Just as Hillary Rodham Clinton is preparing to launch her presidential campaign, a new behind-the-scenes book about life at the White House is providing a fresh look at her bitter fights with husband-President Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky affair, including a bloody clash in the first couple’s bedroom.
“There was blood all over the president and first lady’s bed,” writes former White House reporter Kate Anderson Brower. “A member of the residence staff got a frantic call from the maid who found the mess. Someone needed to come quickly and inspect the damage. The blood was Bill Clinton’s. The president had to get several stitches to his head.”
“The Residence: Inside the Private World of The White House,” is due out Tuesday from publisher Harper, but excerpts began making the rounds Monday. Ms. Brower is a former reporter for Bloomberg News.
Stories circulated after the 1998 fight in the White House that Mrs. Clinton had brained her husband with a lamp in a fury over the revelations of his sexual affair with Miss Lewinsky, a White House intern. But according to the book, White House staff surmised that Mrs. Clinton hit her husband with one of the dozens of books that she kept on her bedside table.
Mr. Clinton “insisted that he’d hurt himself running into the bathroom door in the middle of the night,” Ms. Brower writes. “But not everyone was convinced. ‘We’re pretty sure she clocked him with a book,’ one worker said. … The incident came shortly after the president’s affair with a White House intern became public knowledge … And there were at least twenty books on the bedside table … including the Bible.”
A spokesman for Mrs. Clinton didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In another passage of the book, White House florist Ronn Payne recalled witnessing a bitter argument between the first couple.
“He was coming up the service elevator … as the Clintons argued viciously with each other. … [H]e heard the first lady bellow ‘goddamn bastard!’ at the president - and then he heard someone throw a heavy object across the room,” Ms. Brower wrote. “The rumor among the staff was that she threw a lamp. The butlers, Payne said, were told to clean up the mess. In an interview with Barbara Walters, Mrs. Clinton made light of the story … ‘I have a pretty good arm … If I’d thrown a lamp at somebody, I think you would have known about it.’ … ‘You heard so much foul language’ in the Clinton White House, [Payne] said. …”
Mrs. Clinton would console herself about her husband’s affair by ordering White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier to bake her favorite mocha cakes.
Miss Lewinsky said she had sexual relations with Mr. Clinton from November 1995 to March 1997. But the affair was no surprise to White House staff, who saw the president alone with the intern so often that they began gossiping when they had a “Lewinsky sighting.”
Mr. Clinton was punished by his wife in other ways.
“For three or four months in 1998,” Ms. Brower writes, “the president slept on a sofa in a private study attached to their bedroom on the second floor. Most of the women on the residence staff thought he got what he deserved.”
And long before the controversy about Mrs. Clinton’s private email server during her tenure as secretary of state, the book says that the Clintons were obsessed with secrecy. The Clintons had the White House phone system’s circuitry rewired so they wouldn’t have to call each other through a switchboard.
“The Clintons’ preoccupation with secrecy made relations with the staff ‘chaotic’ for their entire eight years in office, [retired White House Usher Skip] Allen said,” Ms. Brower writes. “At least one residence worker, Florist Wendy Elsasser, attributes their anxiety to parental concerns: ‘I think protecting Chelsea may have had a lot to do with, for lack of a better term, their standoffishness with the staff.’”
In researching the book, Ms. Brower interviewed more than 100 workers at the White House residence, as well as presidential aides and first family members.
Mrs. Clinton is expected to announce her 2016 presidential bid later this month. She is adding to the press team for the anticipated campaign, selecting Karen Finney to serve as strategic communications adviser and senior spokeswoman, and Oren Shur as director of paid media, CNN reported Monday.
Ms. Finney served as deputy press secretary to Mrs. Clinton when she was first lady, and also worked on Mrs. Clinton’s campaign for the Senate in 2000. She has been a host on MSNBC.
The Clintons aren’t the only first family examined in the book. Ms. Brower writes about John F. Kennedy’s well-known infidelities at the White House, including swimming naked in the pool with female staffers.
President Jimmy Carter’s three adult sons were known for smoking marijuana from bongs at the White House. Staff said Mr. Carter and his family wept for two weeks straight after he lost his bid for re-election in 1980.
A White House usher, Nelson Pierce, recalls witnessing Nancy Reagan berate President Reagan as he stood in their room because she was angry that he was watching the 11 p.m. news instead of going to bed.
President George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush are remembered by the White House employees as their favorite first couple. Staffers said the Bushes treated them like family and encouraged them to go home early.
And White House employees say President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have had a relatively distant relationship with the staff.
Usher Worthington White recalls bringing papers to their room on Mr. Obama’s first night in office, and hearing he new president say, “I got this, I got this. I got the inside on this now.” Then, “the music picked up, and it was Mary J. Blige.”
The Obamas — the first lady wore sweat pants and a T-shirt — were dancing to Blige’s hit, “Real Love.”
“‘I bet you haven’t seen anything like this in this house, have you?” Mr. Obama said as they danced.
“‘I can honestly say I’ve never heard any Mary J. Blige being played on this floor,’ Mr. White replied,” according to the book.