Blog ››› ››› OLIVER WILLIS
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his conservative media allies have been aggressively promoting Crisis of Character, an upcoming book by former Secret Service officer Gary J. Byrne that purports to reveal the inside story of serving under President Clinton and then-first lady Hillary Clinton. But rather than provide insight into their character and leadership style, Byrne is just the latest in a line of authors to package unverified gossip about the Clintons in book form.
Media Matters obtained Crisis of Character ahead of its June 28 publication date. Before its official release the book is already receiving the familiar red carpet treatment for anti-Clinton books in conservative media.
And it’s not a coincidence that Crisis of Character is being promoted by conservative outlets like the New York Post, the Drudge Report, the Daily Mail, Breitbart.com, Trump ally Alex Jones, and on Fox News. The National Enquirer, one of the only publications to endorse Trump, promoted the book and called Byrne “daring.”
Writing on Facebook about the conservative media coverage of his book, Byrne said, “I must have done something right in my life” to be “in big red font on front page of Drudge’s website.”
Sean Hannity and Trump promoted the book and used it as a springboard to attack Clinton’s fitness for office on the June 8 edition of Hannity's Fox News program. After listing some of the main attack narratives from the book -- claiming Clinton is “impulsive” and lacks “the temperament” to be president -- Hannity asked Trump, “You think the media is fair in their coverage of that versus how they cover you?” Trump, of course, gladly swung at the softball, claiming the book has gotten “very little coverage which is really amazing because basically it says her temperament is a disaster, which I know. And you know.”
Trump has also promoted Crisis of Character on Twitter, writing, “A former Secret Service Agent for President Clinton excoriates Crooked Hillary describing her as ERRATIC & VIOLENT” and “Secret Service Agent Gary Byrne doesn't believe that Crooked Hillary has the temperament or integrity to be the president!”
This is part of a pattern for Trump. He has previously cited anti-Clinton conspiracy books from authors Ed Klein and Roger Stone and Robert Morrow, promoting their work in interviews, campaign rallies, and on his Twitter account.
But in reality, Crisis of Character appears to be more about score-settling by Byrne and a vehicle to insert himself into the ongoing conservative media narrative about Clinton. The book is filled with the sort of vitrolic attacks on the Clintons and other progressives and fulsome praise for conservatives that fill so many other anti-Clinton tomes. The original information that his publisher claims he can provide based on his service in the Clinton White House cannot be trusted, as it clashes with his own words given in testimony to Ken Starr.
Byrne holds himself up as a truth-telling whistleblower, forced to reveal what he learned out of a sense of duty to the country (he compares Clinton being elected president to the 9/11 attacks), but in reality the book re-heats stale conservative attacks that have already gone through the conservative media pipeline repeatedly for over twenty years (including the conspiracy theory that the Clintons may have had former aide Vince Foster murdered).
Byrne Hates The Clintons, Loves “Papa Bush”
After a laundry list of complaints about the Clintons and specifically Hillary Clinton, Byrne writes in the introduction that he has “not written a word of this book with a political agenda.”
He complains that she engaged in “obscenity-laced tirades” that were “like watching Humphrey Bogart in The Caine Mutiny obsessing about a quart of missing strawberries.” Byrne’s purple prose continues as he gripes about Clinton’s “leadership style – volcanic, impulsive, enabled by sycophants, and disdainful of the rules set for everyone else.”
That disdain for Clinton echoes throughout the entire book, and is a theme he returns to again and again. He describes Hillary Clinton as “spoiled,” accuses her of throwing “massive tantrums,”calls her a “joke” who was “all bark, no bite, but in a very real power position,”describes her as “the world’s biggest Bridezilla” and calls her “high-strung” and “a cheerless grifter always on her scheming way to someone or something else more important than the person directly in front of her.”
He blames Clinton for the fact that “some agents literally went mad,” and accuses her of fostering “a ‘f--- it’ mentality” that “trickled down,” leading to Secret Service agents turning to alcohol, drugs, performance enhancers and “even prostitutes.”
In an early sign that the book is warmed-over conservative agitprop, Byrne recaps stories about Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, and Whitewater as examples of the “scandals” that “tarnished the Clinton brand and presidency.”
By comparison, Byrne is effusive in his praise for former President George H.W. Bush, whom he worked for at the White House. He repeatedly refers to the Republican as “Papa Bush.” He describes him and first lady Barbara Bush as “100 percent class.” In Byrne’s eyes, “Papa Bush” “understood what it meant to be presidential.”
Cementing his admiration for Bush, Byrne notes that during the 1992 presidential campaign, “seeing how candidates and pundits critiqued the president wounded me.”
Foreshadowing the invective to come, Byrne admits that he felt “sentimental regarding Papa Bush” during the transition to President Clinton.
Byrne Vs. The Left
Byrne wears his conservative politics on his sleeve throughout the book. Early on he complains that a female partner was “obviously hired to fill a quota,” describes her as “clueless,” and notes that “diversity encroached on merit.”
He invokes the phrase “What difference did it make (to borrow a phrase from Mrs. Clinton” while attacking the Assault Weapons Ban, which he complains “accomplished nothing beyond humoring gun control advocates.” (For years, conservatives have misrepresented Clinton saying “what difference, at this point, does it make” about talking points used after the Benghazi attacks to suggest she was dismissing the deaths of Americans.) Byrne also accuses President Clinton of having an “anti-Second Amendment sentiment.”
The author blames a “creeping liberal mindset” for recent problems with security at the White House, arguing that “we need to empower the warrior mindset, not the liberal one.”
With disdain he criticizes the “grossly immature” Clinton administration staff who “wore jeans and T-shirts” as they engaged in “grand ideological bull sessions.” He writes that this approach led to “the incident at Mogadishu,” and invokes their “constant insistence” that law enforcement officials like the Uniformed Division “had to look like their perception of good guys.”
Byrne complains that a 1995 incident in which Secret Service agents used gloves when an HIV-positive delegation visited the White House resulted in “the charge of the Politically Correct Brigade.” At the time, White House press secretary Michael McCurry said, “It's safe to say that the chief of staff and others were distressed by that and believe it to be an error of judgment.”
Byrne’s Vince Foster Conspiracy Theory
The most gratuitous swipe at Hillary Clinton’s purported attitude is Byrne’s version of White House aide Vince Foster’s suicide. (Foster’s suicide has been the focus of conspiracy theories by conservatives for years, including most recently by Trump.) He notes that “word circulated that she berated him mercilessly.” Byrne claims that “the first time I saw Foster I figured he wouldn’t last a year,” and that he “looked uncomfortable and unhappy in the White House.” He compares Clinton’s staffers like Foster to “battered wives: too loyal, too unwilling to acknowledge they’d never assuage her. They had no one to blame but themselves, but they could never admit it.”
Byrne then regurgitates one of the long-since debunked conspiracy theories surrounding Foster’s death, writing about “a rumor” among law enforcement that Foster’s suicide weapon “had to be repaired in order for the forensics team to fire it.” Byrne claims that this and other stories made the death “spooky” and cites Foster’s suicide note in which he says “I was not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington.”
Byrne doesn't only question whether the Clintons murdered Foster, he also suggests he was worried that they might have wanted to kill him as well.
Byrne writes that on a couple of occasions while he was being interviewed by lawyers as part of Independent Counsel Ken Starr’s Whitewater investigation, he “placed myself on the couch facing the door with my sidearm loaded… ready at the slightest sound to draw and fight.” He added that he felt he has “put a target on his family.” Byrne goes on to detail in the following pages how he feared that the Clintons might try to kill him. He writes that he came to question whether the Clintons might have been “behind so many of the suspicious -- or merely coincidental -- deaths surrounding their activities,” including Foster’s death. He adds, “It was my word, and my word only, against the most powerful people in the world. I’d seen them lie and intimidate. It wasn’t a stretch to think that things might escalate."
White House Testimony Embellishment
Byrne was sometimes on duty when Monica Lewinsky went to the Oval Office to see Bill Clinton. He goes on at length about how he curtailed Monica Lewinsky’s attempts to get access to the Oval Office.
In the midst of that narrative, Byrne writes about a time he “shooed her like a stray cat” to which she “hissed another lame excuse” for why she was around.
Eventually Byrne was required to testify about Lewinsky for Ken Starr’s investigation (to his credit, Byrne concedes that by this point the investigation had nothing to do with Whitewater, the real estate deal that initiated it in the first place).
Byrne claimed that he saw “lipstick” on a towel from someone “entertaining the president late at night,” and writes that he made the allegation that it came from the West Wing receptionist when he later testified.
But this story was less definitive when Byrne testified. In 1998, Byrne said he had “no idea” who the lipstick belonged to and speculated that it “could have been the First Lady’s, I have no idea,” then later said he had "connected it" with a receptionist. Was it even lipstick? He told Starr he didn’t know “if there was actually lipstick” on the towels but “got the impression” that lipstick was present.
The Starr Report also noted in reference to Byrne’s testimony that “some details of his account varied in different tellings.” Byrne also testified at the time that Secret Service agent John Muskett told him that he found Clinton and Lewinsky in a compromising moment, but Muskett denied it. Byrne even testified that his account of Muskett’s story may have incorporated some gossip, and that he was relying on memories of events that occurred “two and a half, almost three years” before the testimony. It has now been 21 years since the events allegedly occurred.
An Associated Press report from the time noted that Byrne “felt compelled to remind the prosecutors that he was merely relaying gossip he had heard. ‘It was based on other, other innuendoes and accusations, little tidbit rumors, that kind of stuff.’”
Why Did Gary Byrne Write This Book?
In the afterword, Byrne does his best impression of a Fox News host and re-tells the conservative version of numerous anti-Clinton stories. He discusses her private email server, the Clinton Foundation -- citing Peter Schweizer’s error-riddled book Clinton Cash as evidence -- and unsurprisingly lays the blame for the Benghazi incident at Hillary Clinton’s feet: “Hillary Clinton lied about the reason for the Benghazi attack.”
Byrne warns that the prospect of Clinton running for president makes it feel “as if America were trapped in some great, cruel time machine hurtling us back to the land of Monica and Mogadishu and a thousand other Clinton-era nightmares.”
He explains, “my obligation today is to raise my voice, to help safeguard the presidency from Bill and Hillary Clinton.”
Byrne concludes, “On 9/11 we vowed ‘Never forget.’ But we always somehow do,” adding, “I realize better than most Americans that we have pretty much forgotten what an amateur-night, three–ring circus the Clinton White House was. But I haven’t forgotten.”