentence on TWA 800. In his 957-page 2004 memoir, My Life, Bill Clinton gave the “almost war” a paragraph.
The Clintons did not want their fingerprints anywhere near this mess. They preferred to work through the Department of Justice, which Hillary had staked out as her own personal fiefdom. Like just about everything she touched, the DOJ was both highly politically and seriously dysfunctional.
Nanny issues sidelined the first two attorney general candidates. Insisting that a woman — any woman — head the department, Hillary finally settled on the feckless Miami prosecutor Janet Reno. For the next eight years the Clintons would have to work around her.
Needing someone to work through, they finally found a fixer worthy of the number two position, a little-known DC litigator named Jamie Gorelick. With Gorelick’s appointment as deputy attorney general in February 1994, Hillary had three women occupying the most powerful posts in federal law enforcement, criminal division head Jo Ann Harris being the third.
Heading up Justice’s operation on the ground in Long Island was still another woman, United States Attorney Valerie Caproni. Caproni brought the FBI in immediately to seize control of the investigation from the National Transportation Safety Board. As officers of the court, Gorelick and Caproni knew the law forbade this move. They simply ignored the law. The FBI reported to Justice. The NTSB did not.
On August 22, 1996, Gorelick summoned the FBI honcho Jim Kallstrom to Washington for a meeting. The White House did not like the direction the investigation was taking. On August 23, the New York Times summed up that direction in an above the fold headline, “Prime Evidence Found That Device Exploded in Cabin of TWA 800.”
The other above-the-fold headline on August 23 read as follows, “Clinton Signs Bill Cutting Welfare.” The signing of this bill three days before the start of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago was hardly a coincidence. There, Clinton hoped to sell the party’s peace and prosperity message. Front page headlines about explosive devices destroying an American airliner, by a bomb or especially by a missile, could make hash out of both peace and prosperity.
Kallstrom returned to Long Island a changed man. Based on his subsequent performance, he seemed to have no more urgent task than to negate the Times reporting on explosive residues. Within a month, the reliably compliant Times had forgotten about the 258 eyewitnesses to a missile strike, the radar data, and the explosive residue. The headline on September 19 read, “New Focus on Malfunctions In Inquiry on T.W.A. Crash.” The investigation was effectively over.
In May 1997, the Clintons found a way to reward Gorelick for her steely performance. They handed this middling bureaucrat with no financial or housing experience the vice-chairmanship of Fannie Mae, a sinecure the Washington Monthly aptly called “the equivalent of winning the lottery.”
During her five-plus years with that self-serving enterprise, Gorelick made $26,466,834 in salary, bonuses, performance pay, and stock options. In January 2004, she stepped down to pay her dues, assuming one of one of only five Democratic seats on the 9-11 Commission.
In March 2004, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet informed the commissioners about “the wall” that prevented the CIA and FBI from cooperating in the run-up to September 11. “Ironclad regulations,” said Tenet, “so that even people in the criminal division and the intelligence divisions of the FBI couldn’t talk to each other, let alone talk to us or us talk to them.”
The task of assigning credit for the wall was left to Attorney General John Ashcroft. “The single greatest structural cause for Sept. 11 was the wall,” Ashcroft testified before the commission in April 2004. “Full disclosure,” Ashcroft continued, “compels me to inform you that its author is a member of the commission.”
That member, of course, was Jamie Gorelick. More perversely still, as a newly unearthed treasure trove of CIA documents proves beyond argument, under Gorelick’s watchful gaze the CIA and FBI worked hand in glove to subvert the TWA 800 investigation. The “wall” did not even slow them down.
There is a Pulitzer waiting that Washington Post reporter willing to make a key phone calls. Email me at [email protected], and I will happily supply the names.