Sophia A. Nelson: In 1990s, some in GOP were obsessed with the Clintons, especially Hillary Clinton
This week's Benghazi committee hearing shows intense partisan focus on former secretary of state
Editor’s Note: Sophia A. Nelson is a former committee counsel for the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. She is the author of “The Woman Code” (Revell 2014). The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
I am a lifelong Republican. I worked for the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee in the 1990s as part of the Republican majority staff. I was the lone African-American female on the staff, and I was in my 20s.
In 1997, Rep. Dan Burton was the committee chairman, and U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett was then the chief committee counsel, followed shortly afterward by Barbara Comstock, now a Republican congresswoman from Virginia. And the lead investigator was David Bossie.
I was a new attorney. I remember feeling then, as I do now, that certain factions of the Republican Party are obsessed with the Clintons, and in particular, Hillary Clinton.
And I can state unequivocally after watching Thursday’s Benghazi House committee hearing and considering the email transcripts, media statements, debates and intense partisan focus on the former secretary of state for the past few years that she has been treated unfairly. Unprofessionally. And frankly, disrespectfully.
I believe that like Justice Clarence Thomas before her, she has been publicly lynched in a way that we Americans only reserve for uppity black men and uppity professional women who don’t know their place. She has been dragged through the media and partisan mud of Capital Hill politics and asked to answer questions that she has already answered. She has been attacked. Accused. And berated by members of Congress who should know better.
My point is this: We have seen this movie before. As a 28-year-old attorney working at her first job on Capitol Hill in the late 1990s, I saw up close and personal how this plays out.
I respected Dan Burton. He was always nice to me and supportive. Dick Bennett was a great choice as a moderate Republican counsel, but he soon tired of the antics of some staff members and the partisan manner in which the investigations and hearings were conducted.
I found these lead investigators (except for Bennett) to be difficult toward anyone who dared oppose their crusade against the Clintons. As a young woman, I was tired of the partisan manner and mob mentality in which they seemed to pursue the Clintons. I left my post after two years and went to work at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in public affairs.
Full disclosure: I was not a big fan of those investigators, nor am I of the GOP’s apparent obsession with the Clintons, because I have a sense of fairness. I have a sense of America. Of decorum. Of decency. And the attacks on Hillary Clinton back in the 1990s were vicious. Outrageous allegations that she conspired secretly to murder Vince Foster. Or that she was involved in illegal money schemes with China to raise money for the 1996 campaign. Burned Rose Law Firm records, covered up illegal acts, and on and on. Here we are in 2015, and it’s déjà vu – the same old movie is playing.
Recently, Clinton took fire for her comments in the CNN Democratic debate about the fact that she had “Republican enemies.” It is true. She does. A blind man can see that. Rep. Kevin McCarthy just confirmed what the rest of us in Washington know.
My questions for Congress and specifically the Benghazi committee are: What do you want from this woman? What do you want her to admit to? Does anyone really believe that Clinton would have wanted one of her ambassadors to die in an attack by Libyans? Does anyone really believe she knowingly had an email server in her home, so that she could send classified emails, and then destroy them? I mean to what end? What would be the gain for such an enormous risk to someone who knew she wanted to run for president again in 2016?
In the final analysis, I believe that history will record that Hillary Clinton was one of the brightest and most patriotic women ever to serve in public life. Whether she becomes president, or whether she is found to have violated the law on how she handled her emails at the State Department, Clinton is one tough cookie.
As a fellow woman, I respect and admire her toughness. I do not always agree with her politics. In fact, 75% of the time I do not. I will not likely vote for her in 2016. But right is right. Fair is fair. And America must pass the test of how we treat women in public life as opposed to men.
The way the GOP members of Congress spoke to her is appalling. We can do better, fellow Republicans. A search for the truth is always welcome. But in our efforts to uncover the truth, I hope that we will remember that we are all human. And that we all make mistakes. And that there is a huge difference between one who shirks her duties as a leader, or breaks the law, and one who did the best she could with what she had at the time, and has the grace and confidence to own her mistakes and grow as a better leader in spite of them.