Hillary Clinton's Radical Summer

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Hillary Clinton's Radical Summer
A Season of Love and Leftists
Staff Reporter of the Sun
November 26, 2007

OAKLAND, Calif. — In a life marked largely by political caution, one entry on Senator Clinton's résumé stands out: her clerkship in 1971 at one of America's most radical law firms, Treuhaft, Walker and Burnstein.

One partner at the firm, Doris Walker, was a Communist Party member at the time. Another partner, Robert Treuhaft, had left the party in 1958, several years after being called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and labeled as one of America's most "dangerously subversive" lawyers. The Oakland-based firm was renowned for taking clients others rejected as too controversial, including Communists, draft resisters, and members of the African-American militant group known as the Black Panthers.

To this day, Mrs. Clinton's decision to work at the unabashedly left-wing firm is surprising, even shocking, to some of her former colleagues there and to those supporting her bid for the presidency. To the former first lady's enemies and political opponents, her summer at the Treuhaft firm is yet another indication that radical ideology lurks beneath the patina of moderation she has adopted in public life.

Through more than a dozen interviews, a review of law firm files and correspondence at two university archives, and an e xamination of previously published descriptions of Mrs. Clinton's California summer, The New York Sun has sought to compile a comprehensive account of the 23-year-old Yale law student's work for the Treuhaft firm, how she got there, and how acquaintances she made that summer surfaced from time to time as her political career unfolded.

The Sun's investigation found that:

• Republican opposition researchers working for President George H.W. Bush were aware of Mrs. Clinton's tie to the Treuhaft firm in 1992, before it was widely known, and apparently chose not to exploit it. They reasoned that she was the wife of the candidate rather than the candidate herself, a reasoning that no longer applies as Mrs. Clinton seeks the Democratic presidential nomination. Lawyers involved with the firm were surprised that Republican operatives never moved to capitalize on Mrs. Clinton's connection.

• An oft-repeated and pub lished anecdote about Mrs. Clinton's involvement in the firm's plea negotiations over an armed invasion of the California Legislature by Black Panthers seems to be apocryphal, though one of the attorneys directly involved has a "very distinct" memory of Mrs. Clinton's attendance at a Panthers-related meeting.

• The firm was involved in another volatile Black Panthers case the summer Mrs. Clinton worked there: the trial of Huey Newton for the 1967 killing of an Oakland police officer. Treuhaft represented a Newton associate whose role in the trial may have helped Newton win a series of mistrials and, eventually, the dismissal of all charges related to the officer's death.

• Partners at the firm said it was likely Mrs. Clinton also worked on politically sensitive cases involving a Berkeley student activist denied admission to the California bar over incendiary rhetoric, Stanford physician interns fighting a loy alty oath at the Veterans Administration, and men claiming conscientious objector status to avoid being drafted and sent to Vietnam. Mrs. Clinton's only public recollection of her work at the Treuhaft firm is that she handled a child custody matter.

• Mrs. Clinton's most vivid memories from that summer may be personal ones that have nothing to do with the law firm with which she clerked. A fellow Yale law student, President Clinton, shared the Berkeley apartment where she was staying. The pair soon got serious and would move in together when they returned to New Haven that fall.

Mrs. Clinton's campaign declined to make her available for an interview for this story.


Mrs. Clinton's decision to work at the Treuhaft firm was rooted in the turbulence, chaos and radicalism that buffeted Yale after she entered law school there in 1969. Most campuses saw their s hare of foment, but Yale saw more than its share in the spring of 1970 because of the impending criminal trial in New Haven of a Black Panthers' leader, Bobby Seale, and several co-defendants, for kidnapping and murdering another member of the Panthers. Many, including Yale's president at the time, doubted that Seale and other black militants could get a fair trial. As students prepared for a national student strike on May Day 1970, a suspicious fire broke out in the basement of a Yale law library. The blaze led to a palpable fear among professors and students that institutions like Yale could be burned to the ground. Crazy talk abounded. One agitated Yale law student reportedly proposed "mass suicide" to protest injustices allegedly being perpetrated against the Panthers.

While some writers and commentators have painted Mrs. Clinton as so exercised by the Panther trial that she formed a student committee to sit in on the proc eedings and report on perceived abuses, a book published last year suggests that even that modest undertaking grew out of a compromise in which law students voted not to endorse a student strike. Mrs. Clinton and another Yale law student were named as co-chairs of a committee "to monitor the trial, offer legal advice to demonstrators who got arrested, and help prevent violence at the May Day rally," according to "Murder in the Model City" by Paul Bass and Douglas Rae.

The book's authors do not disclose whether Mrs. Clinton personally supported or opposed the strike, but they describe her as "a careful, moderate voice of dissent." They also noted that the Clinton-led student committee voted "to insist…that no coercion or extra-legal attempts to stop the trial should be tolerated."

Mrs. Clinton has written about joining a "bucket brigade to put out" the library fire and about organizing round-the-clock patrols in the wake of the blaze. However, Mr. Bass, a longtime New Haven journalist, and Mr. Rae, a professor at Yale's business school, noted with some puzzlement that Mrs. Clinton "never chose to shed any light" on her actions surrounding the student strike and the Panthers' trial. "In writing and speaking about the period, she never mentions co-chairing the committee," the authors observed. The senator declined to be interviewed for their book. "She wouldn't touch it," Mr. Bass said.

Ultimately, the May Day protest turned Yale into an armed camp, occupied by thousands of soldiers, but the event yielded little of the feared violence. That came three days later at Kent State University in Ohio when National Guard soldiers shot and killed four students protesting the Vietnam War.

The Black Panthers' trial didn't actually begin until the fall. During the lead-up, Seale's attorney, Charles Garry of San Francisco, became a regular presence in the courtyards at Yale Law School.

At some point, Treuhaft and his wife, Jessica Mitford, passed through New Haven and threw a party to raise money for the Panthers' defense. According to Gail Sheehy's biography of Mrs. Clinton, "Hillary's Choice," the future senator attended the Treuhaft-Mitford party. Many have surmised that this event laid the groundwork for Mrs. Clinton's clerkship at Treuhaft's law office. A law school classmate of Mrs. Clinton who later became a staff attorney at the Oakland firm, Drucilla Ramey, said she saw no evidence that Mrs. Clinton was among the groupies who surrounded the left-wing lawyers. "She was a grind," Ms. Ramey told the Sun. "It was very fashionable not to work very hard in law school. Hillary was in a distinct minority….Any sense that she was a wide-eyed radical running around with Charlie [Garry] and stuff is very misplaced."

One of Treuhaft's partners, Malcolm Burnstein, said Mr s. Clinton's internship was arranged by a national student group. "She was sent to us by the Law Students' Civil Rights Research Council," Mr. Burnstein told the Sun. The group also paid Mrs. Clinton during her summer at the firm, he said. It is possible Mrs. Clinton selected the Treuhaft firm and then arranged funding through the council. That's how she set up her first law-school summer internship working with the future founder of the Children's Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman.

Ms. Ramey said the Treuhaft firm also drew the notice of female Yale students for a simple reason: it hired women and took them on as interns at a time many white-shoe firms and government offices would not. "Even in the public interest world, it was hard to find a job," Ms. Ramey recalled. "At that time, the Oakland public defender wouldn't hire women. The federal public defender wouldn't hire women."


Mrs. Clinton's only public recollection of her stint at the Treuhaft firm came in her 2003 memoir, "Living History."

"I told Bill about my summer plans to clerk at Treuhaft, Walker and Burnstein, a small law firm in Oakland, California and he announced that he would like to go with me," she wrote. "I spent most of my time working for Mal Burnstein researching, writing legal motions and briefs for a child custody case."

While Mrs. Clinton devotes considerable ink to her budding romance with her future husband, two fleeting sentences are the only ones describing her how she arrived at the Treuhaft firm and what she did there.

None of those interviewed for this article disputed Mrs. Clinton's claim that she worked on a child custody case during her time at the law office. "It's certainly plausible. We did those cases," Mr. Burnstein said.

One nationally publicized custody case that might have caught Mrs. Clinton's attention was Treuhaft's representation in 1968 of a California artist and photographer, Harold Painter, whose "bohemian" lifestyle led the Iowa Supreme Court to grant custody of his son to the boy's more traditional Iowa-dwelling grandparents.

The most eye-catching claim about Mrs. Clinton's time at the Treuhaft firm is that she attended a plea negotiation on behalf of armed Black Panthers who stormed into the California legislature on May 2, 1967 to protest a gun-control measure. The band of more than two dozen men toting rifles, shotguns and pistols caused alarm when they emerged on the floor of the legislature. They later insisted they were trying to reach the spectators' gallery and used the wrong door.

"I just have a very distinct memory of going to Sacramento that summer with Hillary in my car and working with the D.A.'s office to resolve the Panther case. I really remember that quite clearly," M r. Burnstein told the Sun.

The account is featured in both "Hillary's Choice" and a San Francisco Chronicle article that appeared shortly after Mr. Clinton won the presidency in 1992.

However, the Associated Press reported that criminal cases stemming from the Panthers' protest were resolved in August 1967, almost four years before Mrs. Clinton turned up at the Treuhaft office. In addition, a former partner there, Ms. Walker, insists that Mr. Burnstein's recollection is faulty.

"I am positive that Hillary was not involved in any Black Panther case with Mal," Ms. Walker told the Sun. "Mal has had a thing about Hillary and the Black Panthers for years. The rest of us know it just didn't happen."

Treuhaft, who sometimes repeated Mr. Burnstein's anecdote linking Mrs. Clinton to the Panthers, died in 2001.

Asked about the four-year gap between the legislature incident and Mrs. Clinton's clerkship, Mr. Burnstein said he simply could not square the dates with his vivid memory. "I'm not mistaking her for anyone. I was more connected with Hillary than with other clerks and I remember meeting Bill that summer," Mr. Burnstein said. "If the Black Panthers Sacramento incident was in fact in '67, then Hillary did not come with me on the Black Panthers case. I may well remember driving to Sacramento with her, but it can't be the same case and I don't know what it was."

Regardless of whether Mrs. Clinton was on hand for the Panthers' legislature case, there can be no dispute that she was at the Treuhaft firm as it played a role in a highly publicized trial in which a top leader of the black militant group, Huey Newton, was charged with killing an Oakland police officer, John Frey.

Newton's first trial in connection with the 1967 slaying took place the following year. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to between two and 15 years in prison. However, an appeals court overturned Newton's conviction in the case, which inspired T-shirts, buttons and posters emblazoned with the popular 1960s slogan, "Free Huey!"

Newton's first retrial began in July 1971, soon after Mrs. Clinton arrived at the Treuhaft firm. Newton's defense was handled by Garry, who had represented Seale in New Haven two years earlier, earning Garry the title of "the Panthers' honky lawyer," according to Time Magazine. Treuhaft represented a Panther activist and longtime friend of Newton, Gene McKinney. On the witness stand, McKinney, who was with Newton the night the policeman was killed, took the Fifth Amendment. However, the mere suggestion that McKinney, who was uncharged, could have been the killer may have helped Newton win a hung jury.

At a second retrial in December 1971, McKinney, again represented by Treuhaft, also took the Fifth Amendment. Jurors deadlocked again and prosecutors dropped the case.

Treuhaft told Ms. Sheehy in 1999 that fascination with the Panthers did not seem to have been what drew Mrs. Clinton to his firm. "Hillary was only mildly interested in the Panther cause," Treuhaft told the author.

The Black Panthers get a couple of brief mentions in Mrs. Clinton's memoir, but she never offers a verdict or view on their conduct. The former first lady does fault the FBI and other law enforcement agencies that "sometimes failed to distinguish between constitutionally protected, legitimate opposition and criminal behavior."

A review of some of Mr. Burnstein's legal files now at the archives of the University of California at Berkeley shows that the Treuhaft firm also handled two major cases in mid-1971 involving political dissent. One involved a protest leader who was elected Berkeley student body president, Daniel Siegel.

Mr. Siegel passed his the bar exam in 1970, but his admi ssion was blocked on grounds that he was morally unfit. He was criminally charged with inciting the 1969 "People's Park" riot, which left one man dead, others injured, and hundreds arrested.

Mr. Siegel was acquitted of that charge, but bar officials said his statements prior to the riot and thereafter indicated he was not suited to be an attorney. They also asked him if he was a Communist, which he denied.

"The question is not violence versus non-violence, the question is when violence, and how violence, and what violence," Mr. Siegel declared at a March 1970 rally at Berkeley's Provo Park, according to the archived records. "I can see very little objection theoretically, politically or morally or anything else with burning down the Bank of America and all its 500 branches."

At another gathering a month later, Mr. Siegel opined that nonviolence was "not the way any more. We have to use whatever force is necessary to ma ke sure that this war stops."

Mr. Burnstein appealed the bar committee's rejection to the California Supreme Court, arguing that Mr. Siegel was being punished for his political beliefs. The court eventually sided with Mr. Siegel, who joined the bar in November 1973.

Two other dissenters whose case was pending during Mrs. Clinton's summer at the Treuhaft firm were Peter Cummings and Peter Rudd. Both were medical students from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio who won internships at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. On arriving at Stanford, they discovered they were required to fill out loyalty oaths to do a required rotation at the nearby Veterans Administration hospital. "It was the typical, 'Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?'" Dr. Cummings recalled in a recent interview. He said he and Dr. Rudd were not Communists, but chafed at signing the oath. "I've always been very annoyed by and not a fan of this kind of loyalty oath," Dr. Cummings said.

Through the American Civil Liberties Union, the pair became clients of Mr. Burnstein. In the ensuing legal challenges, which went before riders of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals at least twice, the government argued that disloyal medical students might try to kill unsuspecting veterans who sought medical treatment. Mr. Burnstein prevailed and the loyalty oath for Veterans Administration doctors soon wound up as a footnote of history.

Mr. Burnstein said Mrs. Clinton would have likely been assigned to some work on the cases stemming from dissent at the Berkeley and Stanford campuses. "I don't remember her especially working on those, but she would have if she was there," he said.

Ms. Walker said Mrs. Clinton probably also worked on a slew of cases involving men seeking conscientious objector status to avoid the draft. "We were doing so much Vietnam War stuff then," Ms. Walker recalled. "I'm sure she worked on those."

As Mrs. Clinton left the Treuhaft firm in 1971, one of its partners was gearing up for the defense of a Communist and black revolutionary, Angela Davis, against murder, kidnapping and conspiracy charges stemming from a 1970 shootout that left a California judge dead. Ms. Walker became the resident Communist on Ms. Davis's legal team. "I was asked by the Party to participate in Angela's case," the lawyer said. She said no one else at the law firm, including Mrs. Clinton, worked on Ms. Davis's case.

At the trial, held in 1972 at San Jose, the Treuhaft firm's winning record held up again. A jury acquitted the polarizing African-American activist of all charges.


By the time Mrs. Clinton arrived at the Treuhaft firm in 1971, its reputation as a defender of left-wingers and radicals was well established. Indeed, those at th e firm assumed that reputation drew the Yale law student in.

"She did want to work for a left-wing movement law firm. Anyone who went to college or law school would have known our law firm was a Communist law firm," Treuhaft told Ms. Sheehy in 1999.

"This was an old-left, radical law firm," a staff attorney there during Mrs. Clinton's summer, David Nawi, told the Sun. "Treuhaft was suing the police and doing wonderful work with the black community in East Oakland before anybody else."

A Yale Law student who worked as a clerk at the firm the summer before Mrs. Clinton arrived, Mary Nichols, said Treuhaft was open about his stint in the Communist Party. "Treuhaft, he himself was proud of having been a Communist at one time. This was not something that they hid in any way. They were not people stockpiling dynamite. They were a respectable law firm, but still you knew they had experimented in that kind of way," she said. < BR> Another Yale Law student who ended up at the Oakland firm, Ms. Ramey, insists she did not know of the partners' Communist ties before showing up to work there. "It sounded like kind of a cool place to work. I had no clue. I was pleasantly surprised," she told the Sun. Mr. Siegel, the Berkeley protester-turned-lawyer, said committed student leftists in 1971 would have viewed the firm's Communist connections as quaint, perhaps even conservative. "We almost universally thought Communist Party people were sellouts," he said. "People of my generation who were getting involved were Marxists, Maoists, even Trotskyists. The Communist Party was pretty unpopular, unless your parents were in it."

The details of Treuhaft's membership in the Communist Party were not formally disclosed until 1977, when his wife, Jessica Mitford, published a humorous memoir of their years in the Communist ranks. In "A Fine Old Conflict," she reported that her husband signed up in 1943 and that she followed in 1944. Both left the party in 1958, she wrote.

Ms. Walker told the Sun she is still a member of the Communist Party, which she joined in 1942. "I'm still a Marxist, and that's why I stayed in," she said.

While many American Communists quit the party in disgust in 1956 following the Soviet invasion of Hungary and Nikita Khrushchev's denunciation of Josef Stalin's crimes, those events do not seem to have been the impetus for the departure of Treuhaft and Mitford, who stayed on for another two years.

A journalist who edited a recently published collection of Mitford's letters, Peter Sussman, said the couple's falling out with the American Communist Party was driven largely by its unyielding bureaucracy.

"She was bored with it," Mr. Sussman said. "It was ineffective. She had worked to reform it and that was unsuccessful, and to give the American party some auto nomy from Soviet Communism."

Mr. Sussman said Mitford, who died in 1996, was also "bitterly disappointed" about a decision the party made to cut ties with a group dedicated to resolving racial inequities in America, the Civil Rights Congress.

Mr. Sussman said Mitford and Treuhaft probably left for the same reasons. "They usually made decisions on such things together and they left the party together, though they had friends who remained," the journalist added.


The new collection of Mitford's letters indicates that Republican political operatives knew about Mrs. Clinton's work at Treuhaft's firm months before the 1992 election, but apparently chose not to raise it despite her prominence in her husband's presidential campaign. In a July 4, 1992 letter to a veteran civil rights activist, Virginia Durr, Mitford wrote, "There was a v. long article in Vanity Fair by Gail Sheehy, an interview with Hillary in which every detail of her life from childhood on was explored — no mention of the internship in Bob's law office. Quite right, I thought, as obviously if that came out it would be prime meat for the Bush campaign."

In the letter, Mitford recounts that she and her husband recently had dinner with a novelist, Diane Johnson, who raised Mrs. Clinton's clerkship out of the blue. "I hear that Hillary Clinton once worked for you when she was a Yale law student," Mitford remembered the novelist saying.

Mitford wrote that Ms. Johnson picked up the fact from her son-in-law who "works in the White House dirty-tricks division…whose job is to dig up dirt on all the Bush opposition."

"Presumably, the Bush campaign is hoarding this bit of non-news for later springing on the public," Mitford wrote to Durr.

Ms. Johnson, best known for her book "Le Divorce," told the Sun she has on ly a vague recollection of the discussion Mitford relayed. "I remember our conversation about Hillary coming to work for Bob that summer," the novelist said. "I don't remember who brought it up." The son-in-law Mitford alluded to is David Tell, a Republican operative who was director of opposition research for the 1992 re-election campaign of President George H.W. Bush.

Mr. Tell, a former opinion editor of the Weekly Standard, confirmed to the Sun that the Bush camp knew about Mrs. Clinton's connection to the Treuhaft firm, but said last week that he couldn't recall how he learned about it. "We sucked up everything we could possible find," he said.

Asked why the campaign never tried to make hay of Mrs. Clinton ties to a communist and ex-communists, Mr. Tell said part of the reason was that Mrs. Clinton was not running for office. "We were shy about going after the candidate's wife, and it was when she was 23," he said.

So far in Mrs. Clinton's current bid for the presidency, none of her opponents has sought to tar her over her ties to the Treuhaft firm. However, that is no guarantee that the issue will not arise, in part because of the recent proliferation of independent political groups known as 527s, for the section of the tax code under which they are organized. Such groups often undertake attacks that rival campaigns and political parties shy away from. Some 527s have had considerable influence in the presidential race, such as when Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacked Senator Kerry in 2004.

Back in 1992, Mitford was not the only one who suspected Mrs. Clinton's involvement with the Treuhaft firm would be seized on by the Republicans. Mr. Burnstein said he, Treuhaft, and Ms. Walker agreed upon learning of Mr. Clinton's presidential bid not to talk publicly about Mrs. Clinton's clerkship because they anticipated it would become fod der for Mr. Clinton's opponents.

"We expected it," Mr. Burnstein said. "We were very carefully not talking to the press back then. ... We did not want her being unfairly tarred with someone else's politics. Hillary's politics were not Bob's politics, which were not Doris's politics, which were not mine."

"For Hillary to pick the most left-wing firm really at that time in the Bay Area, it's still a surprise to me that more hasn't been made of that," Ms. Walker said. "It was such an obvious thing for them to pick up, but they didn't, and I've never understood it."

Mr. Burnstein said he never discussed with Mrs. Clinton the decision to keep quiet about her clerkship during the 1992 presidential race. Aside from the two bland lines in her autobiography, Mrs. Clinton has been tight-lipped about how she came to work at the Treuhaft firm and what she did there. A California oral historian who interviewed Treuhaft at length, R obert Larsen Jr., told the Sun that Mrs. Clinton seemed reluctant to discuss the clerkship when he asked her about it at a San Francisco-area political function in the 1990s.

"I talked to Hillary once and said, 'You know you interned at Treuhaft's firm ….I've never seen anything about that anywhere,'" Mr. Larsen recalled. "'It's not exactly secret, but it's not publicized,'" he said she replied. "I just don't think she wanted to have the charge of being an intern at a Communist law firm."

When the connection did emerge, halfway through a Herb Caen column in the Chronicle on Nov. 12, 1992, eight days after the election, some conservatives likely viewed it as confirmation of Mrs. Clinton's radical views. However, some on the left side of the political spectrum who knew the Treuhaft firm were taken aback.

"I was quite shocked when I found out that Hillary had been there the summer after I was," Ms. Nichols, a Democrat who holds a top environmental post under Governor Schwarzenegger, said. "She certainly downplayed anything that would make you think that'd be the kind of place she'd summer….Once the political career was actually launched, Hillary's whole life has been about being moderate and fending off criticism from friends on the left."

"I was kind of surprised when I heard she had worked there," Mr. Siegel recalled. "Anything I've ever heard about her or known about wouldn't have led me to think she was interested in Marxism, for example, or any other kind of left politics."

Mr. Burnstein said Mrs. Clinton was probably drawn to the firm by its civil rights work and not by the left-wing politics of its partners, though she expressed no disquiet about that. "There was nothing revolutionary about Hillary, and I do not say that pejoratively," he said. "She was much more of a classic liberal than the rest of us." < BR>Mr. Burnstein said he also detected a clear change in Mrs. Clinton's political outlook after she faced real-world campaigning with her husband. "The Hillary that clerked for us that summer is not the Hillary that ran for the Senate and is not the Hillary that was in the White House for eight years. The politics were noticeably different," Mr. Burnstein said. "The Hillary of 1971 was much more idealistic and progressive in the sense we would use the term today than the Hillary we saw after her exposure to politics in Arkansas."

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