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Inside Politics: Hillary Clinton's telling words about critics, then and now

By John King, CNN Chief National Correspondent
updated 8:36 AM EST, Mon February 17, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A treasure trove of notes from Hillary Clinton documents contains a few nuggets
  • Both opponents and supporters will find what they want in the documents
  • A recent statement about critics can be read as calculation or evolution

Program note: John King and a panel of top political reporters look at the evolution of Hillary Clinton on "Inside Politics " on Sunday at 8:30 a.m. ET.

Washington (CNN) -- According to candid notes kept by a close friend, Hillary Clinton circa the 1990s hated Washington, distrusted reporters, kept an enemies list and blamed Monica Lewinsky as much, if not more, than her husband.

Anything there you didn't know already?

That is the fundamental question as report after report surfaces about a treasure trove of notes that Clinton confidant Diane Blair took during the Bill Clinton campaigns and presidency in the 1990s.

Make no mistake, there are some priceless nuggets.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pictured in October 2012, has become one of the most powerful people in Washington. Here's a look at her life and career through the years. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pictured in October 2012, has become one of the most powerful people in Washington. Here's a look at her life and career through the years.
Hillary Clinton's career in the spotlight
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Hillary Clinton, for example, is said to have told her friend when "this" was over -- meaning her husband's time in the Oval Office -- she would "go be a kindergarten teacher and never have to hold hands on the Hill again."

Hillary Clinton as kindergarten teacher?

Instead, of course, she went on to become a U.S. senator, a candidate for president and secretary of state. Not to mention now, 13 years after her husband left the White House, the prohibitive favorite to be the next Democratic presidential nominee.

Also in the Blair archives, this note from a conversation during the 1993-94 health care debate: Hillary Clinton, her friend Blair wrote, wanted to make sure she found a way to "best preserve her general memories of the administration and of health care in particular."

Why?

"Revenge," according to Blair's notes.

Confidant's papers: Clinton wanted to keep records for 'revenge'

To conservatives, it's more proof of a Clinton machine that targets its enemies. To supporters, it's either something that can be written off as a reaction in the intense political heat of the mid-1990s or, to some, proof of the toughness and shrewdness that Democrats will need to keep the White House in 2016.

Blair, now deceased, was a Clinton confidant dating back to Bill Clinton's days as the governor of Arkansas. I spoke to her regularly as then-Gov. Clinton prepared for and then sought the presidency, and she was a close friend of both Clintons. So her notes are worth reading if your goal is a better understanding of the Clintons and those roller-coaster days.

But as reporters and Republican researchers read through them now, their lasting value and place depend on whether there are discoveries that add new perspective to a Hillary Clinton public image that has evolved significantly over the past quarter-century.

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Blair papers offer insight into Hillary Clinton

In 1992, when then-Gov. Clinton often sold the "two for one" theme as he promoted his wife's policy intellect, she was at times on the defensive, about her continued use of her maiden name or her high-profile corporate law work in Arkansas.

Who can forget her, "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas" rejoinder when challenged about her professional choice in March 1992, while campaigning for her husband in Chicago.

Sixteen years later, she bowed out of the Democratic presidential race, making note of the 18 million votes she received, and it was just a year and a few weeks ago that she aggressively answered GOP critics in Congress who believe her State Department could have prevented the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

Throughout that evolution, she has had a roller-coaster ride in public opinion polls. Several veteran pollsters and strategists contacted in recent days were skeptical, despite their racy quotes and insights, that the Blair files would change public opinion in any dramatic fashion.

Clinton's interpretation of the 'Roosevelt Rule'

One top GOP pollster said absent a blockbuster revelation, opinions of Clinton and her political leanings and character are "baked in" and "part of the complicated mixture of all the stuff people know and think about her."

A longtime Clinton confidant concurred, though in language mostly not fit for family friendly reading. "I do not see a lot of news here," this veteran Democratic hand said of the Blair files.

Some of the chatter in Washington this past week focused on whether all the talk of her past -- and her husband's past -- might dissuade Clinton from becoming candidate Clinton again.

But the longtime Clinton confidant puts his money on a candidacy.

In those Blair notes, there are perhaps a few helpful guideposts, including a conversation with her friend about how Clinton adversaries grew so frustrated by how Bill and Hillary weathered storm after storm.

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"This, she said, is what drives their adversaries totally nuts," Blair wrote. "That they don't bend, do not appear to be suffering."

Hillary Clinton's office declined to comment on the materials in the Blair archives.

But perhaps she had her old friend's writings, and the media attention they are drawing, in mind Thursday. At an event focused on helping women and girls around the world, she turned reflective for a moment.

"One of the best pieces of advice I've ever heard is from Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1920s, who said that women in politics or public roles should grow skin like a rhinoceros," she said. "I think there's some truth to that."

Then, the woman who spoke to her friend in the 1990s of cataloging her enemies and someday exacting revenge said this: "It's important to learn how to take criticism seriously but not personally. ...That is not an easy task. I can tell you that from many years of experience and a lot of missteps along the way."

Clinton on taking criticism: 'Don't get dragged down'

Just the smart thing to say at a public gathering, or another of the many evolutions of Hillary Clinton?

Stay tuned.

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