by Alexander Bolton
October 16, 2007

from TheHill Website


Republicans plan to seize on an allegation from the 1992 presidential campaign to tarnish Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) on the red-hot issue of government surveillance.

Government surveillance will be at the forefront of the political debate this fall as congressional Democrats and President Bush square off over legislation allowing electronic spying on U.S. soil without a warrant.

Republicans are focusing on an allegation in a recent book by two Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters, which suggests Clinton listened to a secretly recorded conversation between political opponents.

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.

“The tape contained discussions of another woman who might surface with allegations about an affair with Bill,” Gerth and Van Natta wrote in reference to Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton.


“Bill’s supporters monitored frequencies used by cell phones, and the tape was made during one of those monitoring sessions.”

A GOP official said,

“Hillary Clinton’s campaign hypocrisy continues to know no bounds. It is rather unbelievable that Clinton would listen in to conversations being conducted by political opponents, but refuse to allow our intelligence agencies to listen in to conversations being conducted by terrorists as they plot and plan to kill us. Team Clinton can expect to see and hear this over and over again over the course of the next year.”

Gerth told The Hill that he learned of the incident in 2006 when he interviewed a former campaign aide present at the tape playing. He has not revealed the aide’s identity.


Clinton’s campaign has not disputed any facts reported in the final version of his book, which became public this spring, he said.

“It hasn’t been challenged,” said Gerth. “There hasn’t been one fact in the book that’s been challenged.”

Clinton’s spokesman panned the book but declined to discuss the allegation that Clinton had reviewed secretly recorded calls.

“We don’t comment on books that are utter and complete failures,” said Clinton’s press secretary, Philippe Reines.

Her Way’s sales rank is 43,016.

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.

In 1986, Congress broadened wiretapping law to prohibit the interception of electronic communications, as well as the use or disclosure of intercepted electronic communications.


Two court cases have since cited that action in ruling the interception of cell phone communications illegal:

  • Bartnicki v. Vopper, 2001

  • Company v. United States, 2003

Clinton has made privacy an issue on the campaign trail.


In July, she discussed her privacy bill of rights in a speech to the American Constitution Society. The proposed rights, ensconced in the Protect Act, include the right to sue when privacy rules have been violated; the right to protect phone records; and the right to freeze credit in the event of identity theft.

During the same speech, she addressed the controversy over government surveillance.

“Every president should save those powers for limited, critical situations,” said Clinton, according to a copy of the speech posted on her campaign website.


“And when it comes to a regular program of searching for information that touches the privacy of ordinary Americans, those programs need to be monitored and reviewed as set out by Congress in cooperation with the judiciary.

“That is the essence of the compact we have with each other and with our government, and we cannot ignore it.”

In August, Clinton voted against an emergency law that temporarily expanded the government’s power to conduct surveillance on American soil without a warrant.


The bill was criticized for being overly broad and sidelining the role of a special court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.


The Senate’s other Democratic presidential candidates,

  • Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.)

  • Chris Dodd (Conn.)

  • Joseph Biden (Del.),

...also voted against the bill.

Clinton’s chief political strategist, Mark Penn, became embroiled recently in a controversy over intercepted electronic communications. Mitchell Markel, a former vice president at Penn’s firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland, filed a lawsuit against Penn accusing him of intercepting e-mail.


Markel claimed that the firm illegally monitored messages sent from his BlackBerry after he joined another company.

Markel dropped the suit in July after reaching a settlement with Penn, Schoen & Berland.