Clintons Gave Ambassadorship to Man Who Told Them ‘Political Debt’ Was Owed

Derek Shearer’s letters to Bill and Hillary reveal smear tactics of 1992 campaign

October 14, 2016

Bill Clinton nominated his friend and adviser Derek Shearer to an ambassadorship after Shearer told Bill and Hillary he was owed a "political debt."

Private letters sent to the Clintons reveal how Shearer worked with longtime Clinton confidante Sidney Blumenthal behind the scenes to "attack [their] enemies" during the 1992 campaign.

The Clintons have a reputation for attacking political foes and giving special treatment to their friends and donors, a reputation that continues to dog Hillary’s presidential ambitions.

The letters were among Shearer’s collection of papers at Brown University. In August 1993, following a short stint in the Commerce Department, Shearer pleaded with the Clintons for an ambassadorial appointment to—in order of preference—Singapore, New Zealand, or Finland.

He was nominated to be ambassador to Finland six months later.

Shearer, a professor at Occidental College, also forwarded the Clintons an 8-page memo outlining his work on the family’s first White House run.

"Given all that I did in the campaign (as described in detail in the memo), I’ve never understood why I wasn’t offered a serious position in the government after you won," Shearer wrote to Hillary in a letter dated August 26, 1993. "I was one of your longest standing supporter [sic] but I wasn’t an FOB hanger on; I’m a smart and talented person who contributed to winning--and I was with you in the trenches in the darkest days."

In the memo meant "only for you and Bill," Shearer described how he worked to dig up dirt on Clinton’s political opponents Jerry Brown, Paul Tsongas, and Ross Perot, as well as Gennifer Flowers, who came forward about her affair with Bill Clinton just before the New Hampshire primary.

After the election Shearer joined the Clinton administration as an official in the Commerce Department, but was unhappy with his role. He said Commerce Secretary Ron Brown "treated me badly," and left the position after his wife Ruth became ill.

Shearer still longed for a role in the administration and asked the Clintons directly for an ambassadorship.

"I believe in political debts as well as in friendship," Shearer wrote in the memo. "Below is as objective a listing as I can give of the ways in which I contributed to your winning Presidential effort."

One of the first reasons listed is that he and his wife maxed out as donors to Clinton’s campaign.

"Ruth and I immediately donated the maximum to you, and I raised early money for you from my parents, my friends, and my colleagues," he said.

Shearer described how he worked with George Stephanopoulos, who was then Clinton’s communications director, on drafts of speeches. He touted his work with Sidney Blumenthal and his brother Cody Shearer, a longtime Clinton operative who was at the center of the "spy network" collecting private intelligence while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.

"I also began working behind-the-scenes with Cody and with Sid Blumenthal to promote your candidacy, to defend you and to attack your enemies," Shearer said.

Shearer said he worked with "Sid on his attack piece on Tsongas" and helped prepare a defense against Flowers, who claimed she had a 12-year-long affair with Clinton. Bill Clinton denied the claim for years, but eventually admitted to the affair in 1998.

"As you know, Cody was with you in Boston when the Flowers story broke," Shearer said. "I spoke almost everyday of the campaign with Cody, and with Sid, as well as with Susan T. [Thomases], to work on defense tactics on this issue." 

Hillary Clinton defended her husband from the affair by calling Flowers "some failed cabaret singer who doesn’t have much of a resume to fall back on."

Shearer bragged about leaking "uncomplimentary material" to the press about his former boss, California Gov. Jerry Brown, and said he was involved in attacks against Ross Perot "behind the scenes."

"I was very successfull [sic] in working with Cody and Sid on the Perot problem," he said. "I coordinated their investigative work on Perot, and I know that our work played a crucial role in getting Perot to drop out of the race in July. It’s a long story, but the bottom line is that we unearthed the info about his investigation of his daughter’s boyfriend, the assistant prof. at Vanderbilt, and Sid and Cody got the story out. We were on the offensive against Perot when most of the campaign hierarchy was defensive!"

The story alleged that Perot hired a private investigator to discredit his daughter’s fiancé. Blumenthal wrote in the New Republic that Perot investigated his future son-in-law because Perot was anti-Semitic, telling friends "You don't think I'd let my daughter marry a Jew."

"It made a big difference that Perot dropped out when he did, and that he never traced the press stories to us," Shearer said. "You or Hillary can ask Sid or Cody sometime about it, if you want the full stroy [sic]."

Shearer also took credit for bringing Betsey Wright onto the campaign, writing that "having her inside the operation made a substantial difference." Wright played a prominent role in the campaign, acting in an "intimidating" way toward the press and working to stamp out rumors of Bill Clinton’s sexual exploits, famously dubbing new accusations against him as "bimbo eruptions."

Shearer even made sure Clinton knew that he wrote a line in an environmental speech that "got a chuckle."

"Ruth and [I] still want to find a way to be part of the administration," he wrote to Hillary. "The best choice for us, at this stage of the game, is for me to be named an ambassador. There are still countries available--Sinapore [sic], New Zealand, Finland--where I would like to go and where I could do a good job."

"I know that I have the ability to be a good ambassador--and I know that in the future, I will be a valuable friend and advisor to you, perhaps back in Washington," Shearer said in his letter to Bill. "And frankly, in addition to our friendship of more than twenty years, I feel strongly that there’s a political debt here that is owed."

Clinton nominated Shearer to be ambassador to Finland on February 23, 1994, and Shearer served in that role until 1997. He went on to serve as a foreign policy adviser to Al Gore during the 2000 presidential campaign and an adviser to Hillary Clinton during the 2008 democratic primary.