The OTHER Big Problem With Hillary's Notorious Remarks

In May 1992, I passed on a message to Bill Clinton's campaign, letting them know that Jerry Brown, the former California governor who emerged as Clinton's most persistent opponent, would pull back from the sharp attacks he'd been leveling on the frontrunner.
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Hillary Clinton: "My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don't understand it."

What a remarkably wrong-headed paragraph. The formerly inevitable Clinton got into obvious trouble for her assassination comment. (And is now trying desperately to spin her way out. Lotsa luck.) But the sentence before it is totally wrong as well, as I can tell you that the Clintons knew that they would have no trouble in the 1992 California primary.

In May 1992, I passed on a message to Bill Clinton's national campaign chairman, Los Angeles attorney Mickey Kantor, who later held two Cabinet posts in the Clinton Administration. The message? That Jerry Brown, the former California governor who emerged as Clinton's most persistent opponent, would run no TV ads in the California primary and would pull back from the sharp attacks he'd been leveling on the frontrunner.

The primary was not "in the middle of June," as Hillary said in the first part of her gross misstatement about it. It was on the first Tuesday in June, as it had been for decades to that point, on June 2nd. Clinton was way ahead in the race. There was no suspense about him getting the nomination. And Brown's decision not to run TV ads in California -- he had plenty of money for that -- and to refrain from the harsh attacks that had marked his campaign to that point made it very clear that the fight was over.

Brown had made plenty of trouble for Clinton, coming out of the pack to end up as the rather distant runner-up for the Democratic presidential nomination. Running against political corruption, the former two-term governor of California won several big primary and caucus victories over Clinton. Accepting no contribution over $100, in this pre-Internet campaign Brown used an earlier form of interactive technology and funded his run with an 800 number, mentioning the number so often that then NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, a family friend, tried to cut him off during a TV appearance.

Brown's surge against Clinton halted after a fake drug scandal broke on ABC. There was nothing actually there -- one key source who appeared on Nightline later admitted that the Brown fundraiser he dramatically said he'd attended where drug-taking took place was a big Eagles concert in the 1970s where some fans smoked marijuana -- but the information provided to the network was packaged cleverly enough to produce a lot of short-term smoke. As it were. Funny how such things happen not infrequently around Bill and Hill's campaigns.

With Brown deciding to run no TV ads, and pulling back from his sharp attacks on Clinton, the way was made absolutely clear for Bill Clinton to finish first in the California primary and begin consolidating his role as the nominee of the Democratic Party.

The night of the California primary, I stayed at the Hollywood Hills home of Brown's sister, Kathleen Brown, then the California state treasurer, and her husband, former CBS News president Van Gordon Sauter. Jerry Brown stayed there, too.

Distressingly early on the morning after the California primary, there was a knock on my door. Jerry Brown rushed into the room, reporting that somebody had called for me. He was much more interested, naturally, in talking about his campaign than in delivering a phone message. I'm not sure I ever found out who had called.

He was in very good spirits. Primary day had gone as he planned, as he piled up more delegates to make a showing at the convention in New York. And Clinton allies like then Democratic national chairman Ron Brown could no longer accuse him of trying to embarrass Clinton as the primary season concluded.

I told Brown that Warren Beatty had called asking for his number. Beatty wanted to play an intermediary role in working out more of a peace agreement between the Clinton and Brown camps.

That never did get worked out, as the Clintons deeply resented Brown for being the first political figure to attack them on what later became known as Whitewater. And his gibes about Clinton golfing with fat cats -- in particular, Hillary's law partner, Webster Hubbell -- as preparations were made for the Clinton-approved execution of a brain-damaged black man during a bad patch in his presidential campaign particularly stung the future first lady.

Now Brown is the very popular attorney general of California, using his office to aggressively pursue remedies to climate change.

And Hillary Clinton? As her campaign winds down, reduced to making bizarre references to political assassination and pretending that she doesn't know any of what you have just read.

Jerry Brown, incidentally, who won a 19-point landslide election as California attorney general in 2006 -- he ran many millions of dollars worth of TV ads in that race -- met with Bill and Hillary Clinton and with Barack Obama early in this campaign cycle. Pondering a return to the governorship in 2010, he is uncommitted in the race.

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