Reprinted from Consortium News
The irony of Hillary Clinton's campaign impugning the patriotism of Donald Trump and others who object to a new Cold War with Russia is that President George H.W. Bush employed similar smear tactics against Bill Clinton in 1992 by suggesting that the Arkansas governor was a Kremlin mole.
Back then, Bill Clinton countered that smear by accusing the elder President Bush of stooping to tactics reminiscent of Sen. Joe McCarthy, the infamous Red-baiter from the 1950s. But today's Democrats apparently feel little shame in whipping up an anti-Russian hysteria and then using it to discredit Trump and other Americans who won't join this latest "group think."
As the 1992 campaign entered its final weeks, Bush -- a much more ruthless political operative than his elder-statesman image of today would suggest -- unleashed his subordinates to dig up whatever dirt they could to impugn Bill Clinton's loyalty to his country.
Some of Bush's political appointees rifled through Clinton's passport file looking for an apocryphal letter from his student days in which Clinton supposedly sought to renounce his citizenship. They also looked for derogatory information about his student trips to the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia.
The assault on Clinton's patriotism moved into high gear on the night of Sept. 30, 1992, when Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Tamposi -- under pressure from the White House -- ordered three aides to pore through Clinton's passport files at the National Archives in Suitland, Maryland.
Though no letter renouncing his citizenship was found, Tamposi still injected the suspicions into the campaign by citing a small tear in the corner of Clinton's passport application as evidence that someone might have tampered with the file, presumably to remove the supposed letter. She fashioned that speculation into a criminal referral to the FBI.
Within hours, someone from the Bush camp leaked word about the confidential FBI investigation to reporters at Newsweek magazine. The Newsweek story about the tampering investigation hit the newsstands on Oct. 4, 1992. The article suggested that a Clinton backer might have removed incriminating material from Clinton's passport file, precisely the spin that the Bush people wanted.
Immediately, President George H.W. Bush took to the offensive, using the press frenzy over the criminal referral to attack Clinton's patriotism on a variety of fronts, including his student trip to the Soviet Union in 1970.
Bush allies put out another suspicion, that Clinton might have been a KGB "agent of influence." Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times headlined that allegation on Oct. 5, 1992, a story that attracted President Bush's personal interest.
"Now there are stories that Clinton ... may have gone to Moscow as [a] guest of the KGB," Bush wrote in his diary that day.
With his patriotism challenged, Clinton saw his once-formidable lead shrink. Panic spread through the Clinton campaign. Indeed, the suspicions about Bill Clinton's patriotism might have doomed his election, except that Spencer Oliver, then chief counsel on the Democratic-controlled House International Affairs Committee, suspected a dirty trick.
"I said you can't go into someone's passport file," Oliver told me in a later interview. "That's a violation of the law, only in pursuit of a criminal indictment or something. But without his permission, you can't examine his passport file. It's a violation of the Privacy Act."
After consulting with House committee chairman Dante Fascell, D-Florida, and a colleague on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Oliver dispatched a couple of investigators to the Archives warehouse in Suitland. The brief congressional check discovered that State Department political appointees had gone to the Archives at night to search through Clinton's records and those of his mother.