The other woman

Of all the women swirling around President Clinton, perhaps only one was a true victim.

Published September 11, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

Late on the same evening that President Clinton testified before Kenneth Starr's grand jury from the Map Room of the White House that he had had an "inappropriate" relationship with Monica Lewinsky, he defiantly went on national television to ask the American people "to turn away from the spectacle of the past seven months."

The entire affair should now become a private matter between him, his family and God, he argued: "Even presidents have private lives ... It's time to stop the pursuit of personal destruction and the prying into private lives and get on with our national life."

A longtime Arkansas state employee named Charlotte Perry might be excused for believing otherwise. An African-American woman with three young children at home, Perry is the type of person who comes to mind when, as he is wont to do, the president talks about those who work hard and play by the rules. It was such folks whom Clinton said he wanted to serve when he asked us to elect him as president in the first place.

In February 1990, Charlotte Perry hoped that her hard work, integrity and many years of service to the state government were finally going to pay off. She applied for a better paying job as an administrative assistant at a state agency called the Arkansas Board of Review. The position paid slightly more than $17,500 a year.

But Perry didn't receive the promotion she clearly deserved. Instead, it went to another woman with less experience and fewer qualifications -- Gennifer Flowers, whom everyone around Little Rock knew to be the governor's girlfriend. An investigation of the matter by a state agency later determined that the hiring procedure that led to Flowers being hired over Perry was "improper" and the result of favoritism.

Flowers, seeking work, had approached Clinton about finding her a position with the state. There were, after all, surely perks to be had for being the governor's mistress, Flowers reasoned. Clinton turned over the dirty work of finding the appropriate position for Flowers to an assistant named Judy Gaddy. Gaddy tried hard to find something for Flowers, even landing her an interview with the Arkansas Historical Preservation Program as a multimedia specialist. But Flowers was found to be unqualified for that job.

On Feb. 23, 1990, even more desperate for work than before, Flowers wrote Clinton: "Bill, I've tried to explain my situation to you and how badly I need a job ... Unfortunately it looks like I have to pursue the lawsuit to hopefully get some money to live on, until I get employment."

The lawsuit Flowers was referring to had been filed by a former Arkansas state employee named Larry Nichols. He alleged that Clinton had had sexual relationships with five women, including Flowers. Nichols had sued the governor after Clinton had fired him for stealing state funds. When a local radio station named Flowers based on papers filed in the lawsuit, Flowers told Clinton she would have to sue the radio station for slander so that she would have some money to live on.

In fact, Flowers was only bringing up Nichols' charges as a means to try to intimidate Clinton to find her a job. No one in Little Rock believed much of anything Nichols had to say, because he was known as the local loony. The four other women he named in the lawsuit simply laughed off his charges. And except for the one radio station, no reputable news organization in the state of Arkansas gave credence to Nichols' charges. Nevertheless, Flowers' ploy to intimidate Clinton had the intended effect.

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In March 1990, the job that Gennifer Flowers and Charlotte Perry were to compete for became available. At first glance, things did not look good for Flowers. She ranked ninth out of 11 applicants.

But then Flowers caught a break. On April 26, 1990, Don K. Barnes, the chairman of the Arkansas Board, abruptly changed the qualifications for the job. He did so at the direction of his boss, William Gaddy, the husband of Judy Gaddy, the governor's assistant to whom Clinton had earlier assigned the task of finding a job for Flowers.

The new requirements for the job now included experience with computers and public relations. As it happened, Flowers had listed those precise qualifications on her risumi a month earlier when she applied for the Arkansas Board of Review job.

In two telephone interviews last year, William Gaddy told me that he could not recall any role in changing the job requirements to help Flowers: "I just don't know what to think about that ... I'm not sure why my name has come up in this." William Gaddy also denied to me that he had ever spoken with his own wife, Judy, about the potential job for Flowers: "She does her thing and I do mine," he said. "We never talked with each other about Gennifer."

After failing to get the promotion, Perry filed a complaint with the state Grievance Review Committee, the Arkansas equivalent of a merit protections selection board, saying that she was unfairly denied the job awarded to Flowers.

Barnes testified to the committee that he changed the job description at the direction of William Gaddy. He said that he had supported Flowers because she had told him about her experience with computers during a job interview.

In her own sworn testimony, Flowers, however, could not recall any type of computer that she knew how to use. And asked how she had learned of the state job, Flowers swore: "It was advertised in the newspaper and I had heard about it through the personnel department."

Barnes, the state official who hired Flowers, told Newsday in 1992 that he believed Flowers had committed "perjury" by not disclosing the Gaddys' assistance in finding her the state job.

Newsday also discovered that Flowers had told a few lies on her job application. She had stated that she had been "director of public relations" for the Dallas-based Club Corporation of America, even though in an earlier application for a state job, she had said that she was only the "membership director" for that group. Flowers further represented on her risumi that she had an associate degree from the University of Arkansas. But that college had no record of her ever attending. And Flowers had also lied about her experience working on computers.

In early 1992, as disclosures about their affair were on the verge of going public, Flowers called Clinton and secretly recorded the conversations. Flowers told her former boyfriend she was concerned that someone might find out about his assistance in her obtaining the state job.

"The only thing that concerns me, where I'm, where I'm concerned at this point, is the state job," Flowers told Clinton.

"Yeah, I never thought about that," Clinton responded, in that earnest manner we are all so familiar with. "If they ever ask if you've talked to me about it, you can say no."

When Flowers told Clinton that she had lied about how she learned about the job, he responded: "Good for you!"

Clinton's deceptions did not end there. As Salon recently disclosed, during that telephone conversation between Clinton and Flowers, Hillary Rodham Clinton was standing only a few feet away from her husband.

According to a version of the story that Hillary Clinton has told two close friends, the first lady-to-be was standing right next to her husband as he talked to Flowers on a phone extension in the kitchen of the Arkansas governor's mansion. The first lady had told the friends that her presence was evidence that her husband could not have possibly been deceiving her when he claimed that he had no relationship with Flowers.

It was vintage Clinton: He was simultaneously encouraging Flowers to conceal the relationship while saying nothing too incriminating in case she was taping the conversation, and he was putting on a show for his own wife as well.

On Jan. 23, 1992, Flowers held a press conference to publicize a story in the Star tabloid, alleging that she had had a 12-year relationship with Clinton. Having been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for the confession, she no longer had any use for her state job. She never even bothered to call work to tell her bosses that she wasn't coming in anymore. They had to figure that out on their own when she simply stopped showing up.

Apparently believing her husband's explanations that Flowers' charges were the result of Republican dirty tricks, Hillary Clinton personally directed a campaign to raise similar allegations against then President Bush. There had been rumors circulating around Washington for years that Bush had had an extramarital affair with an aide named Jennifer Fitzgerald. The only problem was that there was little evidence to support the charges, which were most likely false.

According to three sources, the first lady personally, and through her surrogates, began to encourage a number of journalists to look into the allegations. Eventually, New Republic writer Sidney Blumenthal, now Clinton's aggressive spin doctor, convinced a Spy magazine writer to include the Fitzgerald allegations in an article just prior to the 1992 presidential election, even though the piece contained no compelling evidence to support the rumors.

Blumenthal then publicly questioned the ethics of Spy for publishing the story, even though he had put the magazine up to publishing it in the first place. Hillary Clinton and Blumenthal then spearheaded a further effort to have the sex allegations against Bush circulated in the mainstream press.

"That was probably the genesis of the so-called scorched-earth strategy ... You investigate our sex-lives, we investigate yours," recalls one veteran of the 1992 Clinton-for-president campaign. (A spokesperson for the first lady declined to comment for this story.)

New Yorker columnist Kurt Andersen, who was then editor of Spy, said he
didn't know about Blumenthal's involvement, but offered: "Sidney's first
political crush was Gary Hart, whose career was ruined by a sex scandal ...
a tragic and compulsive motif in Sidney's career."

The Flowers allegations were only a momentary distraction for Clinton, who would quickly move on to the presidency and recidivism.

As for Charlotte Perry, the Arkansas state Grievance Review Committee ruled in her favor. It concluded that there had been favoritism and "irregular practices" in the hiring of Flowers and recommended that Perry be awarded Flowers' job, and also that she be compensated for back pay.

Still, justice was never done. The review committee's findings were not binding. They were overruled by Barnes, the very same official who was found by the committee to have engaged in favoritism on Flowers' behalf in the first place.

Unlike Flowers and Lewinsky, Perry is the other woman we should care about. Flowers and Lewinsky were never the victims they have portrayed themselves to be. Flowers received a state job and a half million dollars for her story, using Clinton perhaps as much, or more than, he used her. As for Monica, now that she has confided to Starr's grand jury her tales of White House trysts in all their glorious detail, fortune will surely follow fame.

In contrast to all of them, Charlotte Perry is a true victim of the president's sexual misconduct. As we consider her story, it illustrates why, despite the president's desire to the contrary, his private affairs are sometimes public matters.

By Murray Waas

Murray Waas is a frequent contributor to Salon.

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Bill Clinton Hillary Rodham Clinton