Twenty years ago this week, Hillary Clinton and teenage daughter Chelsea flew into the city of Tuzla in Bosnia.
In her memoir, “Living History,” Clinton writes breathlessly about the flight. She and Chelsea had to wear flak jackets and sit in a reinforced cockpit in case of snipers or ground-to-air missiles.
In a foreign policy speech in March 2008, Clinton claimed, “I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.”
At the time of the speech, Clinton was locked in a fierce primary battle with Barack Obama, and the ground rules, much to Hillary’s chagrin, had changed. Now, the Obama-friendly media felt free to challenge her.
A week later, after video surfaced of her landing, Clinton conceded she “misspoke” about the sniper fire. This relatively trivial deception got considerable attention at the time and continues to haunt Clinton.
The media have refused, however, to ask a more fundamental question: What were Hillary and Chelsea doing in Bosnia in the first place?
Clinton spent no more than nine hours in country, did little of consequence while there and yet exposed Chelsea to genuine risk both coming and going.
At the time, she told the media she wanted “to visit our troops and to say ‘Thank you.'” The White House even made a point of noting that “no first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt has made a trip into such a hostile military environment.”
In “Living History,” she offered a more nuanced reason for the visit: “The administration wanted to send a strong signal that the peace accords were to be honored and would be enforced.”
Hillary also anticipated the question of why she and Bill Clinton would willingly put their 16-year-old in harm’s way. Her answer: The experience would help Chelsea “mature.” Someone should have called Family Services on that one.
Nine days after Hillary’s visit, on April, 3, 1996, another Clinton representative arrived in Tuzla. That would be Ron Brown, the beleaguered secretary of commerce.
The Tuzla leg was a last-minute addition to Brown’s schedule. According to daughter Tracey, Brown ordered an aide to stay behind in Zagreb “to take care of a problem that had arisen with Enron.”
Writing in those innocent days when Democrats took such interventions in stride, Tracey blithely described Enron as “a Texas-based natural gas company that was negotiating an agreement with the government of Croatia.”
No fools, the Enron executives would take their own plane to Dubrovnik the next day. As history (barely) records, the Air Force plane that carried Brown from Tuzla never made it to Dubrovnik.
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The modified 737 crashed “inexplicably” into a mountainside just miles from the Dubrovnik airport, killing Brown and 34 others, including the Air Force crew.
In the 20 years since, the media have not answered the question as to why that plane crashed for one simple reason – they have not asked.
As far as I know, when I requested the 22-volume Air Force report eight years after the crash, I was the first person in the media to have asked for it. The New York Times editors could not be bothered, and they had a reporter on the plane.
What follows is just one detail out of many that should have interested any reporter. It involves a woman named Zdenka Gast, a Croatian-born American citizen.
U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith entered her name into the official record. Gast had been scheduled to fly with Brown to Dubrovnik on his fatal flight but thought better of it.
Said Galbraith to Air Force interviewer Capt. John Cairney, “There were problems in – in – in this – in concluding this deal where they wanted to sign a letter of intent, and so, rather than – than go on the Brown trip, she stayed with the Inron [sic] people to do the final negotiations.”
At the time Gast was serving as liaison between Enron and the Croatian government. “We’ve been looking for [Gast],” Cairney told Galbraith.
It seems the Air Force was not allowed to find her. Investigators conducted 148 witness interviews, but Zdenka Gast was not among them.
I found her in five minutes of searching. When I reached her contact person, I was told, “Don’t be surprised if she gets back to you in just a few minutes.” I am still waiting.
Inquiring into Gast’s background, I came across a Croatian language magazine named Gloria. The photo that graces this article leapt off the page at me.
In the center of three smiling women, all linked arm in arm, is Zdenka Gast, an attractive, full-figured redhead. On her left is the then-secretary of labor, Alexis Herman, the woman who helped arrange Brown’s fatal flight. On her right is none other than Hillary Clinton.
The story details a wedding reception for Alexis Herman at the White House, hosted by the Clintons. The reception took place a few weeks after Herman’s wedding in mid-February 2000.
Only 40 people were in attendance. Those named included Bill and Hillary Clinton, Al and Tipper Gore, as well as “several governors and senators.” How Zdenka got the invite was not explained.
Those in the media not too busy looking for Ted Cruz’s alleged mistresses or naked photos of Mrs. Trump, feel free to contact me. There are real stories left to be told.
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