Sidney Blumenthal

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Sidney Blumenthal
Sidney blumenthal 2006.jpg
Senior Advisor to the President
In office
August 19, 1997 – January 20, 2001
PresidentBill Clinton
Personal details
Born
Sidney Stone Blumenthal

(1948-11-06) November 6, 1948 (age 71)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Jacqueline Jordan (1976–present)
Children2, including Max
Alma materBrandeis University (BA)

Sidney Stone Blumenthal (/ˈblmənθɔːl/; born November 6, 1948) is an American journalist and political operative.

He is a former aide to President Bill Clinton; a long-time confidant[1] of Hillary Clinton, formerly employed by the Clinton Foundation;[2] and a journalist, particularly known for his writings about American politics and foreign policy. Blumenthal is also the author of a multivolume biography of Abraham Lincoln, The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln. Three books of the planned five-volume series are available already: A Self-Made Man, Wrestling With His Angel, and All the Powers of Earth. Subsequent volumes are planned for 2020 and later.[3][4]

Blumenthal has written for numerous publications, including The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker, for whom he served for a time as the magazine's Washington correspondent, and, was, briefly, the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for Salon, for which he has written over 1,800 pieces online. He is a regular contributor to the openDemocracy website and was formerly a regular columnist for The Guardian.[5] After 2000, he published several essays critical of the administration of George W. Bush.[6][7][8][9][10]

Early life and career[edit]

Blumenthal was born in Chicago, to Jewish parents, Claire (née Stone) and Hyman V. Blumenthal.[11] He earned a BA in Sociology from Brandeis University in 1969, and began his career in Boston as a journalist who wrote for the Boston Phoenix and the Real Paper, Quad Monthly-issued publications.[12]

Blumenthal popularized the phrase "permanent campaign", in a book of the same name, in 1980. The term describes officials campaigning for re-election throughout the electoral cycle, leaving no time to focus exclusively on governing.[13]

In 1983, Blumenthal became a national political correspondent for The New Republic, covering the 1984 Presidential campaign.[12] Soon after, Blumenthal began working as a political reporter for The Washington Post before then returning to The New Republic.[14]

In 1993, Blumenthal became the chief Washington correspondent for The New Yorker before joining the Clinton Administration in the summer of 1997.[12]

Tenure as chief Washington correspondent for The New Yorker[edit]

In 1995, when Blumenthal was named the chief Washington correspondent for The New Yorker, the position was one of the most prestigious in American journalism. But Blumenthal's tenure in the position proved tumultuous, with several of his colleagues alleging that Blumenthal's journalism exhibited extreme bias in favor of then President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton, that Blumenthal was informally providing political and public relations advice to the Clintons while covering both of them, and that Blumenthal was engaged in disparaging and attacking The New Yorker colleagues whom he believed were writing too critically of the Clintons.

The Washington Post's media critic Howard Kurtz wrote at the time:

Peter Boyer, a New Yorker writer, says Blumenthal tried to sabotage his story about the Travelgate affair last year. Boyer says he mentioned the piece to his colleague after learning that Blumenthal had lunched with Clinton's friend Harry Thomason on the day the Hollywood producer pushed for the firing of the White House travel office employees... Boyer says he was later told by Harry Thomason or his wife, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, that Blumenthal had warned them Boyer was anti-Clinton and planned to smear them, leading to a series of legal threats against the magazine. Boyer, who fired off an angry memo to New Yorker Editor Tina Brown, accuses Blumenthal of journalistic corruption.[15]

Not too long into the job, Blumenthal was replaced as The New Yorker's chief Washington correspondent by Michael Kelly, although Blumenthal was allowed to stay on as a part-time writer: "Kelly ordered Blumenthal to stay away from the magazine's downtown office," the Post's Kurtz wrote. Kelly himself explained to the newspaper: "I did not trust him. [Blumenthal]. I felt his relationship . . . with the president and first lady was such that I was not sure I wanted him around the office as I was working on stories. He was serving two masters, and I was not comfortable with that. . . . I had reason to believe that he wanted a job with the White House."[15]

Over time, Blumenthal was eased out of his job-- "The New Yorker assignments dwindled," Kurtz wrote, and Blumenthal worked officially for the Clinton White House.

Clinton Administration years[edit]

Blumenthal (right) briefs President Bill Clinton in the Oval Office in 1998.

Blumenthal served as assistant and senior advisor to Bill Clinton from August 1997 until January 2001. His roles included advising the President on communications and public policy as well as serving as a liaison between the White House and former colleagues in the Washington press corps.

He later became a central figure in the grand jury investigation that ended in the impeachment of President Clinton. While working for Clinton, Blumenthal was known for this loyalty to the Clintons and his attacks on their adversaries, which is one reason Rahm Emanuel, the first chief of staff for President Barack Obama, barred Blumenthal from holding a position in the State Department during Hillary Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State.[12]

During his tenure working at the Clinton White House, Blumenthal was accused of serving as a "hatchet man" for the Clintons, often circulating rumors and false allegations about the Clinton's political adversaries: "Going back to the Bill Clinton impeachment crisis, Mr. Blumenthal, then the president's special adviser, spread false rumors that one of Kenneth Starr's prosecutors abused young boys at a Christian summer camp and that Monica Lewinsky was stalking the president," according to a November 2015 report by journalist Ken Silverstein appearing in The New York Observer.[16]

"In 1995, Mr. Blumenthal told reporters that Alma Powell, Colin Powell's wife, suffered from clinical depression and was thus unfit to be a first lady. At the time, there were rumors that Colin Powell would run in the Republican presidential primaries, a prospect that terrified the Clinton re-election campaign," The New York Observer further reported.[17]

During the investigations by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, Blumenthal was called to the grand jury to testify on matters related to what Clinton had told both Blumenthal and his senior staff in regard to Monica Lewinsky. The leadership of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives felt enough evidence existed in regard to the Paula Jones case and Lewinsky for impeachment proceedings to begin in December 1998.

After the House Judiciary Committee and the United States House of Representatives impeached Clinton on December 19, the matter then passed to the United States Senate. Blumenthal was one of only four witnesses called to testify before the Senate. No live witnesses were called; the four were interviewed on videotape. His testimony addressed a major allegation that Clinton had pressured Betty Currie to falsely attest that it was Lewinsky who initially pursued Clinton, not vice versa. The Senate acquitted Clinton of perjury and obstruction of justice, and the impeachment proceedings ended.

Blumenthal v. Drudge[edit]

In 1997, Blumenthal filed a $30 million libel lawsuit against the Internet blogger Matt Drudge (and AOL, which had hired Drudge), stemming from a false claim Drudge had made of spousal abuse, attributed only to unnamed "top GOP sources". Drudge retracted the story not long after, saying he had been given bad information. In Blumenthal v. Drudge, 992 F. Supp. 44 (D.D.C. 1998), the court refused to dismiss Blumenthal's case for lack of personal jurisdiction. Drudge publicly apologized to the Blumenthals. Blumenthal dropped his lawsuit and eventually reached a settlement involving a nominal payment to Drudge over Blumenthal having missed a deposition. In his book The Clinton Wars, Blumenthal claimed that he was forced to settle because he could no longer financially afford the suit.[18][19]

Blumenthal–Hitchens feud[edit]

The British-American journalist and author Christopher Hitchens, under subpoena, submitted an affidavit to the trial managers of the Republican Party during the impeachment of Bill Clinton, in which Hitchens swore under oath that then-friend Blumenthal had described Monica Lewinsky as a stalker. Hitchens' allegations directly contradicted Blumenthal's own sworn deposition during Clinton's impeachment trial that he never said any such thing,[20] which resulted in a hostile exchange of words between the two men. Following the publication of The Clinton Wars, in which Blumenthal recounted the disagreement once again, Hitchens wrote several articles in which he once again accused Blumenthal of lying.[20][21]

Post–Clinton Administration years[edit]

Published works and memoirs[edit]

After the Clinton presidency, Blumenthal's book, The Clinton Wars, was published in 2003. In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote: "Beyond his intention to set the record straight on controversies that plagued the Clinton presidency, Mr. Blumenthal has a more personal agenda. Barely mentioning others close to the Clintons, and illustrating this memoir with smiling, convivial photographs of himself in their company ... Blumenthal sends a clear message to his administration colleagues: Mom liked me best."[22]

Maslin further wrote: "The Clinton Wars means to solidify Mr. Blumenthal's place in history. He wrote memos and speeches (included here for the reader to enjoy). He gave valued advice. He came up with the slogan One America, which, he helpfully points out, is an updating of 'E pluribus unum.' He introduced President Clinton to a promising British politician named Tony Blair. And he was often in the presence of greatness. 'I once sat with the president and Tony Blair as, in about 15 minutes, the two men easily thrashed out a prickly trade problem involving bananas and cashmere,' he reveals."[22]

Reviewing the book in The New York Review of Books, Joseph Lelyveld, the former executive editor of The New York Times, wrote that Blumenthal came across as more like a "courtier" than "the bright campaign reporter he once was ... When it comes to the Clintons, there is not a single line of comparable acuity or detachment in the whole of The Clinton Wars. What you get instead are passages that would have been regarded as above par but hardly fresh if they had appeared in a news magazine cover story ten years ago."[23]

Also in The New York Times, historian Robert Dallek wrote that Blumenthal's book was partly "an exercise in score settling" against his "tormentors." Moreover, Dalek wrote, "The book is also an exercise in something all too familiar to inside-the-White-House memoirs -- an exaggerated picture of the participant's importance. Comparing himself to the Antichrist in the eyes of the Christian right, Blumenthal "wondered which of my traits had invited this invective." Holding center stage, as his massive volume attests, might be one answer."[24]

Overall though, Dalek praised the book, opining that "Blumenthal's sprawling 800-page memoir of his four years as a presidential assistant" was a "welcome addition to the literature on Bill Clinton's tumultuous second term." Dalkek also wrote that "Blumenthal brings a reporter's keen eye for telling detail and a columnist's talent for considered analysis and unmistakable opinion to his reconstruction of what he calls the Clinton wars."[24]

Andrew Sullivan has characterized Blumenthal as "the most pro-Clinton writer on the planet."[25] For Salon, Dwight Garner wrote that Blumenthal's pieces as Washington correspondent of The New Yorker "were so unabashedly pro-Clinton that they quickly became the butt of countless jokes."[26]

In addition to The Clinton Wars (2003), Blumenthal's other books include The Permanent Campaign (1980), The Rise of the Counter-Establishment (1986), Pledging Allegiance: The Last Campaign of the Cold War (1990), and How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime (2006), a collection of previously published essays and articles on the presidency of George W. Bush.

Return to journalism[edit]

During the 2004 presidential election, Blumenthal was the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for Salon.[12] He also was a regular columnist for The Guardian from August 2003 until November 2007.[5]

Film work[edit]

Blumenthal was a political consultant for the Emmy-award-winning HBO series Tanner '88, written by Garry Trudeau and directed by Robert Altman; he appeared as himself in one episode. He was the executive producer of the documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, directed by Alex Gibney, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary of 2007. He was an associage producer of the 2002 film Max.[27]

Relationship to Hillary Clinton and post–2007 employment[edit]

Blumenthal joined the 2008 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign as a "senior advisor" in November 2007.[28] While on a trip to advise Clinton on her presidential campaign, Blumenthal was arrested for driving while intoxicated in Nashua, New Hampshire, on January 7, 2008. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor DWI charge.[29]

After her January 2009 appointment as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton wished to hire Blumenthal. However, Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, blocked his selection due to lingering anger among President Barack Obama's aides over Blumenthal's role in promoting negative stories about Obama during the Democratic primary.[30] According to a report in The New York Times, "Emanuel talked with Mrs. Clinton ... and explained that bringing Mr. Blumenthal on board was a no-go. The bad blood among his colleagues was too deep, and the last thing the administration needed, he concluded, was dissension and drama in the ranks. In short, Mr. Blumenthal was out."[30]

According to a profile of Blumenthal which later appeared in Vanity Fair, when Hillary Clinton "wanted Blumenthal to join her at the State Department as a top aide.... President Obama would not allow it: key White House staffers had grown to detest the man. Two of them – Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Senior Adviser David Axelrod – threatened to quit if Blumenthal was hired."[1]

"They believed that he [Blumenthal] had been involved in spreading unsubstantiated allegations against the Obamas during the 2008 Democratic primary... Blumenthal was [said to be" 'obsessed'... about the possible existence of a so-called 'whitey tape,' supposedly made at a Chicago church, in which Michelle Obama could be heard ranting against “whitey”—a tape that could have changed Clinton's political fortunes during her primary fight, but that apparently did not in fact exist."[1]

The information that Blumenthal distributed to journalists and political operatives often paralleled conspiracy theories about Obama espoused by conservative activists and conspiracy theorists, often based on scant evidence or unsubstantiated rumors.[1][16]

Promotion of Obama "birtherism" conspiracy theories[edit]

During the 2008 presidential primaries, Blumenthal, then informally working for Hillary Clinton, promulgated rumors and encouraged news organizations to investigate conspiracy theories that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, not the United States, and thus was not constitutionally eligible to serve as President per the natural-born-citizen clause. A former Washington bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers, James Asher, said in a formal statement in the fall of 2016 that Blumenthal had strongly encouraged him "to investigate the exact place of President Obama's birth, which he suggested was in Kenya. We assigned a reporter to go to Kenya, and that reporter determined that the allegation was false". Blumenthal denied the allegations and claimed, without evidence, that Asher favored Donald Trump's candidacy. The Clinton campaign denied knowledge of Blumenthal or any other campaign associates promoting birtherism conspiracy theories. No evidence has since come to light contradicting the campaign's denial.[31][32]

Clinton Foundation work[edit]

Blumenthal was a full-time employee of the Clinton Foundation from 2009 until 2013 and served as a consultant for the foundation from 2013 until 2015, earning about $10,000 per month, or more than a half million dollars total. Blumenthal's foundation job, which "focused" on burnishing "the legacy of Clinton's presidency" was viewed by some "officials at the charity [who] questioned his value and grumbled that his hiring was a favor from the Clintons," Politico reported. During much of the same time was consulting for the foundation, Blumenthal also wrote for numerous magazines and online publications, sometimes about both of the Clintons, without disclosing his financial relationship with the foundation.[33][34] Critics charge that Blumenthal's work at the foundation was inappropriately politically motivated and that during his time at the foundation, he blurred the lines between the foundation and Secretary Clinton's role as Secretary of State.[35][36]

During the 2011 uprising in Libya against Muammar Gaddafi, Blumenthal prepared, from public and other sources, about 25 memos which he sent as emails to Clinton in 2011 and 2012, which she shared through her aide, Jake Sullivan, with senior State Department personnel. In the form of intelligence briefings, the memos sometimes touted his business associates and, at times contained inaccurate information.[37][38]

The United States House Select Committee on Benghazi, headed by Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, subpoenaed Blumenthal in May 2015.[39][40] Blumenthal gave testimony in a closed-door session the following month.[41]

Blumenthal's name came up during the October 22, 2015 full committee public questioning of Hillary Clinton regarding the Benghazi incident, as one of the alleged sources of Clinton's intelligence. During this hearing Democratic members asked that Blumenthal's deposition transcript be made public so that comments regarding his involvement could be placed in context. The motion was defeated by a party-line vote.[42]

Blumenthal[when?]serves as a consultant to the left-leaning watchdog group Media Matters for America, the pro-Democratic Super PAC American Bridge 21st Century and the pro-Clinton Super PAC Correct the Record, for which he is reportedly paid $200,000 per year.[43]

Personal life[edit]

Blumenthal lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife, Jacqueline (née Jordan).[44] The couple were married in 1976.[44] The Blumenthals have two sons, one of whom is the activist and journalist Max Blumenthal.[45]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Poynter.org, James Warren, Chief Media Writer. "The Hillary Confidant You Can't Escape".
  2. ^ "Report: Clinton Foundation Paid Sidney Blumenthal $10,000 a Month". 28 May 2015 – via www.bloomberg.com.
  3. ^ Hahn, Steven (2016-05-13). "'A Self-Made Man: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1809–1849,' by Sidney Blumenthal". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-04-17.
  4. ^ Pengelly, Martin (2019-09-08). "What politics is: Sidney Blumenthal on Lincoln and his own Washington life". The Guardian. Retrieved 2020-01-18.
  5. ^ a b "Sidney Blumenthal".
  6. ^ Blumenthal, Sidney (March 22, 2007). "The Godfather White House". The Guardian. London, UK. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
  7. ^ Blumenthal, Sidney (January 23, 2007). "The Republican Revolt". The Guardian. London, UK. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
  8. ^ What Bush is hiding, Salon.com; March 22, 2007; accessed May 21, 2015.
  9. ^ Blumenthal, Sidney (December 21, 2006). "Delusions of Victory". The Guardian. London. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
  10. ^ Blumenthal, Sidney (September 8, 2019). "What politics is". Retrieved January 18, 2020.
  11. ^ "Blumenthal, Hyman V." Chicago Tribune. January 21, 2003.
  12. ^ a b c d e Poynter.org, James Warren. "The Hillary Confidant You Can't Escape".
  13. ^ The Permanent Campaign. google.com, 1980 (1st ed.). Beacon Press. ISBN 0807032085. 2nd ed, 1982. Touchstone Books. ISBN 0671453416.
  14. ^ "Who Is Clinton Confidant Sidney Blumenthal?".
  15. ^ a b Kurtz, Howard. "The Clintons' Pen Pal". The Washington Post , June 16, 1997.
  16. ^ a b "Just Who is Sidney Blumenthal, the Clinton's Closest Advsior?". observer.com, Nov. 13 2015.
  17. ^ "Just Who is Sidney Blumenthal, the Clinton's Closest Advsior?". observer.com, Nov.13 2015.
  18. ^ "Should Libel Law Be Strengthened to Protect Plaintiffs?", FindLaw.com, August 23, 2001.
  19. ^ "Is AOL Responsible for Its Hip Shooter's Bullets?" Archived 2006-10-02 at the Wayback Machine. Columbia Journalism Review, November 1997. Accessed May 21, 2015.
  20. ^ a b "Stalking Sidney Blumenthal". Salon.com. February 9, 1999. Retrieved April 26, 2011.
  21. ^ "Thinking Like an Apparatchik". The Atlantic, July/August 2003. Accessed May 21, 2015.
  22. ^ a b "Clinton's Good Soldier Explains All Those Messes". nytimes.com, May 15, 2003.
  23. ^ "In Clinton's Court". nybooks.com, May 29, 2003.
  24. ^ a b Dallek, Robert. "The President's Man". The New York Times, May 18, 2003.
  25. ^ "Some Like It Hot". Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 2016-08-18.
  26. ^ Garner, Dwight (June 26, 1997). "Tina's Time". Salon. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
  27. ^ Sidney Blumenthal on IMDb
  28. ^ Berezin, Jacob (November 19, 2007). "Sidney Blumenthal Joins Hillary Campaign". Huffington Post.
  29. ^ Wolfe, Andrew (April 15, 2008). "Clinton aide, Blumenthal, accepts deal in DWI case". Nashua Telegraph. Retrieved May 21, 2015.
  30. ^ a b Baker, Peter (August 15, 2009). "Emanuel Wields Power Freely, and Faces the Risks". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-08-28.
  31. ^ "Did Sid Blumenthal really push birtherism?". politico.com, Sept. 19, 2016.
  32. ^ "2 Clinton supporters in ’08 reportedly shared Obama ‘birther’ story ". mcclatchy.com, Sept. 16, 2016.
  33. ^ "Clinton Foundation paid Blumenthal $10K per month while he advised on Libya".
  34. ^ Mathis-Lilley, Ben (28 May 2015). "Clinton Foundation Paid Blumenthal $10,000 a Month While He Gave Hillary Libya Advice" – via Slate.
  35. ^ "The Clintonian Gaslighting Never Ends".
  36. ^ "Blumenthal: 'I had a real job at the Clinton Foundation'".
  37. ^ Schmidt, Michael S. (May 18, 2015). "What Sidney Blumenthal's Memos to Hillary Clinton Said, and How They Were Handled". New York Times. Retrieved May 19, 2015. In 2011 and 2012, Hillary Rodham Clinton received at least 25 memos about Libya from Sidney Blumenthal, a friend and confidant who at the time was employed by the Clinton Foundation.
  38. ^ Confessore, Nicholas; Schmidt, Michael S. (May 18, 2015). "Clinton Friend's Memos on Libya Draw Scrutiny to Politics and Business". New York Times. Retrieved May 19, 2015. Mrs. Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time, took Mr. Blumenthal's advice seriously, forwarding his memos to senior diplomatic officials in Libya and Washington and at times asking them to respond. Mrs. Clinton continued to pass around his memos even after other senior diplomats concluded that Mr. Blumenthal's assessments were often unreliable.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  39. ^ Hosenball, Mark. Exclusive: House Benghazi Panel Subpoenas Former Clinton White House Aide. Reuters, May 20, 2015.
  40. ^ Ho, Catherine. Clinton Confidant Blumenthal to Be Deposed on Benghazi; Senate Looks to Wrap Up NDAA. Washington Post, June 16, 2015.
  41. ^ Levine, Sam; Stein, Sam. Sidney Blumenthal's Benghazi Testimony Focuses More on Domestic Politics Than the Attack. Huffington Post, June 18, 2015.
  42. ^ "Hillary Clinton Testimony at House Select Committee on Benghazi, Part 2". C-SPAN. Retrieved 2015-10-22.
  43. ^ Mathis-Lilley, Ben (28 June 2016). "Democrats Accidentally Reveal How Much Top Clinton Crony Gets Paid for Being Top Clinton Crony". Slate.com.
  44. ^ a b "Sidney Blumenthal." Contemporary Authors Online. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2017. Retrieved via Biography in Context database, October 9, 2017.
  45. ^ Baker, Peter (September 1, 2015). "Emails Show How Hillary Clinton Valued Input From Sidney Blumenthal". The New York Times. Retrieved January 31, 2016.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
George Stephanopoulos
Senior Advisor to the President
1997–2001
Served alongside: Rahm Emanuel, Doug Sosnik, Joel Johnson
Succeeded by
Karl Rove