As I was writing my new book on TWA Flight 800 –TWA 800: The Crash, The Cover-Up, The Conspiracy, now available wherever you buy books — I wondered how Hillary Clinton’s success would affect the book’s.
On the up side, if Hillary were nominated, the book would be more relevant as she was at the quiet center of the action. On the downside, her nomination would increase the odds that a protective major media would continue to ignore the great untold story of our time.
The media run the risk of being the only adults who do not know this story. It began at 8:19 p.m. on July 17, 1996, when TWA Flight 800 left JFK Airport in New York bound for Paris. At 8:31 p.m., the 747 exploded off the coast of Long Island, killing all 230 people on board.
According to Hillary’s logs, at 8:35 p.m. a motorcade whisked the Clintons from a Women’s Leadership Forum nearby to the White House. Soon after they arrived, Clinton’s chief of staff Leon Panetta called the president with the grim news out of Long Island.
By roughly 9 p.m. Richard Clarke, chairman of the Coordinating Security Group (CSG) on terrorism, had called a meeting of the CSG in the White House Situation Room. The meeting was prompted in no small part by the news out of New York TRACON that “a primary radar return (ASR-9) indicated vertical movement intersecting TWA 800.” The eyewitness testimony would reinforce the radar data.
The president chose not to join Clarke. Instead, as retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Robert “Buzz” Patterson confirmed, Bill and Hillary holed up in the family residence with — Patterson believes — one other person, Sandy Berger, the deputy national security advisor. At the time, Patterson carried the nuclear football for the president, which kept him in close proximity.
By 3 a.m. the Clintons had settled on a strategy. At that fabled hour — the one Hillary would mythologize in her run against Barack Obama — Bill called Berger’s boss, National Security Advisor Tony Lake, with the following message: “Dust off the contingency plans.” For the time being, the president, in private at least, would blame terrorists for the attack, Iran the chief suspect among them. Clarke would call the aftermath of TWA 800’s destruction, “The Almost War of 1996.”
A week after the crash, Bill and Hillary spent three hours meeting with the victims’ families. Hillary could have made literary hay with a scene this poignant. She chose not to. In her 528-page memoir, Living History, Hillary spent just one-third of a sentence on TWA 800. In his 957-page 2004 memoir, My Life, Bill Clinton gave the “almost war” a paragraph.
The Clintons did not want their fingerprints anywhere near this mess. They preferred to work through the Department of Justice, which Hillary had staked out as her own personal fiefdom. Like just about everything she touched, the DOJ was both highly political and seriously dysfunctional.