Conspiracy -- Again!
By Katharine Biele
APRIL 27, 1998: Just down from the U.S.-shaped American flags that bookend the TalkUSA logo, the words dance flippantly: "I believe Paula Jones, Mr. President, put your pants back on!"
For about a year now long before Monica Lewinsky that has been David Bresnahan's mantra. It has framed his post-legislative existence like no other cause. Like no other bueiness. Like no other lie.
David Bresnahan, self-professed Olympic coach, journalist, insurance agent and conservative legislator, now says he got taken big time when he bought into one of the biggest scandals to hit the nation. The source of his self-published book on the president's prurience turned on him. Took Bresnahan's money, threatened his livlihood and broke his trust. Oh, Bresnahan still believes the scandal. He just doesn't believe the messenger.
And Bresnahan's story is all about messengers, grand conspiracies and a sophomoric search for truth tainted by ambitions and agendashis own and those of Clinton conspiratorialist Larry Nichols, Bresnahan's freshly fallen hero. A man he believed so fervently as to compare him to Paul Revere, taking to the airwaves on a metaphorical Midnight Ride for freedom.
Nichols is the man who so fervently believed in Bresnahan that he allowed him to author his biography, on something less than a handshake. On his wordlong-distance. On the strength of the conservative brotherhood.
Call it coincidence that Bresnahan's collaboration with Nichols disintegrated just five days before a judge dismissed the Paula Jones case. Nichols, who once was paid to bring praise to Bill Clinton, is now arguably his most virulent detractor and the man most often credited with publicizing an exhausting list of Clinton's alleged sexual peccadilloes. He outed Gennifer Flowers, who made a slick transition from ardent denial to artful disclosurefor a pre-presidential price.
If you've never heard of Nichols, you probably don't listen to conservative talk radio, from which both Nichols and Bresnahan have furthered their causes. But Nichols is by any measure the master manipulator, even amid a right-wing radio community that has been divided into campslike in a war.
It has long been the war of Larry Nichols and Bill Clinton. Nichols' allies, Nichols' foes. Those who would believe. Those who absolutely wanted to believelike Bresnahan, who wrote and self-published The Larry Nichols StoryDamage Control; How To Get Caught With Your Pants Down and Still Get Elected President.
The president's pants are fine, but Bresnahan lost his shirt after a sudden falling out with the man he once portrayed as hero. Nichols now not only talks lawsuits, but is turning on Bresnahan over the airwaves, discrediting him among fellow conservatives and forcing him to back away from all his public pursuits. Both men say they've suffered huge financial losses.
"Pray for the gift of discernment that you will not be deceived by those who have turned to evil," Bresnahan once wrote in a solicitation for his radio show. He could have used a little discernment himself.
The book was a journalistic venture for Bresnahan, who had just lost his legislative seat in a close and contested election. Who was still smarting from what he calls this "silly gun incident." Everyone went bananas with it a month before the '96 election, he says. And now, a year later, he laments that nobody will write a word about how his records have been cleared.
Bresnahan entered a no contest plea to charges that he illegally shot at two men who fled a minor hit-and-run accident. Bresnahan and three other men chased the suspects down before Bresnahan grabbed a .25-caliber gun from his glove compartment and fired a warning shot into a canal. Gun advocates at first stood by him, but then, seeing no gain in defending someone who shot at a ditch, abandoned him. He has had to take some firearms training classes in exchange for a clean record. The charges were expunged last year in September. But nobody seems to care.
Bresnahan gained a brash and colorful reputation as the legislator from West Jordan who parlayed his talk-radio style into political loose change on the House floor. His stories were exceptionally emotionaland embellished. But his fall from grace came painfully at the expense of Utah conservatives who believed in him enough to invest.
In late '95, Bresnahan put together an ultra-conservative investor group in a surprise bid to take over K-Talk radio, which radio scion Starley Bush had considered closing. The investors handed over $83,000 in small checks before they turned on him with a vengeance and ultimately scrapped their plans. Bresnahan believed he was a victim of the station's internal politics and those who didn't like his thinking. Investors thought he was a crook.
But David Bresnahan is nothing if not resilient. All the while planning other ventures, making other moves. One day, just after he'd finished broadcasting from the House, someone slipped him a videotape. "You have to promise me you'll watch this before you put your head on your pillow tonight," Bresnahan remembers the man saying.
"My journalistic curiosity was high so I made the promise," Bresnahan says in his book. "The man did not identify himself, but instead just said, 'I'll be listening to your show to hear your reaction.' He never returned for his tape and to this day I have no idea who he was."
The tapes, however, were The Clinton Chronicles.
Sometimes referred to as the Jerry Falwell Video because the leader of the Moral Majority marketed about 5 percent of them, the Chronicles are either garbage or the golden tablets of the Clinton conspiracy, Depending on whom you talk to. Nichols was interviewed on the tapes.
In a recent Salon Magazine article, Arkansas author and columnist Gene Lyons calls them bizarre. "... the tapes make scores of wild charges regarding Clinton's tenure as Arkansas governor," Lyons writes. "They include cocaine addiction, rape, gun-running, drug-smuggling and murder. Even the fiercely Republican Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has written articles detailing their near-delusional inaccuracy."
Bresnahan was captivated by the storiesand by Nichols. At first, he thought he'd write a tell-all story about Clinton. Then he decided to use Nichols to show how Clinton has been able to endure and prosper amid all the accusations. It was because Nichols and people like him ran this damage control, he figured. They say they broke into offices, bribed people and generally cleaned up for Clinton.
"Larry just hinted that if you want to play with these guys, you have to roll in the mud with them," Bresnahan says. "Now, he's using those very lies against mesaying I extorted money from him by colluding with this corrupt publisher."
Pat Matrisciana, who produced the videos through his Emmett, Calif.-based Jeremiah Films, regrets the rift between Bresnahan and Nicholsespecially because their tiff distorts the message. Matrisciana calls the Chronicles the most pirated documentary in the history of the world. In a little less than four years, Matrisciana says, there are maybe 600,000 copies out there and that everyone from the Clinton Administration to Geraldo Rivera has tried to discredit them.
It was through the Chronicles that Matrisciana met Nichols, and eventually Bresnahan. Nichols was an Arkansas homeboy who wrote and produced jingles, first for banks and then for Clinton during his gubernatorial years and helped him create a political strategy and to "lie, cheat and steal."
Bresnahan parrots the allegations in his book: Things like Clinton associating with known drug dealer Dan Lasater; women and power; money.
Bresnahan quotes Nichols ranting about Hillary Clinton. "Hillary Rodham," explains Larry, "wouldn't even take his name. Hillary totally hated people in Arkansas ... She hated being nice to people, including Bill."
Nichols talks of a marriage of convenience, of how Hillary wasn't the mothering type. "One time Chelsea got sick at school and [Hillary] told the teacher to call her daddy because her mother was too busy. He's the governor, but her mother was too busy to care for her sick child," Nichols is quoted as saying.
Of course, he doesn't stop there. He says she "fooled around with Vince Foster ... and ran around with dykes everywhere she went."
Nichols, because of his helpful association with Clinton, finagled a marketing job with the Arkansas Development Finance Authoritythe state bonding agencyand says he ran across multimillion-dollar loans to people like the Tyson chicken scions. Nichols became an admitted participant in Clinton dirty tricks, Bresnahan says.
But Nichols didn't ride high for long. In 1988, the Associated Press reported some 642 long-distance calls Nichols made to Nicaraguan Contra leaders and their political supporters. The disclosure got him fired and essentially provoked a new career focused entirely on Clinton.
Just before the 1990 Arkansas gubernatorial contest between Clinton and Republican Sheffield Nelson, Nichols filed suit against Clinton for wrongful termination. Lyons writes that it included a list of five mistressesGennifer Flowers among themwho Clinton lavished, using state money.
While an Arkansas judge dismissed Nichols' suit for lack of evidence, he could not dismiss Nichols, who has persisted against some pretty heavy oddsincluding his storied past and his penchant for personal publicity.
Bresnahan was immediately captivated, and overlooked or underestimated Nichols' troublesome history.
"As a reporter I had learned to check my sources," Bresnahan proclaims in his book. "By transferring my journalism skills to talk radio, I had earned the respect of my audience because they knew when I reported something to them, I had first checked it out, myself."
In fact, Bresnahan's method of corroboration was cursory, at best. He says he checked with talk show host Mike Reagan who assured him that Nichols' evidence was valid. And Reagan was a believer himself. Nichols had nurtured a rabidly devoted following as he pursued a course on the conservative talk-show circuit. He also elicited an enormous amount of antipathy from his detractors.
"Larry has been under an amazing amount of stress," says Matrisciana. "He's been poisoned, thrown in jail, attacked physically at least four times, he's crippled, lost his house, his car, and almost lost his life. He's been in vast amounts of strain."
Indeed. Nichols' poisoning was among the most curious of his problems. As Bresnahan notes, the doctors couldn't figure it out. But, Bresnahan says, blood tests showed traces of anthraxmilitary-grade anthrax. "Perhaps it could have come from a natural source, but then again, he could have been purposely poisoned," Bresnahan writes, mounting a coincidence-laden theory of conspiracy.
Matrisciana has become one of Nichols' most ardent supporters. He worked closely with Nichols for eight or nine months, four years ago. "All of us who believe that Mr. Clinton has been less than honest with the American people, we're being attacked on a daily basis. It's not productive for us to talk about difficulties we've had in the past.
"I think Larry Nichols in many ways is an American hero. He's stood courageously against the onslaughts of the present administration and what he says is not imaginaryit's real."
Matrisciana gave Nichols a lot of moneyBresnahan says it was $20,000when Nichols was facing jail over tardy child-support payments. "Yeah, but Larry didn't ask me to do it," says Matrisciana, troubled that Bresnahan revealed a confidence. "Larry's a character; he's not a regular guy. He was part of the Arkansas machine. No normal person can do the things he's done."
In fact, it's the perception of Nichols as a very bad guy coming clean that has fueled the persona. Bresnahan grabbed one of his kids and gassed up the family car just to drive to California to meet Nichols, already a folk hero of sorts.
Nichols was at a speaking engagementone of the ways he makes money these days. Bresnahan, he says, seemed real sincere. "He drove all the way to California and brought his kid," Nichols remembers. "He did the whole dog-and-pony show." It was the only time they ever met, but it was all it took.
Nichols agreed to let Bresnahan write a book about him. Bresnahan started work on it only last April. By this spring, the first 5,000 were in circulation. By the end of March, circulation was the last thing anyone wanted. Except maybe the hapless publishing house.
Nichols was not a happy man, and Bresnahan was feeling betrayed, again.
Bresnahan says he was naive. He just accepts things, you know, like Nichols saying he was a Green Beret, drug running in Nicaragua with Oliver North. Warnick says he found that Nichols' only military service had been four months in Arkansas Air Guard as an electrician.
"Because I wasn't looking into that and making it part of the book, I left it alone," Bresnahan says. "Because there was friction between himself and people over the videos, I left that shouting out. Therein lie my faults as a journalist for not pursuing the story. I allowed him naively to let me go in other directions.
"I will be looked at, like, how could David Bresnahan say anything bad about this wonderful American patriot? Well, it was true, true, true as to anything he says about Bill Clinton. I know things far beyond what I put in book."
Knowledge, however, seems to be an elusive concept. Proof is based on hearsay, albeit close, personal hearsay. The kind that can come only from someone close to a source. Hearsay nonetheless, and irreversibly colored by unstated motivations.
"Welcome to Larry Nichols' Radio Archives." That's how his web page opens. "The Larry Nichols Show is a one-hour talk show broadcast live from Conway, Arkansas, by satellite, by AM and FM radio stations, with audio archives on the Internet compliments of Diskriter Communications of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The show features news and discussion on the as-yet-unindicted criminality of the Clintons, their associates, and their administration."
Oh, yeah. The special message from Larry: "It costs money to keep the truth before the public. It's money I don't have. So if you want to help, my address is: ... "
Nichols, of course, has talked with Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr. What Starr has done with all the information is debatable.
"He was providing all the evidence to Kenneth Starr and 16 congressman and senators, which was true," says Bresnahan. "He had interviews with Sen. [Lauch] Faircloth (R-NC). I was told he made an absolute fool of himself, and they would not have anything to do with him.
Kenneth Starr's people have stopped talking to Nichols for almost a year because his background is so questionable. They have never called him as witness even though he provided all their information. The reason is that he could be instantly discredited."
Bresnahan laments the fact that so many of Nichols' detractors "weren't made known" to him. But, of course, he didn't seek them out.
Soon after City Weekly talked to Nichols, Nichols called Bresnahan, insisting that he stop pumping up the book. You should have heard all the vulgarities, Bresnahan says.
Nichols says he's insisted on a full financial accounting of the book, but has received nothing. "All throughout the book, the stuff relative to meI had to make sure every time I turned around to tell him something," Nichols says. "His writing was 10 times bigger than the thing really was. As it ended up, I thought I had got that pretty much under control. You just can't get that guy to tell you the truth about anything."
There has been an angry exchange of letters and faxes. Bresnahan got some legal advice telling him it was OK to continue marketing the bookeven without a written contract. But Nichols simply isn't satisfied. Too many things that were sort of kinky, he says. The book's title, for instance, "Damage Controlmy name isn't on it at all! I said, what are y'all talking about. This is my story," Nichols says.
The book was one of the fledgling ventures for Richard Curtis, who started Camden Court Publishers of Midvale in 1997. Curtis says that, despite Nichols' threats, he wants to continue marketing the book. Bresnahan, however, has been dissuaded.
Maybe it's the $20,000 Nichols' says he's owed. He was told that this guy Curtis had all these connections with major bookstore stuff. But then again, Nichols didn't really want to go the bookstore route. No. "The only market is me on all the talk shows," he says. His loyal audience; his loyal market.
Nichols says he and Bresnahan were supposed to pay $1.80 a book, but ended up footing $6.25 of the costs. "I haven't seen any accounting of anything," says Nichols, who figures the difference meant they had to pay $20,000 more than expected.
In fact, the charge to the public is $14.95, plus $5 shippingthat would be $99,750 from 5,000 books. Bresnahan, however, says he's had to handle all the promotions and ads, phone bills, credit cards and the like.
"This is the weasel that he is," Nichols says. "I am beat out of the 5,000 books and whatever money they made and whatever money they took in from people."
People would contribute more to Nichols himself, but Bresnahan says he didn't take any of it. He says Nichols made him tell contributors to send money directly to Nichols.
Bresnahan also says he's been siphoning money to Nichols all along$1,000 here, $1,000 therethinking he was paying to keep phones from being disconnected and rent paid. He wired money to Nichols, sometimes under fictitious names, like Rickey Pearce, which Nichols told him to use. The receipts are there. Bresnahan estimates profits at maybe $12,000, and says Nichols has already at least half of that from the wired money alone. Nichols doesn't, however, file income tax, and blew up when Bresnahan suggested filing a 1099 form.
Nichols contends he's flat broke and betrayed. Bresnahan recorded hours and hours of long-distance interviews with Nichols, although Nichols maintains Bresnahan would take the "truth" and stretch it.
"I thought he just had a tendency to stretch, like in his talk showto sensationalize," Nichols says. "I'd say, 'Bresnahan, you can't say that.' He was always so accommodating. He always laced it, like Larry believes this and my father taught me the same thing. I don't do shit like that. I don't talk that way. If someone tells you how honest they are, they usually aren't."
Certainly, there is that bent to Damage Control. The he-was-born-in-a-little-Baptist-town-where-parents-still-believed-in-discipline sort of thing. Stuff about people from Christian communities and how they should know about the president's shenanigans.
"He was just trying to use me to get him into the conservative community," Nichols says. "I'm gonna promote his name, but he won't like it."
Not all conservative talk-show hosts are squarely in Nichols' camp. Chuck Harder, one of the premier conservatives in talk radio, used to have him on regularly.
Now, Harder's producer, Brice Warnick, keeps Nichols at bay. "I won't have anything to do with him. It lost affiliates for us. But Chuck still thinks Larry had his day," Warnick says.
"I told David to watch out for that SOB; he's the biggest slime. His response was, 'I've checked him out and he's OK.'"
Warnick, however, did check him out, and believes Nichols stole material from other people while lying about his own background. "The bad thing about Nichols is some of the stuff he says about Clinton is right," Warnick says. "But in my opinion, he helped Clinton instead of hurting him when he came out with such outlandish stuff and more of that conspiracy crap."
It was conspiracy crap that Bresnahan bought into gleefully. No more.
He's broadcast his last show. They were all on the Internet, via satellite and his provider, Orbit 7. He had to pay a lot to do them, anyway. Sell ads and stuff he didn't like doing. A sponsor who sold survival foods opted out of Bresnahan's show, and at the end of January, Bresnahan was ready to drop the show. But Orbit 7 offered to keep him on free at a later time, until they could replace him. About 30 stations had picked up his earlier show from the satellite. The late-night version got only three stations.
"I just didn't feel like pounding pavement, and frankly, there aren't many people who wanna buy it. It's hard to sell something you wouldn't buy yourself," Bresnahan says.
And then there's the Nichols thing, a man and a concept that Bresnahan has featured prominently on his TalkUSA web page. "The bottom line is very simply I have always been everything I've said I was and people try to make me into something else," Bresnahan says. "I'm not a politician; I'm just a concerned citizen who tries to voice his opinion. In doing so, I have ruffled a lot of feathers. The sort of people playing the game which I refuse to playthey deny anything and discredit those who make those statements. I have been a recipient of that tactic."
A victim always. A politician who doesn't like politics, who won't run again. A talk-show host who's going back to coaching baseball for his home-schooled kids.
"I'm a family guy," Bresnahan says. "You need thick skin to run for and be in office. I don't have thick skin. I am a very senstive person. I hurt when I get attacked ... I have my opinions, but I'm going to keep them to myself."
Bresnahan must be contrite. He's not biting on the latest story to come his way: A U.S. Marine whistleblower sent him all this stuff. The Marine in Somalia saw pictures of Marines being tortured and dragged through the streets. Says he knows there's this gang of Marines that kills black people. They did it in Somalia and North Carolina. He provided Bresnahan documents showing that the Marines know about this, Bresnahan says. They have people who've confessed; they've given people immunity; they've paid them in a sting operation.
Well, he's turned down the Marine storythe biggest story of his life because of this, Bresnahan says. This.
Instead, he's going on vacation. Soon he'll return to his insurance and mortgage business and to being a family man. "I'm just not going to take on controversynot right now. I'm not getting paid!"
When he comes back, he thinks maybe he'll just get into something a whole lot less controversial and a whole lot more funlike broadcasting sports.
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