Gingrich Money Man Peter Smith Helped David Brock Sock Clinton
Two close political associates of House Speaker Newt Gingrich were involved in attempts to discredit Bill Clinton with allegations about his personal life, both before and after the 1992 Presidential election. They tried to find an alleged illegitimate child of Mr. Clinton’s and helped to publicize sensational charges of misconduct made by his former Arkansas bodyguards.
The Observer has learned that Peter W. Smith, a wealthy Chicago investment banker and a top Gingrich fund-raiser, was behind the so-called “Troopergate” affair, in which four state troopers who served on Mr. Clinton’s security detail when he was Governor of Arkansas charged that he had used them to procure women for sex. It was Mr. Smith who first brought the troopers to the attention of writer David Brock, whose account of their allegations in The American Spectator magazine led to the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit, the Monica Lewinsky matter and other accusations of sexual impropriety against the President.
In an article in the April issue of Esquire , Mr. Brock expressed doubts about the troopers’ allegations and his own role in publicizing them. He confirmed to The Observer that Mr. Smith, a major contributor to Mr. Gingrich’s controversial GOPAC political fund, had facilitated his original connection with the troopers. Mr. Smith donated more than $100,000 to GOPAC between 1989 and 1995, making him one of the top 20 contributors to the committee.
The other Gingrich associate involved in these activities was Eddie Mahe Jr., a political consultant who has worked intimately with Mr. Gingrich and GOPAC for many years. It was during a meeting in Mr. Mahe’s Capitol Hill office in October 1992 that Mr. Brock was introduced to the Republican effort to investigate Mr. Clinton’s personal life. According to Mr. Brock, Mr. Mahe and Mr. Smith discussed the search for a black woman in Arkansas who allegedly had borne Mr. Clinton’s child. Earlier in the year, a supermarket tabloid had reported the tale of a black child born out of wedlock, and it has since achieved the status of political legend.
Mr. Mahe told The Observer that he recalled Mr. Smith introducing him to Mr. Brock. Although he didn’t remember the specifics of the meeting, he said he was well aware of the illegitimate-baby story. “Yeah, I’ve been in discussions about that,” he said. “A lot of people have talked about that, including myself. I’ve talked about it with a lot of people, and I would not have been at all surprised [if I talked about it] with Peter Smith also.”
“Hell, if I were having the conversation today,” Mr. Mahe chuckled, “what I would say is, just get me a half-assed decent private eye who doesn’t have a patch over the other eye, and send him down to Little Rock for two and a half hours, and he’d have it.”
Describing Mr. Smith as a “great American” who keeps a “very low profile,” Mr. Mahe said he had also “probably” spoken with the fund-raiser about the troopers’ allegations. But he said he never discussed these issues with Mr. Gingrich. Asked whether Mr. Smith or anyone else had discussed the troopers’ allegations or the illegitimate-baby story with Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Mahe said, “No, not to my knowledge.”
Said Mr. Brock, “I definitely recall in the meeting with Eddie Mahe and Peter Smith that there was an effort in Arkansas to find a lawyer who would file a paternity suit against Clinton, and that this would create a news hook for a story about it by me.” Mr. Brock said he considered the tale far-fetched and never pursued it.
In August 1993, Mr. Smith called Mr. Brock about the troopers. Mr. Smith told him to contact Cliff Jackson, an Arkansas attorney and longtime Clinton adversary who represented two of the troopers, Larry Patterson and Roger Perry. After he went to Little Rock and met with four state troopers and Mr. Jackson, Mr. Brock learned that Mr. Smith had promised financial support and jobs to the troopers if they were fired because of their allegations.
In Blood Sport , James Stewart’s 1996 book on the Clintons, the author refers to a “wealthy, conservative benefactor who had encouraged Jackson … going so far as to offer financial assistance should the troopers get into trouble. And he urged Jackson to contact David Brock at The American Spectator magazine.” That “benefactor,” said Mr. Brock, was Mr. Smith.
“Peter Smith was in constant contact with me and with Cliff Jackson about how to take care of the troopers,” Mr. Brock told The Observer . “I was monitoring the conversations between him and Cliff to make sure there wasn’t anything I thought was unethical going on. I tried to stay in the loop because I was concerned that there was money being paid. I was trying to talk Peter out of going along with whatever scheme Cliff had in mind because I was afraid it would destroy the story and destroy me. There was discussion of Peter promising to find them jobs at a certain level of income, and there was definitely discussion of a legal defense fund [for the troopers] … They were supposed to get these arrangements with Peter done before anything came out, and that was what was holding things up.”
To protect himself from any ethical improprieties, Mr. Brock recalled, he asked Mr. Jackson for a letter stating that “none of these arrangements were consummated before publication of the article.” That letter, later quoted in Boy Clinton: The Political Biography , a critical book about the President by Spectator editor in chief R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., stated: “No monies have been paid by you or anyone else for this story.”
“All through November, we had many discussions about why it would be wrong to give money to a source,” said Mr. Brock, who added that Mr. Smith “was not attuned to possible ethical breaches and bad publicity that would be a result of this. I talked to the troopers and to Cliff about that, too.” During interviews over the past year, Mr. Perry and Mr. Patterson have confirmed that they split a payment of $21,000 early in 1994 from a wealthy conservative whom they declined to name, after the “Troopergate” articles appeared in The Spectator and the Los Angeles Times . Both had lost part-time jobs as a result of their newfound fame.
Mr. Smith did not return calls from The Observer , and the troopers did not return calls seeking comment about whether he was their benefactor. For his part, Mr. Jackson declined to say anything about Mr. Smith. “I don’t know who contacted Brock, to tell you the truth,” he said. “I put out the word to multiple people that I needed a conservative backup [writer] because I had gone to the Los Angeles Times and because I’d had prior, shall we say, negative experience with the editor in chief there … Was one of those people Peter Smith? You mean whom I directly talked with? I’ll have to reflect on that.”
Asked whether he ever spoke with Mr. Smith about financial arrangements to protect the troopers, Mr. Jackson replied, “You know, I don’t think I can talk about anything that might or might not be involved in an attorney-client relationship.” But, Mr. Jackson added, “I can tell you this: That neither this Peter Smith you’re mentioning nor anyone else paid money for this story, or promised anything for this story, or guaranteed any jobs for this story … All I’m saying is, I don’t want you to draw any conclusions from my refusal to confirm or deny this.”
Murray Waas is a reporter who has written for Foreign Polciy, tthe Atlantic Monthly, Vox, New York Magazine's Intelligencer, and Reuters.