On Hardball, Patterson repeated dubious smear of Clinton, despite his changing story

On Hardball, Patterson repeated dubious smear of Clinton, despite his changing story

››› ››› ROB DIETZ

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Robert "Buzz" Patterson repeated the claim that when he worked in the White House in 1996, then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton "wanted to outlaw uniforms, military uniforms in the White House," saying it was a "perfect example" of how Clinton "does not understand the military." Patterson's story of Clinton's purported "edict" -- which he says occurred in 1996 "when he first arrived" at the White House -- echoes a debunked claim about Clinton dating back to 1993. And his version of how he learned of Clinton's purported plan to ban military uniforms in the White House varies with each telling.

On the August 8 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Robert "Buzz" Patterson, author of Dereliction of Duty (Regnery, March 2003), repeated the claim that when he worked in the White House in 1996, then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton "wanted to outlaw uniforms, military uniforms in the White House," saying it was a "perfect example" of how Clinton "does not understand the military." He also called her a "socialist, anti-military, [and] anti-American." Patterson's story of Clinton's purported "edict" -- which he says occurred in 1996 "when he first arrived" at the White House -- echoes a debunked claim about Clinton dating back to 1993. And his version of how he learned of Clinton's purported plan to ban military uniforms in the White House varies with each telling. In Dereliction of Duty, Patterson claimed that he had learned of Clinton's purported desire to ban military uniforms from his predecessor. When Slate.com's Timothy Noah wrote about stories surrounding Clinton's purported aversion to military uniforms in the White House, Patterson responded by asserting that he "had firsthand knowledge of the First Lady's edict." In yet another retelling, Patterson told author Edward Klein, "The directive came down from Hillary through the President's chief of staff, Leon Panetta."

Host Chris Matthews introduced Patterson as the author of the new book War Crimes: The Left's Campaign to Destroy Our Military and Lose the War on Terror (Crown Forum, June 2007).

In Dereliction of Duty, Patterson wrote that "my predecessor briefed me that Mrs. Clinton didn't want the military aides in uniform." From the book:

Early in the administration the "buzz" was that Chelsea had refused to ride to school with her military driver and that Hillary had banned military uniforms in the White House. The president eventually called the uniform ban "an abject lie," once it became apparent that this story didn't play well politically.7 I can't speak on whether Chelsea refused military drivers, but I do know the uniform issue with Mrs. Clinton was real. Soon after I arrived at the White House, my predecessor briefed me that Mrs. Clinton didn't want the military aides in uniform. The White House Military Office argued that, for the safety of the president, it was critical that the Secret Service and staff be able immediately to identify the military aide. Common sense and security finally prevailed -- at least at official functions with the president. At all other times, however, we were expected to be in business suits or civilian clothes in order to downplay the military presence at the White House. (Page 93)

But in response to Noah's March 26 article, in which the Slate senior writer wrote of the "rumor" that Clinton wanted to ban military uniforms at the White House, Patterson claimed: "It happened in the spring of 1996. I was the Air Force Aide to the President so I had firsthand knowledge of the First Lady's edict." From Noah's update:

[Update, March 27: Buzz Patterson has replied to this column in the Fray here, here, here, and here. He states that: 1.) I got the publication date of his book wrong (thanks, it's now corrected); 2.) "I stand by the assertions contained in my book 100%. I was there, you weren't."; 3.) He is currently the chief operating officer for the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a right-wing agitprop mill in Los Angeles (my description, not Patterson's, but not all that different from the Center's self-description in its year-end report; it calls itself "a battle-tank, not just a think-tank," and boasts that it has, among other things, persuaded [former House Majority Leader Tom] DeLay [R-TX], Bill O'Reilly, and Sean Hannity to make frequent use of the terms "fifth column" and "hate-America left"); and 4.) The column you have on your screen is "rife with lies." On this last point, Patterson elaborates:

It happened in the spring of 1996. I was the Air Force Aide to the President so I had firsthand knowledge of the First Lady's edict. Others who served in the White House Military Unit at the time can corroborate. In the grand scheme of things, it was a drop in the bucket in the Clinton's overall disdain for the military. In and of itself, I wasn't too alarmed. I was, by the way, at the time a registered Democrat. I rectified that upon my retirement from the USAF in 2001.

I've e-mailed Patterson, asking him to clarify from whom he acquired "firsthand knowledge of the First Lady's edict," and to put me in touch with the others who "can corroborate." I've also solicited his thoughts about the U.S. News and Washington Post stories describing and knocking down his story three years before he says it unfolded. When and if he replies, I'll write a followup column.]

Patterson was quoted telling a similar story to Klein for his book, The Truth About Hillary (Sentinel, June 2005). But in the version Patterson told Klein, he said, "The directive came down from Hillary through the President's chief of staff, Leon Panetta." From the book:

Despite Hillary's reputation for shading the truth, Brian Lehrer believed her explanation. And no wonder. After all, it seemed incredible that a First Lady would attempt to ban the wearing of military uniforms in the White House.

And yet, that is exactly what Hillary had tried to do in the spring of 1996. At that time, all military personnel serving in the White House wore business suits, except for the one day a week on which they were required to don their uniforms. There were only two exceptions to this rule: junior officers who served at White House social events wore dress uniforms; and military aides who carried the nuclear "football" containing the top-secret codes the President needed in case of nuclear war wore their service uniforms.

"Hillary tried to change the tradition where military aides wore their uniforms when accompanying the President with the nuclear football," said air force lieutenant colonel Robert "Buzz" Patterson, who served as President Clinton's senior military aide. "There were five military aides -- from the air force, army, navy, marines, and coast guard -- and she wanted us to wear business suits when we were carrying the football.

"The directive came down from Hillary through the President's chief of staff, Leon Panetta," Patterson continued. "Secret Service agents opposed her plan, because they wanted us to be easily identifiable by our uniforms in the event that something critical went down. We military aides were not just responsible for the nuclear codes, but also for evacuating the President and accompanying him to safe houses.

"Eventually, Hillary relented. My opinion is she was trying to downplay the military in and around her husband. It's ridiculous for her to claim that the story was the result of some young staffer who, in a lapse of judgment, said something critical to someone in uniform. It was all Hillary's doing from beginning to end." (Pages 230-231)

Earlier in the book, Klein wrote about a call-in Clinton made during the December 8, 2003, broadcast of WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show. During the call, Lehrer asked: "Did you ban uniforms on people from the military in the White House?" Clinton said, "Of course not" and later added: "I can't speak for the hundreds and hundreds of people who worked in the White House, and perhaps someone, in a moment of what I consider a terrible lapse of judgment, said something or did something that then became a wild fire of rumor and innuendo ... but I certainly had nothing to do with it, and I know my husband didn't." From pages 228-229 of The Truth About Hillary:

"All right now," Lehrer said, "we're coming to a break. We have to take sixty seconds. But why don't you go ahead and start, and then we'll finish after the break? Did you ban uniforms on people from the military in the White House?"

"Of course not," Hillary said. "Now I know that there were some stories that circulated early in the administration that some young staffer had said something critical to someone in uniform. We tried to chase that down. I never could, to my satisfaction, determine who had done it, if it had indeed been done. And I also think part of it was, as you recall, my husband's efforts, very early on in the administration, to lift the ban on gay military service people. ..."

"Senator," Lehrer interrupted, "hold it right there. We have to take that break. And we'll finish up with you after that."

[...]

"Well, Brian," Hillary said after the show returned to the air, "I have been always trying to figure out where that [story about banning military uniforms in the White House] got started. And, again, I can't speak for the hundreds and hundreds of people who worked in the White House, and perhaps someone, in a moment of what I consider a terrible lapse of judgment, said something or did something that then became a wild fire of rumor and innuendo ... but I certainly had nothing to do with it, and I know my husband didn't."

In his Slate article, Noah wrote: "To believe Klein and Patterson, then, we must believe that Hillary consciously made happen something that, three years earlier, had been identified by at least two prominent news sources as something that hadn't happened but, if it had, would have been a political disaster. That just isn't possible" (emphasis in original).

As Media Matters for America has noted, the allegation that Clinton wanted to ban military uniforms in the White House was reported as early as April 1, 1993, in a Washington Post article that referred to "[a] whole series of apocryphal anecdotes [that] have made the rounds and fed military disaffection." With regard to "the one about Hillary Rodham Clinton's ban on uniforms in the White House," the Post reported that it "[a]lso didn't happen." In a March 15, 1993, article, U.S. News & World Report noted," Among other poisonous rumors is the tale that the Clintonites are preparing to order military personnel to wear civilian clothes, not their uniforms, whenever they enter the White House." U.S. News added that the White House denied the story.

From the article:

Poisoned rumors. At the Pentagon, the stories about White House insensitivity are numerous, and, some Clinton defenders say, approach paranoia. Perhaps the most virulent is the story that Chelsea Clinton refused to enter a government car destined to drive her to school because she didn't want to ride with a uniformed officer. Knowledgeable sources say Chelsea has always ridden with Secret Service agents and the occasion has never arisen where a military escort was asked to fill in for her regular agents. Among other poisonous rumors is the tale that the Clintonites are preparing to order military personnel to wear civilian clothes, not their uniforms, whenever they enter the White House. Another rumor is that Clinton advisers have forbidden the military aide who carries "the football" -- a suitcase containing nuclear launch codes -- to dress in uniform. The White House denies both allegations.

Similarly, Newsweek reported in December 2005 that "[t]here are still soldiers who swear by the myth that she banned uniforms at the White House."

As Colorado Media Matters noted, Patterson's book contains other unsubstantiated allegations. The book purports to draw upon Patterson's experience as a military aide charged with accompanying the president at all times from May 1996 to May 1998 bearing the so-called "nuclear football" containing the launch codes for the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

From the August 8 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

PATTERSON: Hey, Chris. She's a dove in hawk's clothing. I mean, I know her personally, worked for her for two years, with her husband from 1996 to 1998, and she is anything but a hawk. I mean, she wants to pull us out of Iraq. She voted for the war before she voted against the war, to coin a phrase from a previous candidate.

She will say anything she has to say, Chris, to get elected to the presidency. She's a pathological liar. She does not understand the military. I can speak, first and foremost, personally, knowing her intimately. She is not a hawk. She is everything but. She's a Wellesley College, socialist, anti-military, anti-American.

JON SOLTZ (Vote Vets): That's absolutely ridiculous. That is so ridiculous.

MATTHEWS: How did you get that insight on her working -- were you her military attaché or her husband's military attaché?

PATTERSON: Yes, I was President Bill Clinton's Air Force aide from 1996 to 1998.

MATTHEWS: What did you hear, sotto voce, that we haven't heard from her? What insight did you get from working at close quarters?

PATTERSON: Well, the fact that she wanted to outlaw uniforms, military uniforms in the White House when I first arrived in 1996, I think, is a perfect example. And she talks about President Bush now, Chris, not having the gumption to support our troops. Look at Bill Clinton's record in the 1990s. Drawing the Army divisions from 18 down to 10, drawing Air Force fighter squadrons -- fighter wings from 24 to 12, reducing Navy ships from 586 to 324, cutting the military troop strength -- and John should know this better than anybody -- military troop strength to 43 percent.

SOLTZ: Yeah, I want to talk about this, Chris, because he's exactly wrong.

Posted In
Elections, National Security & Foreign Policy
Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Robert Patterson
Show/Publication
Hardball
Stories/Interests
Hillary Clinton, 2008 Elections
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