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Does Hillary Clinton's $8 Million Book Deal Show a Lack of Integrity?

Aired December 19, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, Hillary's $8 million book deal: Is it too much? Is it a conflict of interest? Should she have to give it up?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the crossfire, Barbara Olson, author of "Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton," and in New York, Mort Zuckerman, publisher of "The Daily News" and editor in chief of "U.S. News & World Report."

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

She's back. After being eclipsed by the Florida recount, Hillary Clinton is back and back big with a whopping $8 million deal to write a book about our eight scandal-plagued years in the White House. That's a million dollars a year. But before she even puts pen to paper, Hillary's already in hot water.

Two organizations -- the Landmark Legal Foundation and the Congressional Accountability Project -- have raised questions about a possible conflict of interest, and Senator John McCain has suggested an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee.

Republicans argue Mrs. Clinton should be held to the same standard demanded of Newt Gingrich, who had to return -- remember? -- his $4 1/2 million book advance.

But Democrats counter that the Senate, unlike the House, has no prohibition against publishing books and a lot of senators have done so.

The first lady, who will be sworn in as senator on January 3rd, tried to put the whole controversy behind her today by -- what else? -- going shopping for new house.

Tonight, Hillary's new book: Does it pass the legal test? Does it pass the smell test, and what will she tell?

Sitting in again on the right tonight, Republican strategist Mike Murphy, who served as a media consultant to Rick Lazio's campaign. In the interest of full disclosure we tell you that.


MURPHY: Mort Zuckerman, question for you. The Senate ethics rules say these books deals should comply to -- quote -- "usual and customary business practices," but this $8 million up front before the book is even written deal isn't usual or customary. Nothing like this has been done before, and it's being done by Viacom, the holding company that owns the publisher, which has tremendous business interests in front of the U.S. Senate.

So the question is, is this not a totally improper source of money for Mrs. Clinton to take and shouldn't she instead just take the dollar or some fair, usual and customary royalty on the book rather than a huge up-front payment from a corporation?

MORT ZUCKERMAN, PUBLISHER, "THE DAILY NEWS": Well, in fact, it is usual and customary. Most books are sold on the basis of an advance and the advance is determined by the book publisher on the basis of what they think the book will sell. And Hillary Clinton clearly is somebody who's going to sell an enormous number of books.

So I don't think that the $8 million figure is unreasonable, particularly when you compare it to $7 million, for example, that was given as an advance to a Jack Welch or what have you. There are all kinds of huge advances that'll be given out, because of the fact that she is not only a national figure, but an international figure.

So I don't think it's unusual and I don't think she's getting all of the money up-front. All writers get a big chunk of it up-front, and then another chunk when they submit the manuscript.

So I don't think this is unusual or uncustomary.

MURPHY: Well, experts say she's going to have to sell, the publisher will, about 1 1/2 million books to break even, and that's very, very rare. But let me take you to a quote from David Bonior, Democrat whip, the great ethical conscience of the Congress, who had this to say when Newt Gingrich got a big corporate up-front payment for a similar book, about 4 1/2 million in his case.

Bonior said -- quote -- "This is an arrogant act for a man who's about to assume one of the most powerful positions and offices in our land. Before he gets to the public business, he's taking care of his private profits."

What's the difference other than that Newt Gingrich was a Republican and Hillary Clinton is a liberal Democrat?

ZUCKERMAN: Well, in the first place, there are different rules that apply to the House and the Senate. The House really has much stricter rules about the ability to publish books. Those rules do not apply to the Senate at this stage of the game.

Secondly, the really and most important thing about this is that what Hillary Clinton is getting paid for this really large amount of money is because she has become an international and national celebrity as a result of her eight years as the first lady of the nation, and an unusual first lady at that. So I think it doesn't really become a function of her public office, and that is what distinguishes her from Newt Gingrich. Newt Gingrich got this $4 1/2 million advance because he had become speaker. She is not getting this $4 1/2 million advance because she was elected to the Senate.

And finally, the nature of the auction was very, very different in terms of the way Newt Gingrich was able to get a $4 1/2 million advance. That was really almost a silent auction. Nobody knew what was going on. A lot of people felt that the fix was in on that deal whereas this was an open auction where there were a number of houses who were all willing to pay her in that range because of their estimates of the books that were sold.

So I actually not only think it passes the legal test, I think it passes the smell test, even though I will say this: I don't think the rules should be as they are. I think we should have some very careful sort of regulatory process for the Senate as well as the House in terms of what senators can do. But many senators have written books. Pat Moynihan has written, I think, 11 books and nobody raised an issue.


PRESS: Save a couple of comments for later. We're going to get Barbara Olson into this discussion. Barbara, there are so many way to approach this, you know, the legality of it, the amount of money.

But let's start with the fact that this is really not unusual at all. I checked my shelves at home today, right? I've got a book by Senator Paul Simon, by Senator Paul Tsongas, former senator. I have book on there by Barbara Boxer. I have a book by Arlen Specter he gave me autographed the other night. Last year, Pat Moynihan published his 18th book and the ninth book he has written since he was in the United States Senate. This year, all nine woman members of the United States Senate published a book together. I mean, the list goes on and on.

The fact is, as Mort just pointed out, senators are permitted to publish and have published. Hillary is just getting more money than they did, right?

BARBARA OLSON, AUTHOR, "HELL TO PAY: THE UNFOLDING STORY OF HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON": Well, I mean, the problem is $8 million is a lot of money, and it's a lot of money to someone walking into the United States Senate and someone who's going to be looking at issues, as Michael said, Viacom. It's a lot of money and it is a payment while she's a senator, because obviously she's going to write it as a senator.

Does it the violate the black letter of the law? Once again, we've got the Clinton administration and their spinners saying it doesn't violate the letter, and that's correct, obviously. But does it have an appearance of impropriety? Sure, $8 million to someone walking into the United States Senate who just wants to represent the people of New York tells me, and I think a lot of people, that there's a little more there. And I think Hillary Clinton has an agenda and $8 million will help a great deal.

PRESS: Well, of course, she's not just walking into the United States Senate. She's walking from the White House to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

But you mentioned the Clinton spinners who are defending this. I'd like you to listen to a tape of a man I don't usually consider in the category of the Clinton spinners, but I guess you would put him here. Here's...

OLSON: I have a feeling I wouldn't.

PRESS: Just listen up, here, please. Senator Trent Lott.


SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: I don't think the amount should make any difference. If she's complying with the rules and the laws, you know, that's the important thing. I'd have to get into it a great deal more than I have so far to make, you know, an absolute declaratory statement.

But frankly, I think it's a mistake to say to people in elective office you can't do anything: You can't have any outside income, you can't have any outside contact. You know, if we're going to be citizen legislators, how can we just cut ourselves off?


PRESS: So, are you accusing Trent Lott of selling out here?

OLSON: Absolutely not. Never would. The leader is always correct. But listen to the difference. I mean, obviously...

PRESS: The leader is always correct. End of story, right?

OLSON: No, no. I mean, I think that there does become an amount. Now, one interesting thing, let's assume Hillary really does a tell-all book, which we've been told is what it's going to be. It's probably worth $8 million. It'll probably -- if she really talks about the health care task force, all the things that went on that were never uncovered -- the White House Travel Office, the FBI files -- I'll buy a few copies of that book.


But the last thing we heard was that it was going to be a dignified version, and I have to think the publisher has heartburn, because it's more Clintonesque, you know, cover-up. So we'll see.

PRESS: Wait and see.

MURPHY: I've got to get back to this point about the parsing here. The fact is this is illegal in the House. If you walk two blocks over to the Senate, the Democratic excuse is, well, it's really not illegal there, you know, no-controlling-legal-authority kind of argument.

But the question is, again, if she took a royalty deal, she'd earned the money. There's no guarantee Viacom will make money on this deal. This is in fact a corporate contribution, and it's not a normal book deal. Nobody other than His Holiness the Pope has gotten $8 million, which I think is why Breslin wrote, "Every time she goes by a bank," in the paper today, "an alarm goes off."

Don't you think, if it's not illegal, at least the appearance and the parsing is wrong, and she ought to set a higher standard at a time when nobody has any faith in our public institutions?

ZUCKERMAN: Well, if you ask me the question, the answer is no, I don't think it's the wrong appearance, to be honest with you. I mean, I think this is absolutely typical of the book business. Every author that you and I know tries to get as big an advance as they can. This is absolutely the custom in the industry, and the book-publishing companies have to make the judgment as to whether or not they can sell enough books to justify that kind of an advance.

Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't work. She will also have a royalty arrangement, but in terms of the book sales, there are probably very few people, maybe other than the president of the United States, soon to retire, who will be able to sell as many books as she can given her national celebrityhood and her international fame.

This is not going to be a book that's going to be limited to the United States. It's going to be a big seller all over the world, and I'm sure they'll be able to lay off a large portion of that advance with many of the European and other countries who want to have a piece of it,

So I don't think it's unusual. I don't think it's uncustomary, and I think the book company will make a healthy profit on it.

MURPHY: But I'll give you one hypothetical -- and I know they're hard to answer -- but from a point of view of a appearances, if the book doesn't make money, in fact, if it is not the biggest-selling book that it would have to be to even break even, should she then refund some of the money maybe just to a break-even point of view? I mean, I just see a corporate contribution here. It's like soft money.

ZUCKERMAN: I'll have to be honest with you. I am on the publishing side rather than on the author side. I would love to be able to institute that rule, but I haven't succeeded in 26 years and I don't think I'm going to succeed tonight.


MURPHY: Would you have done this deal?


Just as a businessman -- do you think it really will make money?

ZUCKERMAN: Yes, I think it's going to make a lot of money. I think she's going to sell a huge number of books, and I think she has a very unusual and interesting perspective given her role in the White House over the last eight years.

PRESS: Barbara, you -- I know you want to jump in here quickly.

OLSON: Well, it goes...

PRESS: You would have taken 8 million if you could have gotten it.

OLSON: Oh, but do you know what happens on the back end if you don't make that money for your publisher? No, I think I would have thought twice if I felt I was going to live a long life.

But what I was thinking of is -- we were talking about this -- is there's then going to be "Hillary: The Movie," Hillary: The Tapes, "Hillary Revisited," and maybe Hillary in 2004. Now, that will sell books.

PRESS: You -- you go, girls, is all I've got to say. All right. So Barbara and Mort, hold on there just a second. We're going to take a break.

And I remind you or inform you that our guests tonight have agreed to join our chat room right after the show. Both Mort Zuckerman and Barbara Olson will be there for all of you to take your questions at

We'll take a break. When we come back, we're going to ask whether the Senate for Hillary Clinton is going to be a new home or just a stopover point on the way to another new house, or back to another house. And as we go to break, David Letterman is so excited about this book he is already thinking up new chapter titles. Here are just a few.



DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: No. 3: "Arafat's Wife: So-So Kisser."


No. 2: "I Never Figured Out Who the Hell Rick Lazio Was Either."


And the No. 1 chapter title in Hillary Clinton's new book: "Chapter 1: Bill's a Jerk...The End. Now where's my 8 million?"



(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MURPHY: Welcome back to "CROSSFIRE." I'm Mike Murphy sitting in on the right. Eight million bucks! This time it will take a Brinks truck, not a village.

Will Hillary Clinton write a really good book or just get a really big corporate payday? Will she be just another senator or does she have far, far bigger plans?

We're discussing Hillary Clinton with Mort Zuckerman, publisher of "The New York Daily News," and Barbara Olson, former assistant U.S. attorney and author of "Hell to Pay" -- Bill.

PRESS: Barbara, thanks to Mike Murphy's good efforts, in part, Hillary Clinton's the new senator from New York. She's going to be sworn in on January the 3rd. A lot of people are expecting her to go move right in there and kind of take over.

She expressed it a little bit differently on "LARRY KING LIVE" last week here on CNN. Please listen to her take on it.


SEN.-ELECT HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I'm standing in line like everybody else. But we don't even know how the committees will be chosen, because as you just pointed out, we don't know how many members will be on the various committees. And I'm just going to wait my turn. The Democrats will make those decisions at the leadership level, and I'll work as hard as I can on whatever committee I'm appointed to.


PRESS: And when I talked with her last week, she told me she was going to be -- take it very, very low-key for a while.

There's no evidence at all, is there, that Hillary Clinton, despite being first lady, is either expecting or demanding special treatment in the Senate?

OLSON: Well, I mean, besides the fact that she started -- came the first day to the United States Senate in a motorcade I don't think there's any evidence. But it's interesting, because I have to give Mike some defense.

I wrote a book where I thought I laid out her political philosophy as a pretty dangerous, scary philosophy. So her overwhelming election, I think, a few of us are a little chagrined.

But Hillary Clinton, what will be interesting, will she go on the Finance Committee? Which I've heard the senior senator, remember, Senator Chuck Schumer, we've heard he wants to go on Finance. Will they put Hillary on? What committees is she going to jump ahead of other people?

PRESS: Well, let me pick up there. In fact, given all of her background -- the fact that she's a lawyer, the fact she's worked on Senate committees, the fact that she's been first lady of Arkansas, first lady of the United States, with all this experience, all this travel, all these tremendous skills -- why shouldn't they put her on the best committees? I mean, shouldn't they in fact treat her as the star that she is?

OLSON: And so that says all the other senators, who have equal -- have worked at staff like her, who have served in other jobs, quite often come out of the state legislature -- they're cream cheese? I mean...

PRESS: Of course not. The Army -- I mean, shouldn't the Senate be different from the Army and take advantage of her talents?

OLSON: It's absolutely up to the Democratic leadership where she goes and what talents they take advantage of.


MURPHY: Bill, I want a rematch in a swing state by the way. New York is definitely Republican. I learned that the hard way. We're going to get Nancy Reagan to move to Utah...


PRESS: You had your shot, you lost.

MURPHY: Morton Zuckerman -- I want a rematch. Mort, question for you, you're a real estate expert, so I think you can help me sort this out. I only know what I read in the newspapers here.

But I read that Mrs. Clinton may be selling the house in Chappaqua that she bought in the New York suburbs, where those swing voters are, to buy a new place in cool Manhattan. Simultaneously, I'm reading that she may be moving into a $4 million mansion in Georgetown -- I might have to say, across the street from me. So I've been drinking quite heavily over these last several days. Then I read that President Clinton has a penthouse crash pad at the Little Rock Clinton Museum. Where are they going to live?

ZUCKERMAN: Well, I think they're going to spend most of their living time in New York and Washington. She'll be spending a lot of time in Washington, obviously, as a senator, and their home base will be here in New York state.

Somebody said that Chappaqua is Indian for "Greenwich." But setting that aside, I personally have a great deal of moral difficulty in being worried about high real estate prices. I'm all in favor of them.

But I think they'll buy a perfectly good home in Washington. I think they're going to remain in their home in Chappaqua. And the president, since he gets Secret Service details, will be able to work in his car, as he says, on the way in from Chappaqua into New York, and he's going to have office space in New York.

So they'll just go back and forth like the typical average couple. What else can I tell you?


MURPHY: I have my eye on the new place in New Hampshire in a year or two that she might be getting. But question, doesn't it look bad politically to go buy a house in the swing suburbs of New York, say, that's the voters you want to go after, and then, you know, less than a year later -- or I guess a little more than a year later, boom, sell it, and move into Manhattan to be with the media elites? I mean, what...

ZUCKERMAN: I don't where you get -- I don't know where in the world you get the idea that she's going to sell it. They're not going to sell the home. They've stated they're not going to sell the home. So I think that they're just going to live in that home.

Of course, she's going to buy a home in Washington, where she expects to spend many, many years.

I don't know where you get that. I mean, whatever people want to do with their homes, it's up to them.

MURPHY: Well, let me ask you, there's been speculation. Would it be a political mistake for her to sell the house in Chappaqua, or does it not matter?

ZUCKERMAN: I think it probably would, for the reason that you mentioned. It would look as if it was all just a calculated move, and I know you're going to be shocked to learn that it was a calculated move.

MURPHY: I'd be shocked.

PRESS: And I for one don't know any out-of-state senator who doesn't have a house somewhere else and a house in Washington. But maybe Mike expects her to live in a tent on the Mall.


OLSON: But Bill, most of the time the people have their home, and it's their family home. It's usually a house that they've lived in for a long time. And of course, we know in Hillary's case, she bought this home in Chappaqua because it was the neighborhood that was swaying. And so it will be very interesting.

And I think Mort said -- why does he know they're not selling it? Because they said so. Well, if he believed them, I hold out judgment a little bit long.

PRESS: Well, let me just say something to you very slowly. Senator-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton. OK? Deal with it.

Now, let me ask you this: Next to that, isn't your -- or maybe next to four more years of Bill Clinton in the White House, isn't your worst nightmare eight years of President Hillary Clinton? And don't you know that's coming right down the road? OLSON: Well, and actually, that's one of the reasons I wrote my book, is from the first moment that I started looking at Hillary Clinton and her background -- you said, senior staffer, very well- spoken, spent her whole time as first lady, not really being a first lady, being a co-president and traveling the world. I think she is planning for a run for the White House, and I felt as though someone needed to lay out the story, because it'll be interesting to see how Hillary decides to tell her background and whether she's positioning herself for a run in the White House.

PRESS: All right. So what I hear you saying is -- and I admire your candor. You're saying here right on national television that all you Clinton-haters now are shifting from Bill Clinton to Hillary Clinton, starting with your book, starting with questions about this book deal to try to bring her down and stop her from the White House...

OLSON: No. First of all...

PRESS: Right? That's what I heard you say.

OLSON: No, it's not right. It's wrong, Bill, because I think Hillary is a very interesting person and I think people underestimate her. And that's one of the reasons I wrote this book, is I thought the minute you underestimate Hillary, she wins. And I think she has looked at 2004 for some time.

She used the Lewinsky matter to get on the national stage. She's going to use her senatorial years to keep a national agenda. I want to see if she does one thing for New York.

PRESS: Mort Zuckerman, on her way to the White House?

ZUCKERMAN: Well, I -- I think she's certainly not going to preclude that possibility, but I will bet you...


I will bet you right now she does not think about the year 2004 for her. It's the wrong time for her. She needs to have more legislative experience. But 2008 or 2012, that's a wholly different story. She's got plenty of time, and I think it would be wise for her to wait.

OLSON: But Mort, why do you think she asked for the electoral college to be abolished 48 hours after being elected if she wasn't thinking about it?

PRESS: All right, 2004, 2008, we'll find out. Barbara Olson, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

OLSON: Thank you.

PRESS: Mort Zuckerman, thank you for joining us up in New York, but remember the next time you don't have to come in black tie. That's OK. We don't demand formal attire here on CROSSFIRE, but we do appreciate it.

Thanks so much, and don't forget our guests will be in the chat room.

Mike Murphy and I will be back with our closing comments about Hillary and the new book and the new house.


MURPHY: Don't forget. Tonight's guests -- "Daily News" publisher Mort Zuckerman and "Hell to Pay" author Barbara Olson -- take your questions after the show at

Bill, I haven't seen you so happy since May Day about this Hillary Clinton for president thing. You were jumping out of your chair.

I'll tell you what, I want her to run, because if we get her out of New York and into the real country, where there are real voters, not just liberal Democrats, we'll beat her like a slow mule.

PRESS: That's what you said about upper New York state, Mike. You were wrong then, you're wrong now. You've always underestimated this woman. My advice to Hillary is, don't move all of the boxes out of the attic, you can leave them there, because you're going to be back before you know it.

MURPHY: Now, do you really think she'd be the strongest Dem of everybody you got in your, you know, your kind of listing party? It's tilting kind of back and forth now.

PRESS: Well, I'd have to look at the whole field. I'm not saying she's the strongest one, but she is strong, she is smart, she is articulate. And Mike, you know -- and I've seen it -- she's a great campaigner. I think she has a better chance than any other woman I know to be the first female president of the United States. Go for it.

MURPHY: Tough in the primaries, but bad in the general. We'll see.

PRESS: Yes, we'll be there for you.

MURPHY: I'll be back.

PRESS: Give you another shot. From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE. I'll see you in "THE SPIN ROOM" at 10:30.

MURPHY: Sitting in on the right, I'm Mike Murphy. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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