The battle is joined between a former uniformed Secret Service officer and Hillary Clinton’s presidential juggernaut.
Gary J. Byrne’s book-length hit job on the presumptive Democratic nominee, Crisis of Character, won’t be released until Tuesday, yet it is already a massive best-seller on Amazon, vying for the No. 1 spot day by day against J.K. Rowling’s latest Harry Potter adventure.
In a 2016 campaign that has repeatedly defied conventional wisdom and exploded historical norms, political operatives of the former first lady, senator and secretary of state find themselves going toe to toe in the media with a heretofore unknown retired government employee who—along with his publisher, Hachette’s Center Street division—hopes to sway the U.S. electorate on who should become the next leader of the free world… and make a bundle in the bargain.
Byrne’s sensational, gossipy and widely disputed allegations include claims that:
• He walked in on Bill Clinton making out with television personality Eleanor Mondale (the daughter of the former vice president who staunchly denied a romantic relationship with Clinton before she died of brain cancer in 2011).
• Byrne disposed of lipstick- and semen-stained towels from the president’s extra-marital trysts, and not just with Monica Lewinsky (a claim contradicted by his own testimony in sworn depositions, as BuzzFeed reported this week).
• Hillary gave her husband a black eye during a rowdy argument in the White House residence and also hurled an antique vase at him; that the first lady was regularly foul-mouthed and abusive to her protective detail, throwing a Bible at one agent and driving many others to alcohol and hookers.
These and other spicy anecdotes in the book figure to become Republican talking points over the next five months.
Clinton’s all-but-certain opponent, Donald Trump, has been mentioning the book repeatedly on television, and even quoted the former Secret Service employee in his slash-and-burn “Crooked Hillary” speech on Wednesday, having started tweeting about Byrne’s book on June 6, right after the New York Post, the Daily Mail and the Drudge Report began dropping salacious tidbits.
Yet Team Clinton has been toiling assiduously—and in many cases, successfully—to limit the potential damage, issuing denunciations, fact sheets and, in the case of rightwing hit man-turned-Clinton acolyte David Brock, a meticulous 7,000-plus-word debunking, “Eight Things You Should Know about Crisis of Character,” from Brock’s pro-Hillary super-PAC Correct the Record.
ABC’s syndicated morning show, The View, devoted two Hot Topics segments to Crisis of Character on Wednesday, with Hillary supporters Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar on one side, and Paula Farris and Sunny Hostin on the other, debating the credibility of Byrne’s narrative.
Yet despite significant print media attention and an expectation of huge sales, the author has been consigned to hawking his book on Fox News and right-wing radio, while the non-Fox cable and broadcast networks have either passed or not responded to pitches from Byrne’s publicists.
A solitary CNN booking on Michael Smerconish’s Saturday morning show, was abruptly canceled by the network on Friday, with no explanation.
Not even the ladies of The View, according to Team Crisis, are open to welcoming Byrne as a guest.
“For more than two weeks, Gary Byrne’s book has been one of the top-selling books on Amazon, at times beating the new Harry Potter book for number 1,” emailed Vanessa Oblinger of Javelin, the Virginia-based literary and public relations agency that is orchestrating the promotion of Crisis of Character. “It’s also been cited repeatedly by the presumptive Republican nominee and directly discusses a central campaign theme: temperament. It’s unusual that some major network news shows wouldn’t have at least passing interest in this.”
Attacking Clinton at the Trump Soho Hotel, the reality show billionaire cited Byrne without naming him: “In the words of a Secret Service agent posted outside the Oval Office, somebody that saw her a lot, and knows her probably better than almost anybody, she simply lacks the integrity and temperament to serve in the office.”
And two and a half weeks ago, Trump wrote on Twitter: “A former Secret Service Agent for President Clinton excoriates Crooked Hillary describing her as ERRATIC & VIOLENT. Bad temperament for pres”
Spokespeople for NBC’s Today show, ABC’s Good Morning America, and CBS This Morning declined to comment on their booking decisions.
According to sources familiar with the situation, around two weeks ago, a representative of CBS This Morning closely interrogated a Hachette publicist concerning the book’s content and the author’s motives, but a requested copy was not provided, in part because of an unsubstantiated belief on the part of Team Crisis that it might have been shared with Washington mega-lawyer Bob Barnett, a longtime Clinton loyalist and literary rep who happens to be married to CBS Sunday Morning national correspondent Rita Braver. Barnett didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.
But a cable news executive, asking not to be identified, explained why Byrne is unlikely to appear on his network: “I’m very aware of the book. It’s been on ‘Page Six’ for like a month. This is a book written in time for this campaign by somebody who could have written it at any point in the last 20 years, but he’s writing it now for a pile of money, because it’s part of the attack machine that wants her [Clinton] to die. And there are bunch of Secret Service agents out there who say the guy’s full of shit.”
Byrne, who was unavailable for comment but joined Twitter this month to promote his book, spent three years of Bill Clinton’s presidency stationed outside the Oval Office—a low-level post that is not part of the elite protective detail.
Former agents insist it would not have put him in regular contact with the Clintons, but Byrne claims that it gave him intimate access to the first couple and their sometimes alarming personal quirks.
As Byrne prepares to launch his nationwide publicity tour—appearing Monday on Sean Hannity’s syndicated radio show and Fox News nighttime program, Tuesday on Megyn Kelly’s Fox News prime-time show, and Wednesday morning on Fox & Friends—Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merrill is dismissing Crisis of Character as essentially a pack of lies, a sentiment echoed by a retired Secret Service supervisor who runs an association of former and current agents.
Former presidential protective division supervisor Jan Gilhooly, president of the Association of Former Agents of the U.S. Secret Service, theorized to Politico that Byrne is simply repeating the most outrageous Clinton White House rumors as fact and then fictionalizing his role in them.
“Did Gary Byrne hear an anecdotal story being told by a couple of agents? Maybe. But did Gary Byrne see it the way he’s purporting to have seen it? No way,” said Gilhooly, whose nominally non-partisan organization issued a lengthy statement this week casting doubt on Byrne’s motives, questioning his “veracity,” and accusing him of trying “to place a divide within the ranks of the Agency and attempt to erode the confidence of those protected by the Secret Service.”
In an email, Gilhooly declined an interview request from The Daily Beast and didn’t respond when asked if he’d been in touch with the Clinton campaign.
Nick Merrill issued a statement: “Gary Byrne joins the ranks of Ed Klein, Peter Schweizer and other ‘authors’ in this latest in a long line of rehashed & recycled books that have been thoroughly debunked and discredited, while attempting to cash in on the election cycle with their sensationalized nonsense. It should be put in the fantasy section of the book store.”
So, could Crisis of Character influence the outcome of the Nov. 8 election? University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato says probably not.
“He’s preaching to the faithful,” Sabato said. “It’s more fodder for those who hate Hillary anyway, and there are millions of them and have been since the early 1990s. The Republicans will be more determined to defeat and Hillary but it will have virtually no impact one way or the other. She’s been a figure on the national stage for decades, and people made up their minds about her years ago. It’s not going to change 10 votes.”
Of course, in a presidential campaign season that virtually nobody could have imagined, even the most sensible-sounding predictions must be treated with extreme caution.