Former Secret Service officer Gary Byrne, who served in the West Wing during the Clinton administration, recently released Crisis of Character, an anti-Clinton book purporting to warn the country about how Hillary Clinton does not have the temperament to serve as president. In promoting his book, Byrne has repeatedly stumbled through contradictions in his various accounts of the events he claims to have witnessed, with key details differing between his 1998 sworn testimony in the Kenneth Starr investigation, the book itself, and the various appearances he has made in right-wing media.
Former Secret Service Officer Gary Byrne Released Anti-Clinton Conspiracy Book, Crisis Of Character, Was Immediately Denounced By Experts
Gary Byrne Released Anti-Clinton Based On Incidents He Claimed To Have Witnessed Decades Ago. Former Secret Service officer Gary Byrne, who was posted outside the Oval Office for a period during the Clinton administration, released a book on June 28 called Crisis of Character. In the book, Byrne describes incidents he claims to have witnessed while serving in the Clinton White House that he says make Hillary Clinton unfit to serve as president. Byrne also revisits decades-old conservative media conspiracy theories about the Clintons -- including the theory that the couple was somehow involved in the death of White House aide Vince Foster -- and writes at length about encounters he claims to have witnessed between President Clinton and several women including Monica Lewinsky. [Media Matters, 6/20/16]
Former Secret Service Officials “Strongly Denounce” Book, Saying Byrne Has “Underlying Motives” And Was “Inflating His Role.” Before the book’s official release, the nonpartisan Association of Former Agents of the U.S. Secret Service released an uncharacteristic public statement in which it “strongly denounce[d]” Byrne’s book. The statement suggested Byrne has “underlying motives” for writing the book, and questioned “the veracity and content of any book which implies that its author played such an integral part of so many incidents.” Politico noted in its reporting on the statement that:
The book has rankled current and former members of the Secret Service, who don’t like anyone airing their business in public — but who also take issue with Byrne inflating his role. Byrne was a uniformed officer in Bill Clinton’s White House. But that’s the lowest level of protection within the White House and around the president.
People familiar with West Wing security laugh at the idea that Byrne or any uniformed officer ever would have walked in on Bill Clinton anywhere, whether in a meeting or, as a New York Post article over the weekend claims, in the middle of a make-out session in the Map Room with the late daughter of former Vice President Walter Mondale. The Secret Service presidential detail would have stopped him. [Politico, 6/21/16; Media Matters, 6/21/16]
Blatant Contradictions In Byrne’s Supposed Eyewitness Accounts Surfaced Before The Book’s Release
BuzzFeed Outlined How Byrne’s Claims Were “Contradicted By His Own Testimony”; Byrne Responded By Hanging Up On The Reporter. BuzzFeed News reporter Chris Massie outlined two instances in which claims Byrne makes in his book are directly at odds with his sworn testimony from the 1998 Kenneth Starr investigation. In Crisis of Character, Byrne writes about how he was personally involved with disposing of hand towels containing evidence that implicated President Clinton in an extramarital affair. Massie reported that, contrary to what Byrne detailed in his book, he testified he was “not involved” in disposing of the president’s hand towels nor did he explicitly or conclusively discuss it with the White House steward at the time. Byrne also claimed in the book that he had personally witnessed President Clinton kissing journalist Eleanor Mondale; in his 1998 testimony, Byrne framed the incident as “a rumor” he had heard. When BuzzFeed contacted him about the contradictions, Byrne hung up on a reporter and his spokesperson promised Byrne would explain the contradictions in book tour appearances. From BuzzFeed’s June 21 report:
Gary Byrne, a former Secret Service agent who worked in Bill Clinton’s White House, tells a dramatic story in his upcoming book about how he personally helped a White House steward dispose of towels stained by semen and lipstick to protect the president from a sex scandal.
That story, as well as another Byrne tells about walking in on Bill Clinton making out with a TV journalist, is different from what he told investigators from Kenneth Starr’s Office of the Independent Counsel in 1998, a BuzzFeed News review of interviews, depositions, and grand jury testimony has found.
Reached by BuzzFeed News on Tuesday, a spokesperson for Gary Byrne said that the author “will happily explain the alleged issues cited in this article when he begins his book tour - as well as his repeated efforts to protect the president from his personal misconduct and in some cases from his wife.” After a series of follow-up questions, the spokesperson did not clarify why Byrne could not explain the discrepancies on Tuesday.
Byrne himself hung up the phone on a BuzzFeed reporter after being asked why he wouldn’t explain the discrepancies, saying “I am working on a response to a couple things right now and I don’t have time to talk on the phone for one.” Reached again, he said, “We’ve taken care of it and you’ll just have to see what it is when you read the whole book.” [BuzzFeed, 6/21/16]
On Book Tour, Gary Byrne Insists His Clinton White House Accounts Have Always Been Consistent
Byrne To NY Post: “[I]f My Testimony Wasn’t True, I Would End Up Doing Seven Years.” In an interview with the New York Post, Byrne asserted that his accounts of the Clintons had been consistent since his testimony in the Starr investigation of President Clinton. From the June 25 article:
Byrne’s revelations have come under fire recently, with some critics doubting he had the access to the Clintons he claims he had, and that his book details do not align exactly with his testimony to prosecutors nearly two decades ago.
“Anybody who asserts that what I’m saying is not true,” Byrne says, his voice cracking with emotion, “they don’t know any better or they’re flat-out lying.”
Yet, he confesses, “I’m not completely comfortable telling the story, but I am telling it.”
As for his testimony during the Ken Starr investigation, Byrne — who never signed a non-disclosure agreement with the Secret Service — says at the time he gave narrow answers to specific questions, as instructed.
“[I]f my testimony wasn’t true, I would end up doing seven years,” he says. [New York Post, 6/25/16]
Byrne Asserted Competing Versions Of His Story Were “Both The Truth” During Radio Interview. In a phone interview on the radio show Colorado’s Morning News, Byrne responded to a question about contradictions in one of his accounts by asserting that the competing versions were “both the truth.” From the June 28 phone interview:
APRIL ZESBAUGH (CO-HOST): Your book says that you disposed of lipstick- and semen-stained towels from the president’s extramarital trysts, not just with Monica Lewinsky. But I’ve read that’s a claim that’s contradicted by your own testimony in sworn depositions. Which one’s the truth? What happened?
GARY BYRNE: Actually, they’re both the truth. Here’s the deal, or here’s what the truth is about the two stories. It’s actually two different incidences (sic). Now, when you’re being compelled to testify, there was all these rules. We couldn’t talk about this, about the president, but we could talk about this. There were many, many rules. They were asking me questions, it’s not my job to give them, to volunteer information. It was just my job -- the lawyers made it very clear -- just to answer the questions. It’s not that there’s two, me telling the same story in two different ways, it’s multiple stories. They kept asking me about tissues, and the incident that I knew about, or one of the incidents I knew about, was about hand towels. Not tissues, towels. So again, it wasn’t my job to correct them and put them on the right path. I never wanted to talk about this in the first place. [KOA, Colorado’s Morning News, 6/28/16]
But Claims From Byrne’s Book Repeatedly Differ From The 1998 Testimony He Also Swears Is True
Starr Report Noted Details Of Byrne’s Accounts “Varied In Different Tellings.” The final report from the Kenneth Starr investigation, for which Byrne was deposed under oath, noted in its findings that “some details of [Byrne’s] account varied in different tellings.” [Referral From Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, 9/11/98]
Byrne Admitted Several Of His Stories Were “Hearsay” And Difficult To Remember In 1998. Several stories Byrne recounted in his 1998 testimony he sourced to secondhand rumors, including an incident in which he recounted how the president was “supposedly...caught in a compromising position with … somebody other than the first lady,” and noted that he had not himself witnessed the incident but believed it involved Eleanor Mondale based on “other innuendos and accusations and...little tidbit rumors.” Byrne framed another incident, involving Monica Lewinsky allegedly attempting to call the president from the Northwest Gate, as “hearsay” from another officer who has since refuted Byrne’s claims. Byrne also struggled to recall details in his testimony, at one point apologizing to the lawyers and saying, “This is so long ago and there’s so many incidents. You know, I worked there for awhile and it was a long time ago.” [Office of the Independent Counsel, Gary Byrne Deposition, 6/25/98; Pew Research Center, Journalism & Media, 10/20/98]
Business Insider Found “More Disparities,” While Byrne “Insisted That There Was No Discrepancy Between His Accounts.” In an interview with Business Insider, Byrne insisted his differing accounts did not, in fact, differ. He again asserted that his 1998 testimony was about “tissues,” and that the account from his 2016 book was a different incident involving “hand towels.” Business Insider then reported that “a closer examination of Byrne’s testimony revealed more disparities” and cited his 1998 statements that referred to both tissues and towels. Byrne “did not respond to requests for clarification.” From the June 28 article:
In an interview with Business Insider on Monday, Byrne insisted that there was no discrepancy between his accounts.
The former agent said that because he was instructed to only answer investigators' questions in the 1998 testimony directly and literally, they missed an opportunity to press him for the truth. Byrne claimed that investigators only asked him about semen-stained tissues, not hand towels.
Pressed to clarify, he added: “They were hand towels. [The investigators] were asking about tissues. I was familiar with what they were talking about, but again, it's not my job to steer them straight.”
But a closer examination of Byrne's testimony revealed more disparities.
During multiple depositions in the summer and fall of 1998 reviewed by Business Insider, Byrne said Nelvis was carrying “tissues or towels” when he and Byrne crossed paths in the White House. Byrne used both towels and tissues interchangeably when questioned by investigators in June 1998 and during a grand jury deposition on July 17, 1998. [Business Insider, 6/28/16]
Right-Wing Media Continue To Prop Up Byrne’s Contradictory Claims
Byrne’s Book Has Almost Exclusively Been Pushed By Right-Wing Media. In the weeks leading up to the book’s June 28 release date, it was promoted by conservative outlets including the Drudge Report, Breitbart.com, The Daily Mail, Trump ally Alex Jones’ show, Sean Hannity’s radio show, and Fox News, as well as the gossip tabloid National Enquirer. [Media Matters, 6/20/16; Drudge Report, 6/20/16]
In Hannity Radio Interview, Byrne Says He Told “100 Percent” Truth In 1998 Testimony. In an interview on Sean Hannity’s radio show, Byrne asserted his testimony in the 1998 Starr investigation was “100 percent” truth and that he would have faced jail time if he had not been truthful. Byrne also touted his book, with its differing accounts, as “truth.” From the June 27 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Sean Hannity Show:
SEAN HANNITY: Are you ready for the media onslaught, left-wing media onslaught that is certainly coming your way? I spent the whole weekend reading the book. I have no doubtwhen you go on your media tour it’s going to be vicious. You’re going to be put on trial. Are you ready?
GARY BYRNE: Yes, I think so. I’ve experienced a little bit of it before, when this first happened, when the story broke. So I have a little bit of experience with it. But I’m ready, I’ve got my ducks in a row as we say.
HANNITY: Yeah, well, you’re telling your story.
HANNITY: And why don’t we go to the heart, before we even get started into the facts of the story. Why do you think this is important? You go, you do explain it, especially, and I’ll jump to the end of the book a little bit here, because this is so important to you. You actually go into great detail that, you had to answer the same question now that you answered in 1998. You were asked to go before Ken Starr.
HANNITY: And, what am I going to do about it? And you knew the answer, and that you have to speak up. Why?
BYRNE: Yes, well at that time, when I was being investigated by Judge Starr, my fear was that if I didn’t tell the truth 100 percent once I had to testify that they would jail me. And they told me they did, I mean if you--
HANNITY: And you were facing seven years in jail if you didn’t tell the truth?
BYRNE: At least, yeah. And a couple times FBI agents involved in the investigation actually threatened to arrest me. I came to this conclusion, Sean, that telling the truth was important. Protect the constitution and the oath that I took to the president of the United States and the constitution, and that one man does not supercede that.
BYRNE: The reason I’m coming out now is because I want everybody to know the truth. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 6/27/16]
Fox’s Hannity “Exclusive” Was An Hour-Long Infomercial For Byrne’s Book. In addition to interviewing Byrne on his radio program, Sean Hannity devoted the full hour of his Fox News show to hyping Byrne’s claims from the book. The June 27 edition of Hannity featured another uncritical interview with Gary Byrne followed by a panel discussion in which participants unquestioningly repeated Byrne’s claims without noting a single contradiction highlighted in the widespread mainstream criticism the book. The closest the interview came to addressing criticisms was at its conclusion, as Hannity appeared to feed Byrne talking points:
SEAN HANNITY: I want to go back to where we started. You feel compelled to do this.
GARY BYRNE: I do.
HANNITY: You never signed a nondisclosure. You have the right to do it. Some people wish you didn’t do it because of the position you’re in. Now guys do have to sign nondisclosures, right?
BYRNE: They do, starting in I believe 2004.
HANNITY: Okay, the final question: what do you want people to know what you saw in their years as president?
BYRNE: Well, the first thing I’d like you to know is I’m not comfortable about talking about this. But I feel so strongly that people need to know the real Hillary Clinton and how dangerous she is and her behavior. She is not a leader.
HANNITY: She doesn’t have the temperament for the job.
BYRNE: She doesn’t have the temperament. She didn’t have the temperament to handle the social office when she was first lady. She does not have the temperament.
HANNITY: She’s dishonest.
BYRNE: She’s dishonest. She habitually lies. Anybody that can separate themselves from their politics and review her behavior over the last--
HANNITY: You’re going to be accused of this being political.
BYRNE: Absolutely, I’m sure I will be. I have been already.
HANNITY: And what’s your answer?
BYRNE: It’s not. It’s got nothing to do with politics. It’s the truth.
HANNITY: Is it love of country?
BYRNE: It is love of country. And I hope someday that it does make a difference. I mean, if Mrs. Clinton ends up being the president of the United States, then she’s our president and she’s the commander-in-chief, and it is what it is. But if she did become the president without me speaking the truth, I’m not sure I could deal with that. People need to know. This is serious, and her behavior is appalling. And she’s two different people. [Fox News, Hannity, 6/27/16; Media Matters, 6/27/16; Fox Nation, 6/27/16]
“Man Of The Hour” Byrne Appeared On Fox News Radio To Discuss “The Real Clinton Machine” And Disparage A Female Pundit. Byrne appeared on Fox News Radio’s The Tom Sullivan Show to promote his book, re-telling his stories about Hillary Clinton, alleging Clinton “hated” the military and police, and blaming Clinton for the 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi. Byrne then reacted to a clip of Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers pointing out the “frankly kind of sexist” tone of Byrne’s claims by disparaging Powers as “this girl that tries to defend” Clinton and suggesting Powers has “got some issues with law enforcement and military herself.” [Fox News Radio, The Tom Sullivan Show, 6/28/16]
Fox & Friends’ Earhardt: “You’ve Got To Read This Book.” In a segment on Fox & Friends, co-hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Brian Kilmeade breathlessly hyped Byrne’s claims about Hillary Clinton -- in particular Byrne’s insinuations related to the death of Vince Foster -- and lamented that mainstream media were failing to cover the “wealth of information” in Byrne’s book. From the June 28 edition of Fox & Friends:
AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): You’ve got to read this book. We’ve all read this book.
BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): You’ve got to have parental guidance. You cannot let a kid read this book, because a lot of it is x-rated.
EARHARDT: People are asking Gary, you know, why are you writing this book? Because wasn’t it your duty to protect and keep your mouth closed? And he says it’s his duty as a patriotic citizen of this country to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming president. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/28/16]
Byrne Joined Fox & Friends To Peddle His Confused Stories Without Questioning. Byrne joined Fox & Friends on June 29 where he once again rehashed several of the more salacious stories from his book with few interruptions and no critical questions from the show’s co-hosts. Co-host Steve Doocy, however, did reiterate the Drudge-fueled assertion that “Mrs. Clinton’s machine” was attempting to silence Byrne and prevent him from appearing on mainstream media. The interview ended with Byrne accusing the critical Secret Service officers of lying, saying, “Everybody knows who I am.” Earhardt then reassured Byrne, “We all know who you are definitely.” From the June 29 edition of Fox & Friends:
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): Mrs. Clinton’s machine is trying to unbook you. CNN’s already unbooked you. None of the networks will touch you.
GARY BYRNE: Yes.
DOOCY: You just mentioned George Stephanopoulos, you think they’re going to tell that story on GMA?
BYRNE: No, and the funny thing is when people come out like this retired Secret Service association comes out and says I never had access. All’s you have to do is go ask George Stephanopoulos. I stood right outside his door for years. I was friends with his assistants. Everybody knows who I am. They’re just afraid of the truth.
AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): All right, Gary Byrne. We all know who you are definitely. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/29/16]