FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES: The Rise and Fall of Clark Clifford by Douglas & David McKean Frantz
Kirkus Star

FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES: The Rise and Fall of Clark Clifford

Email this review


New York Times reporter Frantz (From the Ground Up, 1991, etc.) and congressional staffer McKean trace the triumphant and ultimately tragic career of one of the architects of the American Century. In his 1991 memoir, Counsel to the President, distinguished Washington lawyer and Democratic Party insider Clark Clifford, for decades the epitome of prestige and probity in Beltway legal and political circles, recounted the many successes of his brilliant career as counsel, confidant, and cabinet member in the Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations. Even as his autobiography was being published, however, a public scandal, which would lead to a criminal indictment and the loss of a law firm that he had spent his life building, was tarnishing Clifford's carefully built reputation. As the authors relate, Clifford and law partner Robert Altman represented erroneously (if, as Altman proved to a New York jury, innocently) to federal regulators that the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) did not have a relationship with First American Bankshares, of which Clifford had become chairman in 1982. In fact, BCCI, a mystery-shrouded, Luxembourg-based entity later linked to laundering drug money, was intimately involved with both First American and with Clifford and Altman, who accepted large loans from BCCI principles. Although Clifford was legally exonerated of any wrongdoing, his role as the ultimate Washington wise man was finished forever. Acknowledging Clifford's years of excellent service to his country and essential public-spiritedness, the authors argue that he was partly a victim of changing political mores. But what he was truly guilty of was self-deception, first in persuading himself that he could occupy his sphere of influence indefinitely and, finally, in convincing himself that he was innocent of, at the very least, gross negligence in the BCCI affair. Clifford emerges in the authors' well-told account as an American tragic hero, with all his Greek counterpart's fatal flaws.

Pub Date: Aug. 21st, 1995
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: "Little, Brown"