“You’re really gonna write about the Danney Williams thing again?” Steve Denari asks when I reach him by phone. “I hope you put it to bed.”
The “Danney Williams thing” is the musty allegation that Bill Clinton fathered an illegitimate black son. Naturally, it’s bubbled up into this year’s election cycle. The Daily Mail went there. InfoWars went there. The Drudge Report went there, too. The chairman of Utah’s Republican Party went there, live on CNN. It’s a reasonable guess that Steve Bannon, the CEO of Donald Trump’s campaign, would like to go there for Wednesday night’s presidential debate.
The rumor has bounced around since Clinton’s first run for president. In The War Room, a 1993 documentary about Clinton’s campaign team, a scene shows George Stephanopoulos fielding a phone call from Denari, then a Ross Perot campaign official apparently in possession of a fat dossier on Clinton’s supposed love child. With the rumor back in the news, I thought I’d track down Denari to find out how he’d gotten his hands on that dossier, and what he did with it after he hung up with Stephanopoulos.
I found him at the bottom of this press release announcing “a new convertible debt/equity fund” concentrating on the medical marijuana sector—known as the “Amerijuana Fund”—that Denari had apparently tried to launch in 2014. After some cagey text messaging (he said he was recovering from a surgery that made it hard to talk), he eventually agreed to get on the phone with me. He was reluctant to dredge up ancient history but willing to answer my questions if it meant setting the record straight.
Denari says he was the Chicago campaign manager for Perot in 1992, doing lots of regional media on behalf of the candidate. The love child dossier had arrived anonymously at the desk of the Illinois state director for the Perot campaign, who passed it along to Denari with the thought that he might mention it on air. It was the day before the election. Denari was scheduled to go on Bruce DuMont’s live national radio show that night.
The folder was two or three inches thick, stuffed with “copies of copies”—faxes, canceled checks, photos of Williams and a young Clinton juxtaposed. The checks were supposedly child support payments. “It was a phone book worth of stuff,” says Denari. “I didn’t have time to read it all. Anybody could forge it. You or I could.”
Denari suspected the materials had come from people on the Bush campaign who hoped the Perot team would do their dirty work. He decided he’d call the Clinton campaign to see what they’d say. So he did, an hour before DuMont’s show started. “I wasn’t just going to go out and mention something like this the night before the election. I wasn’t going to do it unless they gave me some kind of no comment—‘Do what you want, we don’t care.’ ”
“Believe me that it’s been looked at by every major national news organization,” says Stephanopoulos to Denari, unseen and unheard at the other end of the phone line, in the scene from The War Room. “And it is completely bullshit. If you went on the radio and said that Bill Clinton is the father of an illegitimate black child, you would be laughed at and people would think you’re crazy. … You will be embarrassed before the national press corps. Nobody will believe you. And people will think you’re scummy.”
Denari says that was good enough for him. He chucked the dossier in his fireplace. He never mentioned it on air. “I didn’t go with it because it wasn’t an honorable thing,” he says. “If it were real, I think it would have been released some other way than anonymously over the transom to the Perot campaign.”
That was that, until 1999, when Denari was awoken one morning by a phone call from a talk radio show in Denver. Matt Drudge and Lucianne Goldberg, the doyenne of Clinton smears in the 1990s, were guests on the show, and they’d decided to ring Denari to inquire about the dossier and demand he release the materials. (Presumably someone had rented The War Room from Blockbuster that week.) Denari told them he felt there was nothing worthwhile in the documents and that he’d destroyed them. Soon after the segment ended, Goldberg called him again and asked to put him in touch with a British reporter. “I thought I could finally squelch it,” says Denari. “I told him the same story.”
The resultant article, written by Daniel Jeffreys for the Daily Mail and published Jan. 8, 1999, was headlined “Could This Boy Bring Down the President?” It quotes Denari describing the dossier contents, including a photo putatively showing Clinton with Williams’ mother at an Arkansas nightclub. The article went on to claim that Denari was writing a book about the dossier and publishing its contents. “He writes this ridiculous story that I’ve got this stuff and am saving it for a book I’m writing,” Denari says now. “Lucianne Goldberg must have had some friendly over there. He made that story up. They’ll pimp anything over there.” (In his journalism days, Jeffreys had a rep for doing this sort of thing.)
At the end of the call in The War Room, Stephanopoulos hints that the Clinton campaign will remember Denari kindly if he refrains from mentioning the dossier on air. So I ask Denari if anything ever came of that. He says Clinton’s campaign manager, David Wilhelm, called him the day after the election to thank him and to invite him to some inaugural events, but Denari declined the invitation. When he ran for Congress against Denny Hastert in 1994, Denari says, he received no help from the Clintons. (To be fair, although he was running as a Democrat, Denari also failed to receive the support of the DeKalb County Democratic Central Committee, which endorsed the Republican Hastert—citing in part the fact that Denari had made that phone call to Stephanopoulos.)
Denari has lain low in this cycle. He says I was the first reporter to contact him about the Danney Williams story. He tells me he is now a “freelance strategic consultant” based in southern Illinois. His most recent brush with the love child story was eight years ago, when he made an 18-minute video about his part in the saga. He sent copies to Bill and Hillary Clinton, James Carville, Stephanopoulos, and Wilhelm. He sent me a copy, too, hoping it would help answer my questions. The video features Denari dubbing his side of the phone call into the scene from The War Room. It goes on to advertise a charity Denari was working with and closes with Denari asking Bill Clinton to be the executive technical consultant on a TV series Denari and his daughter were then trying to create.
As for Danney Williams, the alleged Clinton scion? He—or someone claiming to be him—has Twitter and Facebook pages that continue to assert his genetic link to the 42nd president. A 1999 paternity test (using the DNA sequence taken from the semen on Monica Lewinsky’s dress and published in the Starr Report) failed to prove the claim. But a contemporaneous Slate story argued that the test was not definitive. The Danney Williams thing won’t be going to bed anytime soon. It seems as if it’s just now waking up from a short nap.