WASHINGTON – When first lady Hillary Clinton famously lashed out at foes as a “vast, right-wing conspiracy,” there was no question in the minds of Democrats as to who was directing it, funding it and pulling the strings.
It was Richard Mellon Scaife, an heir to fortunes made in banking, oil and aluminum who subsidized the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and underwrote countless conservative and Republican causes – including “the Arkansas Project,” specifically designed to expose Clinton scandals.
But that was then. This is now.
Today, Dick Scaife has joined the anti-war movement, directing his newspaper in July to call for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, and watching another of his media prizes, NewsMax.com, embrace Clinton with a surprisingly friendly interview about his new book, “Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World.”
It is nearly impossible to overstate the antagonism that existed between Scaife and Clinton throughout the 1990s.
Time magazine identified him as “King of the Clinton Haters” and also as a “super-Clinton hater.” Its April 13, 1998, issue referred to ”Richard Mellon Scaife, the rabidly anti-Clinton billionaire, and the American Spectator, the gleefully anti-Clinton magazine that Scaife has supported.”
And in the April 27, 1998, issue of Newsweek, reporter Mark Hosenball wrote: ”The evidence linking Starr to conservative Clinton-haters traces back to a single figure: Richard Mellon Scaife. … Scaife is also a fervent Clinton-hater who has spent millions trying to undermine the president.”
But Scaife doesn’t give interviews to the national media. How would they know he hates the president?
No other individual warranted as much attention in the “Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce,” the Clinton White House’s 331-page report on who was directing Hillary’s “vast, right-wing conspiracy” and how it worked.
Everywhere the Clintons looked, they saw Dick Scaife’s hand at work – funding the Heritage Foundation, funding Joseph Farah’s Western Journalism Center before he founded WorldNetDaily, funding Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation, Newt Gingrich’s GOPAC, Larry Klayman’s Judicial Watch, Mark Levin’s Landmark Legal Foundation, Brent Bozell’s Media Research Center and so on.
But times change – and so do people.
In the midst of a messy divorce from his wife, Ritchie, Dick Scaife stunned many in his own community of Pittsburgh by joining hands with Clinton, George Soros, Rep. Jack Murtha, Sen. John Kerry and other former political foes in anti-war activism.
In a July 15 editorial in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Scaife’s editorial writers pushed for an immediate pullout from Iraq and called President Bush “delusional.”
“Perhaps Jack Murtha put it best: The Pennsylvania congressman, among the first to make the cogent argument that staying the course in Iraq was the exercise in futility that indeed the war has become, says President Bush is delusional,” they wrote. “Based on the president’s recent performance, we could not agree more. ‘Staying the course’ is not simply futile – it is a prescription for American suicide. We’ve urged for months to bring our troops home. Now is the time.”
The editorial went on to question Bush’s “mental stability.”
Scaife’s NewsMax, a popular and once enthusiastically pro-Republican news website co-owned with Christopher Ruddy, who famously investigated the mysterious death of Clinton’s deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster and the strange death of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, also began attacking the war in Iraq following Scaife’s personal metamorphosis.
Whatever has caused the change in Scaife, it appears infectious. In an interview with Bill Clinton published in NewsMax, Ruddy has nothing but kind words for the “new Bill Clinton”:
- “Interestingly, Clinton argues in ‘Giving’ that individuals, non-profits, even churches, can work together to improve the health and living conditions of the world’s poor. This is certainly a laudable effort.”
- “Using his Clinton Foundation, the former president has sought to enlist private and corporate help in major global initiatives that tackle a range of concerns from AIDS to childhood obesity. The Clinton Global Initiative boasts more than 570 commitments worth an astounding $10 billion, involving more than 1,000 organizations and targeting 100 countries.”
- “There is no doubt Bill Clinton has broken the mold of what we expect from a former president.”
- “And there is also no question that in the past Bill Clinton has engendered considerable controversy. But there should be little disagreement today that he is doing exemplary work and is acting as a positive force for the United States.”
So what’s behind the “new Dick Scaife”?
Insiders say his changing ideas coincide with the personal crisis in his marriage – one that could cost him half his fortune. Speaking on background, friends and long-time associates say the public battle between the 75-year-old and his wife over everything, including their dogs, plays some role – though no one is certain how much.
Ritchie Scaife contends her husband was involved in a long-term affair with Tammy Sue Vasco, a tall, blond, 43-year-old mother arrested in 1993 for offering to have sex with an undercover policeman for $225. Beginning in 2005, Ritchie Scaife hired a private investigator to tail her husband, who found him meeting with Vasco in a seedy motel where he would be chauffeured, flowers in hand twice a week, the Washington Post reported last month.
According to divorce papers, Scaife is beneficiary of nine different trusts, including one called the “1935 Trust,” with an approximate value of $210 million, and another called “The Revocable Trust,” valued at $655 million. Altogether, his net value is around $1.4 billion, making him one of the richest men in America.
Scaife’s lawyers say he has invested as much as $312 million into the Tribune-Review over the years. It continues to lose about $20 million a year. Ritchie Scaife’s attorneys say the paper operates with so little concern for profit and loss that it is more of a hobby for her husband than a business.
That’s not good news for the paper.
Likewise, with the man the Washington Post once characterized as the “funding father of the Right” apparently taking a left turn, many who have relied on Scaife’s contributions to conservative and Republican causes over the years are re-evaluating their expectations.