It may be 2016, but the 1990s “vast right-wing conspiracy” is alive, well, and increasingly an integral part of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Trump added the most recent addition on Thursday when he tapped David Bossie, a veteran conservative opposition researcher and longtime adversary of Bill and Hillary Clinton, as his deputy campaign manager.
In an interview with The Washington Post, which first reported Bossie’s hiring on Thursday, Trump called him “a friend of mine for many years. Solid. Smart. Loves politics, knows how to win.”
Bossie certainly knows how to dig up dirt, and his appointment signals that the Trump campaign may be revisiting the anti-Clinton playbook that Bossie helped write in the 1990s.
Bossie knows the litany of Clinton scandals better than most; he’s been bird-dogging the powerful couple since before Bill became president, and helped get the anti-Clinton attack machine up and running in Washington.
In the Trump campaign, Bossie will be steeped once again in some of the darkest conspiracy theories surrounding the Democratic nominee, including that Hillary Clinton was involved in or even responsible for the death of White House deputy counsel Vince Foster, whose body was found in July 1993 in a Washington-area park with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
This past July, Trump adviser Roger Stone claimed (not for the first time) that Clinton was somehow involved in Foster’s death and called the nominee “a mentally unbalanced criminal.” Trump himself has said the theories that Foster was murdered are “very serious” and that the details of Foster’s death are “very fishy.” Clinton and Foster were close friends going back to their days together as partners in the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Bossie will be stepping down for now as president of Citizens United, the activist group founded by Floyd Brown, for whom Bossie worked as a researcher in the early Clinton days. Brown lauded Bossie’s “bloodhound” research in his 1992 book “Slick Willie”: Why America Cannot Trust Bill Clinton. The book was published a few months before the election. Brown, the brains behind the notorious Willie Horton ad from the 1988 presidential race, turned Clinton-bashing and investigation into a cottage industry, both as the head of Citizens United and as a syndicated radio host.
After President Clinton took office, Bossie became the chief anti-Clinton researcher for Citizens United and spent the first months of the administration digging into Clinton’s nominee for surgeon general, Jocelyn Elders, and longtime Clinton friend-turned-associate U.S. attorney general Webster Hubbell.
As journalist James B. Stewart writes in his history of early Clinton-era scandals, Blood Sport: The President and His Adversaries, Bossie got a call a few weeks after Foster’s death from a retired Arkansas Supreme Court justice named Jim Johnson. “The Judge,” as he was known, had become a vocal Clinton critic and turned Bossie on to an Arkansas banker named David Hale, who was under investigation and hoping to parlay dirt he claimed to have on the new president to save his own skin.
Federal prosecutors weren’t trading, though, so Hale went looking for other outlets and ended up talking for hours on the phone with Bossie, who was eager for tips going back to Clinton’s days in Arkansas politics.
Hale claimed that Clinton, while serving as governor, had pressured him into giving an illegal $300,000 loan to the Clintons’ friend Susan McDougal, with whom the couple had bought land, along with McDougal’s husband, Jim, at a picturesque wilderness retreat called Whitewater, which the investors hoped to turn into a vacation destination.
Hale’s allegations were in a different category from wild speculation about Foster’s death. His story became the seed of the Whitewater scandal, a Byzantine tale of bad real estate deals and financial shenanigans that engulfed the Clinton White House. Whitewater became shorthand for the Clintons’ collective sins—real and imagined—and a touchstone for the conspiracy theorists who have dogged them to this day.
Bossie became a source for reporters covering Whitewater and the congressional staff investigating it. He was hired in 1997 by a powerful House committee and set loose to investigate allegations of Clinton campaign finance abuse. Bossie was fired the next year over his role in releasing taped conversations with Hubbell, who was then in prison for crimes unearthed in the Whitewater investigation by independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr.
Bossie is also just the latest ghost from the Clintons’ past to enter the current political fray. Several of the lawsuits over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server have been brought by Judicial Watch, a conservative group founded in 1994 in large measure to ferret out records about Bill Clinton’s administration.
Judicial Watch, then headed by the litigious activist Larry Klayman, sued for records about Whitewater, as well as the controversy over firing White House travel office personnel—an early scandal in then-first lady Hillary Clinton’s tenure—and, yes, Foster’s death.
Now under new leadership, Judicial Watch has been credited by journalists and watchdog groups with holding Clinton accountable both for her email server and potential conflicts of interest while she served as secretary of state.
But the Clinton campaign has a long memory and puts Judicial Watch squarely in the camp once occupied by Bossie and his cohort.
“Judicial Watch represents everything that is wrong with our political system,” Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill told The Daily Beast in June. “Manufacturing wrongdoing has been central to their singular agenda since their inception… They are only interested in headlines, and have made a complete mockery of our system.”
“He has devoted his career ever since [the Bill Clinton administration] to trying to tear down Hillary Clinton,” John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, said in a statement. “For months now, Citizens United has been acting as an arm of the Trump campaign, and this hiring of Bossie now makes it official. This is just the latest sign that Donald Trump has put the most extreme elements of the right-wing fringe in the driver’s seat of his campaign.”