'Far-right conspiracy' a gift from Blumenthal Clinton adviser valued for his journalism past

February 15, 1998|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton may be in the fight of his life, but for White House aide Sidney Blumenthal, a "Friend of Bill" (and an even better "Friend of Hillary"), all the suns, moons and planets in his universe are in harmony.

A journalist for 28 years, Blumenthal has, in just eight months in the White House, reached dizzying heights in his new profession. He is one of the handful of aides who can give advice directly to the president and Vice President Al Gore -- and to his most powerful patron, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. His portfolio extends from foreign policy to helping formulate a strategy for combating independent prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr.

If anything, the furor centering on Monica Lewinsky has enhanced Blumenthal's position. According to several sources -- and Blumenthal doesn't dispute it -- he has long embraced the notion of the "vast, right-wing conspiracy" to explain some of the Clintons' troubles.

Blumenthal sees Starr as a partisan Republican seeking to bring down a Democratic president, and he portrays much User.Event 7 was not expected here! of the news media as the unwitting -- or in some cases deliberate -- partner in this effort.

Hillary Clinton, in particular, has always gravitated toward the notion that sinister forces were behind the Clintons' legal troubles. And because Blumenthal comes from the media, the first lady gives his views on this subject all the more credence, according to several White House staffers.

Some White House aides find this line of argument slightly paranoid and politically perilous, and Blumenthal's penchant for seeing hidden plots behind every Whitewater subpoena or leaked news story has earned him the tongue-in-cheek nickname "G. K." -- for "Grassy Knoll," the favored location of conspiracy buffs for the supposed second gunman in the Kennedy assassination.

But Blumenthal has won his share of converts, too.

"I'm the first to roll my eyes at some of this, but Sid has been proven more right than wrong on the 'right-wing conspiracy,' " said Rahm Emanuel, a top White House aide who coined the G. K. moniker. "There is a partisan effort against us -- more than meets the eye."

Blumenthal himself won't expound on where he believes this conspiracy starts and stops -- and won't talk about much of anything else publicly, either. In a friendly -- but off-the-record -- interview, he indicates that seeing himself quoted isn't the best way to help the Clintons' cause.

All he'll say on the record is that he "loves" where he is now. "It's great to be seeing things from the inside that, as a journalist, I only saw from the outside," he says. "Working in the White House has given me a much deeper understanding of what goes

Liberal circles

Until last summer, the 49-year-old Blumenthal was a prominent Washington journalist known for his deftness as a writer, his high-level contacts in liberal circles on both sides of the Atlantic -- and as a relentless defender of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

He's the author of four well-received political books and a play about Washington, "Our Town." He also has written for well-known publications -- the New Yorker, the Washington Post and the New Republic -- and established himself as a left-of-center observer who openly rooted for Democratic candidates and causes.

Moreover, he was associated with a specific Democratic faction, one that believed that in order to elect a president, the party needed "new ideas" that would expand its appeal beyond the traditional base of labor, liberals and blacks.

Political thinker

In time, Blumenthal's strength as a political thinker became, in the minds of some of his editors and colleagues, his weakness as a journalist.

He was such an early convert to the "New Democrat" movement that he seemed to become part of it. He also became cozy with British Labor Party leader Tony Blair. Blumenthal and his wife, Jacqueline, director of the White House fellows office, threw a dinner party for Blair at their home -- right after Sidney wrote a glowing magazine profile of the future prime minister.

A reputation for getting too close to those he covers has dogged Blumenthal throughout much of his career in journalism.

In the 1984 campaign, according to three knowledgeable sources, Blumenthal helped craft at least one Gary Hart speech -- at a time when he was covering the campaign. In the 1992 campaign, he openly chose sides again, casting his lot with Clinton. He attacked Clinton's opponents in the Democratic primary, and in the general election was relentlessly critical of George Bush and Ross Perot while writing favorably of Clinton.

Journalist at work

After the election, he landed the prestigious job of Washington correspondent for the New Yorker. But he was dismissive of the idea that the Clintons could have done anything wrong, refusing to write about issues such as Whitewater or the firings of the White House travel office, and characterizing Paula Corbin Jones in his coverage as a tool of the "far right."

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