Oh Brother; The return of the Rodhams.

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JULY 23, 2007

Oh Brother; The return of the Rodhams.

Edgar Allen Gregory and his wife, Vonna Jo, were distressed. It wasDecember 1999, and the couple, owners of the Tennessee-basedcarnival company United Shows of America, had applied for apresidential pardon nearly a year and a half earlier in the hopesthat President Clinton would wipe out their 1982 bank fraudconvictions. But the Gregorys couldn't get the president'sattention. So they went to someone who could--First Lady HillaryClinton's kid brother, Tony Rodham. They had been on friendly termssince meeting at a Democratic fund-raiser in 1995; Tony even helpedsecure a contract for the Gregorys to set up a carnival (planned byHillary) on the White House lawn in 1998, an elaborate event thatincluded a Ferris wheel and an arcade game complete with mockmachine guns and crossbows. Now the couple needed a far moreserious favor, and, when they ran into Tony at a party, they weren'tshy. "You know, I was sure hoping we'd get a pardon," Edgar AllenGregory later recalled telling Tony. "If there is any way you canhelp us, I'd appreciate it.'"

Just three months later, Clinton pardoned the corruptcarneys--overriding the recommendation of the Justice Department, amove rarely seen in the White House. When reporters questioned Tonyabout this unusual act of presidential clemency, he admitted thathe may have put in a word for the Gregorys. But any accusations ofimpropriety, he insisted, were "absurd."

The carnival flap might have been lost to history were it not forthe fact that, even after their pardon, the Gregorys' fortunesfailed to improve. In 2002, United Shows of America went bankrupt,and last year, the liquidator of the Gregorys' estate sued Tony forrepayment of $107,000 in loans--granted, coincidentally or not,around the time of the pardons. Tony claims the Gregorys paid himfor his consulting services. The case is set to go to trial inNashville on August 16.

With George W. Bush's controversial pardon of Scooter Libby kickingup memories of the Clinton administration's own dubious pardons,Tony's Carneygate trial could hardly come at a worse time forHillary Clinton. Not that she's unused to her brothers being aliability: Throughout the Clinton presidency, the bizarre antics ofsecond-born Hugh and baby brother Tony often left Hillary chagrinedand apologetic. From wacky business schemes to ill-fated Senateruns, the Brothers Rodham--as they were known among White Housestaffers--engaged in one embarrassing shenanigan after another,often brazenly cashing in on their connection to the Clintons. Asone former White House official recalled in 2001, "You never wantedto hear their name come up in any context other than playinggolf."

But perhaps the most curious aspect of the Brothers Rodham is nottheir penchant for bad behavior but Hillary's track record ofturning a blind eye to it. Much as Bill endlessly indulged hisne'er-do-well brother, Roger, Hillary has consistently defended herintractable younger siblings, forgiving their misdeeds and allowingthem endless second chances. Her protective instinct has hardlyreformed the Brothers Rodham; if anything, it has given them morechances to act out and raises questions about how Hillary willhandle the inevitable blunders that the brothers will make over thecourse of her presidential campaign.

As the oldest of the three Rodham siblings, Hillary has always keptan eye out for her little brothers. According to Carl Bernstein'srecent Hillary biography, A Woman in Charge, as children Hugh andTony were frequently "the beneficiaries of their sister'sprotection" and depended on her "when they got into scrapes thatrequired some artful intervention." (Hillary, though, was hardlynaive about her siblings' mischievousness. When she was seventeen,Bernstein writes, she read The Catcher in the Rye, but did not likeit because Holden Caulfield reminded her of Hugh.) Still, the bondbetween the Rodham children continued into adulthood. When Hillarydecamped for Arkansas with Bill Clinton, the brothers followed,going to school and accompanying Bill as he campaigned for stateattorney general. They even tagged along with the newlyweds ontheir Mexican honeymoon.

When Clinton reached the White House, though, Hugh, who worked as alawyer, and Tony, who had stints as a P.I. and a consultant, provedto be far less convivial companions for the first couple. Troublesbegan immediately, when the brothers got in a minor fracas forattempting to secure corporate sponsorship for lavish inaugurationparties. The press soon pointed out that this scheme amounted totaking exorbitant gifts from lobbyists, and the plans werescrapped. But, not long after that, Hugh attempted to launch hisown political career, giving the Clintons a year-long headache.

In 1994, Hugh, then an assistant public defender in the Dade Countydistrict attorney's office, decided to run for the U.S. Senate. Thecampaign was quixotic at best. Hugh had never shown any interest inpublic office before-- indeed, he had never even voted until the1992 presidential elections. The awkward spectacle of Hugh givingrambling interviews to reporters caused just about everyone in theWhite House--including Hillary--to cringe. "He's a great guy to sitin a bar with and talk about the Bears; he can drive a golf ballthree hundred yards," says Michael Copperthite, who managed Hugh'scampaign until leaving midway through the election. "But should hehave been senator of the fourth-largest state in the country? No."Copperthite recalls a frenzied campaign with little to say and,frequently, no candidate around to press the flesh. "Hugh'd sleepuntil noon, one o'clock," Copperthite says. Copperthite left thecampaign--Hugh's camp contends that he was "reassigned" due todiscrepancies in his resume--and was replaced by none other thanTony Rodham. The brothers eventually prevailed on the Clintons tomake a campaign stop-- Hillary spoke on behalf of her brother atseveral events--but the Republican incumbent still crushed Hugh bya 41-point margin.

That was only the brothers' first act. After the Senate defeat, Hughreturned to his legal career, while Tony returned to his job as aregional coordinator at the DNC in Los Angeles, a post he soonabandoned. By 1997, he was making headlines again--this time fordabbling in foreign affairs. Confronted by a reporter, Tonyadmitted that associates of Paraguayan President Juan CarlosWasmosy had offered him a six-figure "payoff" to set up a meetingfor Wasmosy and President Clinton. Tony balked at the implicationthat he had (or would) take the money, insisting that he onlywanted to be helpful. A year later, Tony sent State Departmentofficials into a frenzy when he visited Cambodia to mingle with thecountry's dictatorial Prime Minister Hun Sen. Although Tony claimedhe had traveled to the Asian nation as a private citizen, theCambodian government touted the visit as a signal of PresidentClinton's approval during a tumultuous election season. (In fact,Sen had provoked nothing but disapproval from the United States forhis abysmal human rights record.) "You can imagine how this plays,"a State Department official told The New York Times at the time ofthe trip. "President's brother-in-law comes to town on the eve ofan election to offer praise for the thuggish government." Formeraides say Hillary was privately mortified, though she publicly keptmum.

But it wasn't until September 1999 that Tony cooked up his mostbizarre international business venture. Once again teaming up withHugh, Tony hatched a plan to invest $118 million to grow and exporthazelnuts from the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Also involvedin the business was Aslan Abashidze, suspected Mafioso andstrongman rival of then-Georgian President (and Clinton ally)Eduard Shevardnadze. "It was like the Hugh and Tony show," a formeraide says. "They had no idea what they were doing." NationalSecurity Advisor Sandy Berger pleaded with the brothers to drop thescheme after Abashidze trumpeted their involvement as a sign of"political support rendered to him by U.S. President Bill Clinton."But it was only after other White House officials leaned on themthat Hugh and Tony agreed to quit the venture. And, a few monthslater, Tony took up the project again, prompting Berger, atClinton's behest, to call in an apologetic disavowal of theyoungest Rodham's activities to the government of Georgia. Hillary,again, maintained her customary silence.

But, in February 2001, shortly after she had started serving herfirst term as a U.S. senator, Clinton finally broke it. The presshad recently learned that Hugh had collected $400,000 from CarlosVignali and Almon Braswell after helping them to secure apresidential pardon and commutation. Hillary promised that themoney would be returned and told reporters she was "verydisappointed. " But, when asked to explain Hugh's comings andgoings at the White House, she noted wearily, "He's my brother."

It's exactly that attitude that propels Hillary to put Tony and Hughin undeserved positions of influence. Both Rodham brothers declinedto comment for this story, as did Senator Clinton's presidentialcampaign. But the most telling detail may be the role that Hillaryhas given Tony this spring. As his legal problems have unfolded,Tony has been helping his sister rake in campaign dollars, tallyingup $175,000 in contributions at one recent Pennsylvania fund-raiser. There was no Ferris wheel at that affair, though it didfeature a jazz quartet and a strawberry and pear martini bar.

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