News and Commentary

FLASHBACK: Bill Clinton Asked British PM Tony Blair For Help During ‘Political Season’
US President Bill Clinton (R) and British Prime Minister Tony Blair stand together 14 December 2000 at Warwick University, near Coventry, where the American leader gave a speech on foreign affairs.
Photo by Brian Bould/AFP/Getty Images)

Apparently a president asking a foreign leader for help in an upcoming election dates back to at least 2000, when former President Bill Clinton asked then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair for help resolving a dispute involving British Airways, USAIR and American Airlines.

As Tucker Carlson reported on Fox News, Clinton’s request came on February 8, 2000, as the political race was heating up and Clinton knew Vice President Al Gore would be running to succeed him.

Carlson commented, “You’ve heard endlessly on cable news that it is unprecedented the president would seek political gain from a conversation with a foreign leader. Well, turns out, it has happened before. Back in 2000, President Bill Clinton had a conversation with Tony Blair of the U.K. and asked him to intercede in a dispute between British Airways and two carriers. The president, at the time, was much more direct than President Trump was in his conversation.”

The relevant portion of the conversation, as reflected in declassified documents from the Clinton Digital Library, followed a discussion the two men were having about Ireland. The exchange went like this:

Clinton: No. No. I think about this more than anything else, besides he screw-ups in the Middle East. Let me ask you something on a much more mundane issue. Yesterday, I met with some cabinet members and Rodney Slater said we put some more ideas down to resolve the airport dispute we have with British Airways, USAir and American Airlines.  Would you take another look at that and see if we can get it done?

Blair:  I’m not completely familiar with that.

Clinton:  I know you’re up to your ears in other things but we’ve been dealing with this for years and it’s sort of a big deal here.  Rodney told me he put some more stuff down on the table.  In a political season, it would be big over here to get this open sore resolved.  If you could have somebody take a look at it.  I have never seen him more agitated about anything.  He is just trying to get it resolved.

Blair: Sure, I will have a look.

Carlson asked, “Now, is this a big deal? Not really. Is it nakedly political? Is it an attempt to use a foreign country to influence the outcome of an election in a presidential year? Yes, it is, obviously. Incidentally, it didn’t take long for us to find that, we only had to dig through old Clinton transcripts for about 15 minutes… there are probably a lot more examples, and if we find them we will bring them to you.”

The Los Angeles Times reported in March 1993, roughly two months after Clinton had been inaugurated, “The Clinton Administration, overriding the objections of the nation’s largest airlines, agreed Monday to let British Airways acquire nearly 20% of USAir and begin sharing transatlantic routes and airplanes with the financially ailing carrier. Besides the $300 million that British Airways already has paid to acquire 19.9% of USAir, the London-based airline plans to invest another $450 million, contingent on Congress lifting limitations on the foreign ownership of U.S. airlines … The decision exposes the limitations the Clinton Administration faces as it seeks to open up restricted overseas markets to domestic airlines. In fact, the Administration’s decision Monday left domestic airlines without any additional access to London’s highly restricted Heathrow Airport and boosted British Airway’s competitive position across the busy North Atlantic.”