One of the disadvantages Hillary Clinton has faced over the course of her campaign is that the history of her family’s presence in the public sphere is so lengthy and so disparate as to be exhausting. It’s as though you flicked on the television and saw an episode of “Gilligan’s Island,” which was fun and sort of a throwback. But now the show has been running on your TV non-stop for 18 months, and you’re remembering all the weird dumb color episodes like the one where a robot comes to the island, and it’s just not that enjoyable anymore.
Anyway, we’ve looped around to the Roger Clinton episode of The Clintons Meet America. Over the weekend, Clinton was arrested for driving under the influence in southern California.
If you remember the Clinton administration, you probably remember Roger Clinton, Bill’s younger half-brother.
At the time, he was compared to Jimmy Carter’s brother, Billy, who earned an unflattering reputation during his brother’s administration for his behavior. (He once urinated in front of reporters while waiting for a plane to arrive, perhaps because he’d had too much Billy Beer.)
But Roger was a different creature entirely.
In the mid-1980s, while Bill was governor of Arkansas, Roger Clinton was arrested for selling cocaine to an undercover police officer. He pleaded guilty — probably in part because the exchange was videotaped — and spent a year in prison.
But Roger Clinton no longer has a criminal record. On Jan. 20, 2001, the day that Bill Clinton left office, Roger was pardoned by his step-brother. His was one of a slew of pardons that day, a collective action that itself became the subject of a an investigation by congressional Republicans. It was revealed that Roger gave Bill a list of people he thought should be pardoned, but that he had not been paid to make those recommendations (none of which were granted). The investigation did turn up information that Hillary Clinton’s brother Hugh had received $400,000 to lobby the president for some pardons — money that he eventually returned.
Oh, and as that issue was unfolding in early 2001, Roger Clinton was arrested again, this time for drunk driving and disorderly conduct in southern California.
In the years since, Roger Clinton has mostly kept his nose clean, so to speak. Last July, The Washington Post reported that Roger Clinton admitted in a deposition eight years ago that he’d tried to arrange a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign that year for a cut of the take. This is not uncommon for fundraisers, though most of those doing the fundraising aren’t related to the candidates. Roger Clinton also revealed in that deposition that his step-brother had been paying his son’s tuition and providing his nephew with some monthly spending money. In 2009, Clinton bought Roger a house near Los Angeles.
Last year, The New York Times reported that Roger had received $100,000 from a businessman in Houston intended to help smooth the way for a contract to sell houses in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake in that country. That too fell through.
The timing for Roger Clinton’s most recent arrest in California is particularly poor for his sister-in-law’s campaign. It was only hours after Hillary Clinton held a rally in Sacramento aimed at encouraging voters to cast a ballot for her in Tuesday’s primary in the state. But it also resurrects a few old scandals that, so far, have largely been out of the conversation during the nascent general election campaign. (How long will it be before Donald Trump starts talking about Bill Clinton’s pardons, anyway?)
A long history in the public eye has proven to be more of a liability to politicians than an asset in recent years, proven in part by the extent to which both likely nominees are viewed negatively. That’s the other thing about watching episodes of TV shows you haven’t seen in a while: You notice things that you missed the first time — or which have suddenly taken on new meaning.