Seventeen years ago yesterday, Hillary Clinton got her first practice in publicly blowing off the death of a government official she had dispatched on a dubious mission to a war-torn corner of the world.
In the weeks and months that followed, Hillary honed her arts of deception, delay and double-dealing and tested the media’s tolerance for the same.
What she and Bill had to conclude was that in a year in which a Democrat was running for re-election, a sycophantic media could be very tolerant indeed.
Some background: On April 3, 1996, then-Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and 34 others died when their Air Force plane crashed into a Croatian mountainside.
Brown’s flight left the Tuzla airport in Bosnia, a Muslim country. As in Libya, not everyone in Bosnia was thrilled by America’s intervention, and some were downright hostile to the American presence.
For no good reason, Hillary had made an unanticipated stop in Tuzla – without Bill – just a few days before Brown’s fatal flight.
Unlike with the case of the late U.S ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, however, there is no evidence Islamic terrorists killed Brown. Here is what we know for sure about Ron Brown’s last days.
To protect his son Michael from prison, Ron Brown threatened to expose the White House’s yet unrevealed Asian fundraising scheme, in which Brown played a major role.
Just weeks before his death, Brown started going to church for the first time in ages. He was scared for his life and that of his confidante, Nolanda Hill.
The Croatian government insisted on a Dubrovnik stop an unprecedented 36 hours before Brown’s scheduled landing.
The Air Force called the pilot’s nearly two-mile deviation into a Croatian hillside “inexplicable.” No aircraft had ever drifted inland before at that airport. The AWACS data suggest sabotage of the ground-based navigation system, a line of inquiry the Air Force was not allowed to pursue.
For the first time ever on friendly soil, the White House ordered the Air Force to skip the “safety” phase of the investigation and move directly to the “accident” phase.
There would be no consideration other than accident, even though this airport was near the Bosnian border and in a potential hot fire zone.
Three days after the crash and two days before his scheduled interview by the Air Force, the Croatian responsible for the airport’s navigation system was found dead with a bullet hole in his chest.
A day later, every pathologist who viewed Brown’s body back in America concluded that his head wound, at the very least, looked like a bullet hole.
In a decision that reached the White House, there would be no autopsy. The Brown family was not informed. Nor was there any forensic testing or a search for an exit wound.
The head X-rays that showed a possible “lead snowstorm” were destroyed. Officially, they were lost.
The three Armed Forces pathologists and the forensic photographer who blew the whistle on this case had their careers destroyed.
In silencing these dissidents, the Armed Force Institute of Pathology brass assured the public that Brown died of “multiple blunt force injuries” like the others.
The death certificate says otherwise. It notes that Brown died of “blunt force injuries to the head.” He was the only one of the 35 victims to have a reported head wound.
The Croatian neo-fascist strongman, Franjo Tudjman, who had feared a trip to the Hague as a war criminal, ended up a week after the election at the Walter Reed Army Hospital to have his cancer treated. His son, Miroslav, investigated the death of the navigation chief and ruled it a suicide.
If this were not enough, Brown had gone to Croatia to broker a sweetheart deal between Tudjman and the Enron Corporation. The Enron execs took their own plane.
All criminal charges against Michael Brown were dropped save for a campaign violation wrist slap. He subsequently became vice chairman of finance for the Democratic National Committee.
To keep Nolanda Hill quiet, the Clinton Justice Department indicted her on bogus tax charges. Like video-maker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, she found herself incarcerated deep in the heart of Texas.
Much as with Benghazi, Hillary Clinton did not want to know the truth about Ron Brown’s death, and she certainly did not want to share what she did know.
The Clintons used a reluctant Air Force and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology to bury Ron Brown as quickly as possible, literally and figuratively. And without an autopsy and a serious investigation, the whole case remained buried.
As with Benghazi, the media chose to remain ignorant. I was the first reporter to secure the Air Force’s 22-volume report and that seven years after the fact. The New York Times could not be bothered even though it had a man onboard.
So accustomed has Hillary grown to having her lies glossed over down through the years that she grew increasingly indignant even at the timid questions Congress threw her way at the Benghazi hearing.
When questioned by Sen. Ron Johnson about her version of events, Hillary exploded in an outburst destined to be at least as famous as her “vast right-wing conspiracy” jeremiad.
Said Hillary, summing up the state of public integrity in 2013 America, “What difference at this point does it make?” We should not have been shocked. She has been saying much the same for the last 20 years.