Undercover Republican Goes Hillary-Hunting in Clinton Library
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — He arrives at the large glass building each day at 9 a.m. on the dot, walks past two giant animatronic dinosaurs, and goes through security.
For the rest of the day, he’s behind enemy lines.
In some ways the dinosaurs—part of a temporary exhibit at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library—are fitting, since he spends his day looking into the past.
Hillary Clinton’s past, to be exact.
He is a staffer for the Republican National Committee—the only one dispatched to Arkansas to wade through the Clinton archives. He spends his days looking for contradictions, embarrassments, and outright hypocrisy nestled within the hundreds of boxes stored there.
It’s all part of an unprecedented research operation undertaken by the RNC to stop Clinton in her tracks.
The staffer asked to remain anonymous in order to walk The Daily Beast through his workday without disrupting his research after the story is published.
This week has the potential to be particularly fruitful.
A new tranche of documents from the first lady’s office is scheduled to drop containing the records of Eric Woodward, who served as her office manager from 1998 to 2000 and assistant to the chief of staff from 2000 to January 2001.
The RNC staffer has a vague list of the materials contained in the boxes and, to the untrained eye, they look pretty mundane. Press clippings, photos, memos, and “stuff to be signed by the by the first lady”—but to the opposition researcher, something previously overlooked in the pages could become newly relevant under the right political circumstances.
The staffer has been waiting since he arrived in June to go through the new files.
There are roughly 751 Hillary Clinton-related boxes in the library. They represent a tiny sliver of the 78 million pages of documents, 20 million emails, 2 million photos, and 12,500 videotapes the William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum houses, according to the library’s website.
Since just 1 percent of the total collection has been digitized, being on location is key.
The RNC staffer has personally gone through about 200 boxes, averaging about two a day or 20 a week.
Each day he is escorted by Rhonda, a library staffer, away from the main lobby, past where President Clinton’s limousine is on display, down a dark hallway, and up 26 stairs into a lounge outside the research room. After storing his backpack in a locker, he heads into the room where an empty desk with only a few pieces of blue paper and a pencil await.
“Are they still scheduled to be released tomorrow morning?” he asks Rhonda.
“Yes,” she responds.
It’s clear by the lack of proper nouns they’ve had this conversation many times.
While he waits for the new materials, he is sorting through records from the first lady’s press office—specifically, old interviews that may not be available on Nexis or other online collections.
“You are only allowed 18 boxes at a time, so I kinda like to have something that’s relevant rather than just having 18 random boxes,” he explains.
The archive research room is basically a study hall with a lot of rules. Shortly after the staffer arrives, a wooden cart filled with 18 gray file boxes is wheeled over to his desk. The labels designating which records are inside face him.
It’s time to get started. And the going is slow.
Under the rules, he is permitted to look at only one box at a time.
Once the box is open, only one folder can be removed. It must be placed flat on the desk.
The contents of the folder must be reviewed one page at a time.
If there is a staple in a page, a library staffer must remove it so as not to damage the document.
The entire monotonous ritual is monitored on closed-circuit security cameras, as well as by a library aide who sits inside watching the RNC staffer and any other visitors as they go through their work.
The room is silent except for the quiet buzz of the overhead lights, the dull squeak of the air-conditioning vents, and the occasional sound of a scanner—an indication the staffer has found something interesting to send back to the rest of the RNC team in D.C.
The work requires patience and close attention to detail.
The staffer works straight till noon, when the research room closes for an hour for lunch.
Today is already a good day.
He found something while perusing through the first lady’s press office records: an old interview in which she appears to talk about the importance of keeping undocumented immigrants out of the country.
“It’s a complete change from what she’s trying to do now where she wants everybody to come in—it’s just something we could possibly hit on,” he says.
Raj Shah, research director for the RNC, said the staffer’s work is a critical part of the vast oppo structure the group has spent months building.
“We’ve found a lot of useful stuff,” he said. “We know what we are looking for and who we are looking at. It’s a piece of a larger engine.”
When the RNC receives a document from the Arkansas staffer, it’s flagged to the appropriate research team and is either deployed to try to inflict immediate pain or stored for use later in the cycle, when the topic is more relevant.
Shah said the RNC has spent a tremendous amount of time and resources getting to know every aspect of the Clinton network—cultivating an institutional knowledge of new and old players in the couple’s orbit.
The research at the Clinton Library is crucial to that effort.
“It is part of a broader structure, but the Clinton Library is the biggest target,” Shah said. “A good old local find could yield a lot.”
Shah added that the Arkansas staffer will be traveling around the state to other sites—like local television stations and universities where old Clinton records are stored—to ensure no stone is left unturned.
The idea for the deep research dive came from defeat.
In 2012, American Bridge 21st Century, the Democratic-aligned super PAC, spent months assembling an oppo file on Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Long before he became the Republican standard bearer, the group had an arsenal at its disposal.
When the general election campaign began, American Bridge was able to hit hard, respond quickly, and try to wound Romney on every aspect of his record.
After the election, Shah and like-minded colleagues founded America Rising, an outside group focused on opposition research in support of Republican candidates.
A candidate like Hillary Clinton gave them the long record they needed to test it out on a national level.
The pace in D.C. is frenetic, which is one of the reasons the Arkansas staffer prefers his quiet, stealthy job.
He confesses to sometimes going through online records on the weekends, when the Southern heat makes it impossible to do much else.
That’s not to say his job is without excitement.
On the morning of the document drop, the RNC staffer is at his desk at 9, and the five gray boxes he requested in advance are wheeled in on the wooden cart.
By the lunch break, he’s already gone through them all.
What secrets has he uncovered? Is the smoking gun buried somewhere in the manila folders?
“There was nothing in there,” he says with a laugh, shaking his head slightly.
The disappointment must be crushing, but the staffer is undeterred.
He shrugs his shoulders and smiles. “It happens.”
With that, he walks down the 26 stairs, through the double glass doors, and out into the hot Arkansas sun.
He’ll start again after lunch.