I went to Arkansas – to find the Hillary haters looking for one last piece of dirt.
I met Larry Nichols – the self-described smut king of Arkansas – at a breakfast joint in Conway, not far from the spot where he claims Bill Clinton loyalists once fired on him and a reporter for London’s Sunday Telegraph. ‘You have to understand’ he said, looking up from his coffee ‘you’re in Redneck City’. Nichols had declared war on the Clintons in 1988 – when Bill was governor – after being canned from his job at a state agency for placing dozens of long-distance phone calls on behalf of the Nicaraguan Contras. As he hunched over the table in four layers of winter clothin – Nichols indulged in the caginess that had once seduced a small army of conservative journalists seeking dirt on the Clintons—the lurching twangy conspiratorial tones of someone with a secret he wasn’t sure how to spill. For a moment I felt as if I’d taken the wrong exit off I-40 – and ended up in 1995.
But Nichols – who did as much as anyone in Arkansas to paint an image of the 42nd president as a womanizing cocaine-snorting dirty-dealing drug-running mafioso – was ready to move on. ‘There is nothing you’re gonna find here’ he told me. ‘Pack your shit and go home. Good God man—that was 20 years ago’.
With Hillary Clinton the odds-on favorite in next year’s Democratic presidential primary – all that was past is suddenly new again. The reinvestigation of the Clintons was already well underway by January, when Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus boasted to Bloomberg that he had dispatched a team of operatives to Little Rock to investigate the former first lady and secretary of state. ‘We’re not going to be shy about what we are doing’ he said. ‘We’re going to be active. We’re going to get whatever we have to in order to share with the American people the truth about Hillary and Bill Clinton’. Last year, America Rising – an opposition research firm/political action group that works with Republican candidates – placed a full-time researcher in Little Rock – where she pored over newly declassified documents at the Clinton Presidential Library.
But 20 years after the so-called Arkansas Project – the multimillion-dollar campaign financed by conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife that turned Whitewater and Troopergate into household names – opposition researchers face a conundrum: Considering that the first expedition for dirt on the Clintons culminated in impeachment proceedings – are there any stones left unturned in Little Rock?
Few pieces of political turf have been excavated as thoroughly as Arkansas was in the 1990s- when conservatives scoured the Ozarks for evidence of everything from plastic surgery (to fix Bill’s supposedly cocaine-ravaged nose) to murder (a list of suspicious deaths – promoted by Nichols – became known as ‘Arkancides’) and of course womanizing. In the state capital the return of the oppo researchers has been met with a sigh.