Clintons' lawyer may be too close to his clients, critics say

Mr David E. Kendall (centre) attending an impeachment hearing for then US President Bill Clinton in 1998. Mr Kendall has been the Clintons' personal lawyer for more than 20 years, covering matters from land dealings to the Monica Lewinsky affair.
Mr David E. Kendall (centre) attending an impeachment hearing for then US President Bill Clinton in 1998. Mr Kendall has been the Clintons' personal lawyer for more than 20 years, covering matters from land dealings to the Monica Lewinsky affair.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is facing flak over her use of a personal e-mail server.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is facing flak over her use of a personal e-mail server.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • At first it was a remote piece of land in Arkansas. Then there were missing billing records that mysteriously reappearing in the White House. And, of course, there was the blue dress.

For over 20 years, Mr David E. Kendall has been on the front lines for Bill and Hillary Clinton as their personal lawyer, battling investigators and litigants in the heated space where law and politics meet.

Mr Kendall's biggest moment in the spotlight came during the long-running investigation into the Clintons' Whitewater land dealings and later into whether President Bill Clinton lied under oath to cover up his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Today, the object of concern for Mr Kendall is a tiny thumb drive that sat in a safe at his law firm until a couple of weeks ago before attracting the attention of Congress, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the media.

Amid concerns about Mrs Clinton's softening poll numbers, the uproar and confusion over her exclusive use of a personal e-mail server as secretary of state produced a statement last week from her press secretary that "Secretary Clinton did not send or receive classified materials"; an attempt at clarification that is unlikely to deflect questions away from Mrs Clinton.

In a letter to lawmakers, Mr Kendall noted that although some of the e-mail messages had recently been deemed classified, none was so designated at the time they were sent.

From Mrs Clinton's foes come public questions about why he had the thumb drive containing her e-mail and whether he secured it properly. From her friends come questions about whether he has managed the situation effectively and whether he should be more outspoken to protect the Democratic presidential candidate.

"He has their complete trust, and he's earned their complete trust," said Mr Robert Barnett, another lawyer for the Clintons and a partner with Mr Kendall at Williams & Connolly in Washington.

To critics, that is the problem. Mr Kendall, who turned over the thumb drive to the Justice Department on Aug 6, has become so integrated into the Clinton apparatus that he risks crossing the line from lawyer to participant, they said.

Two Republican senators wrote to him in recent weeks questioning his handling of the thumb drive.

"The problem with the Clintons is once you begin working with them or acting as their agent you often get caught up in their scandals," said Mr Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a watchdog group suing over Hillary Clinton's e-mail.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2015, with the headline 'Clintons' lawyer may be too close to his clients, critics say'. Print Edition | Subscribe