Sometime in the mid-1990s, I was talking to a senior Clinton White House official who was in a lousy mood. After Republicans had seized control of the House of Representatives in 1994 for the first time in four decades, they had launched a blizzard of investigations of the Clintons—some legitimate, some less so—and the administration was now besieged by a ton of requests for information and interviews. Whitewater, Filegate, Travelgate, the Vince Foster suicide, campaign finance irregularities, and more—the GOP demanded documents on all of it. (And this was before the Monica Lewinsky scandal.) One House Republican chairman on his own issued more than 1,000 subpoenas.
This Clinton official complained to me that under these circumstances it was damn tough for the White House to conduct regular business—overseeing the federal government, dealing with Congress on budgetary and legislative matters, and keeping the country secured. “And we have a lot of the best people in town working for us,” he said.
This official was correct in that regard. The Clinton White House was packed with competent lawyers and political professionals who were highly experienced in governing, politics, communications, and crisis management. By and large, they managed to tend to their day jobs and handle all the investigations hurled at them by the Newt Gingrich-led House Republicans. But it wasn’t easy. And even though the investigations did not bring down the Clinton administration, as many conservatives hoped, they made it more difficult for Clinton’s team to pursue its policy agenda during a time of divided government.