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Opinion: Columnists

Weiner using Clinton playbook? No way

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Politics,Byron York,Columnists,Hillary Clinton,Bill Clinton,New York,New York City,Anthony Weiner

There's been a lot of debate about whether Huma Abedin, the wronged wife of New York sex fiend and mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, is following the "Clinton playbook" in standing by her man on the campaign trail. Bill and Hillary Clinton wrote Volume I of the playbook by surviving a big sex scandal in 1992, when Bill was first running for president. They added Volume II by surviving a bigger sex scandal in 1998, during his second term in the White House. Mrs. Clinton was a key player in her husband's defense on both occasions, and today she is close with Abedin, her long-time aide. So why shouldn't Abedin try to emulate her mentor's success?

Because it won't work. Abedin can't follow Volume I of the Clinton playbook because Weiner can't deny everything, as Clinton did — falsely but successfully — in '92. And she can't follow Volume II because Weiner is not president of the United States.

As the 1992 Democratic primaries were getting under way, an Arkansas cabaret singer named Gennifer Flowers claimed — in the Star tabloid — that she had had an affair with Clinton. Clinton called the story "bogus" and "trash." His team, led by Mrs. Clinton and loyal campaign operative George Stephanopoulos, told reporters it was all a big lie.

Clinton artfully denied the affair in a high-stakes "60 Minutes" interview. (Read the transcript today. It is an absolute masterpiece of dissembling.) But then Flowers produced an audiotape of conversations she had with Clinton that made clear the two had in fact been involved.

Stephanopoulos was dumbfounded. "[Clinton] lied," the campaign aide later recounted thinking. "How come he let me hang out there? Never a word ... while I swore to reporters her story was false." But Clinton kept denying everything. And so did the loyal Stephanopoulos, claiming the tape was fake, or doctored or something. A mostly sympathetic press accepted the story, and Clinton survived.

Even if Anthony Weiner could lie as well as Bill Clinton, which he can't, and even if he had an aide who could lie as well as George Stephanpoulos, which he doesn't — even if all that were the case, Volume I of the Clinton playbook would still not be an option for Weiner. The proof of his sexting escapades is just too overwhelming.

In 1998, almost exactly six years after the Flowers episode, word leaked out that the independent counsel Kenneth Starr was investigating allegations President Clinton had a sexual relationship with a young White House aide, Monica Lewinsky, and then used a close friend, Washington fixer Vernon Jordan, to find Lewinsky a job in exchange for her silence.

As he had in '92, Clinton denied everything — remember that finger-wagging, red-faced "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" performance? But Starr's tenacious prosecutors were far less credulous than the campaign press had been during the first presidential run. They set about exposing Clinton's lies.

There were Republicans and Democrats who, early in the scandal, assumed Clinton would have to resign. But he survived through the sheer power of the presidency. He used (and in some cases invented) White House privileges to thwart Starr. After an initial panic, Democrats on Capitol Hill came to see the scandal as a life-or-death matter and rallied around the president. And then Clinton's aides and associates went before Starr's grand jury and suffered astonishing lapses of memory.

Clinton secretary Betty Currie told jurors her memory was "getting worse by the minute." And Jordan, who cherished his closeness to the presidency, seemed to forget almost everything he and the president had ever said to each other. Clinton made it.

None of that applies to an undistinguished former member of the House who tried too soon to redeem himself from a sex scandal by running for mayor of New York, only to re-kindle the sex scandal during the campaign. There's no power structure to defend Anthony Weiner, no powerful people willing to put their reputations on the line to save him. Weiner has no one except Abedin. And for all the reasons above, Abedin cannot play the role of Hillary Clinton in either Volume I or Volume II of that famous playbook.

Now the Clintons are reportedly angered by talk that Team Weiner is modeling its defense on their example. In anonymous quotes, Clinton associates are trashing Weiner and expressing horror that Abedin has been dragged into such a situation.

But the Clintons need not worry about competition. When it comes to doing whatever it takes to survive scandal, they are the masters. Weiner and Abedin are not even in the same league.

Byron York, the Washington Examiner's chief political correspondent, can be contacted at byork@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears on Tuesday and Friday on washingtonexaminer.com.

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