It's history now, but the 1990s were a busy time for two San Diego Democrats who jockeyed for privilege and power during the administration of president Bill Clinton.
Now, a release of previously restricted documents by the Clinton presidential library in Little Rock, Arkansas, is casting some new light on both local Democrats, one politically disgraced, the other expected to seek a future assisting the presidential aspirations of Hillary Clinton.
"The Presidential Records Act includes provisions that these types of documents be withheld for twelve years after the end of a president's administration," says an introduction to the release on the Clinton library website.
"These documents are now being made available to the public. The documents will be released in batches and will be uploaded here as they become available. The documents will also be available in the Clinton Library’s research room."
On April 18, the library released a series of emails regarding Bob Filner and Alan Bersin. The tone of the material may seem familiar to viewers of House of Cards, the dark TV send-up of Democrats in Washington.
"Please look out for Alan in San Diego," wrote Clinton aide Karen Skelton to fellow White House political worker Michael Feldman on June 10, 1998. "He's a POTUS Oxford pal and someone we want to know much better. You can use my name, though that might not help much..."
Skelton, a UC Berkeley law school graduate, later started a political consulting firm and went to work for Maria Shriver, then the wife of GOP ex-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Feldman founded a Washington lobbying outfit after Clinton left the White House.
Another Clinton operative, Trooper Sanders, who later became deputy director of policy to first lady Michelle Obama, followed up with an email to Skelton, describing the contact he made with Bersin.
"I just had a very helpful and friendly conversation with Alan Bersin, current U.S. Attorney and soon-to-be school superintendent in San Diego. He gave some helpful tips. Unfortunately, he cannot attend the crime event [redacted]. However, he may try to drop by one of the San Diego events later in the day."
Bersin, a controversial U.S. Attorney under Clinton who later became equally contentious as superintendent of schools here, is close to both Hillary and Bill Clinton from their college years. He is currently assistant secretary of international affairs and chief diplomatic officer in the Homeland Security Department.
Bersin’s wife Lisa Foster, of San Diego's wealthy Ratner family, gave up a judgeship here last year to move to Washington, where many believe she and her husband will have roles in Hillary Clinton's bid for the presidency.
When he was first appointed U.S. Attorney and subsequently made the Clinton administration’s "Border Czar" by Attorney General Janet Reno, Bersin was seen by the Clintonites as an asset who would put a tough public face on the president’s so-called Operation Gatekeeper, one of many costly, high-tech efforts to halt illegal immigration mounted over the years.
Wrote Clinton aide Rahm Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago, on October 20, 1995:
"We received very good coverage over the weekend in the L.A. area around the one year anniversary of Gatekeeper. The announcement of the Southwest Border czar was on the front page on the LA Times, and the San Diego Union. The Times just wrote an editorial praising our selection of Alan Bersin and our entire Administration immigration policy."
Bersin was always in the loop when it came to presidential travel to San Diego, the emails suggest.
Preparing for a Clinton California trip as part of the president's re-election bid, state campaign manager John Emerson wrote staff members on February 16, 1996:
"Rahm [Emanuel] talked with US ATTY Alan Bersin (our immigration czar and good POTUS friend) who has some def. ideas about the community based policing event. Nicole, I suggest you call Alan directly."
Then Emerson moved on to a request by then-congressman Bob Filner:
"Filner wants to be like glue during the entire trip to San Diego. That should be fine with us. He is very concerned that City Councilman Juan Vargas, who is challenging him in the primary, not be at the event.
“I believe we should not hold this in Vargas' council district — that's our best excuse for not including him. Nicole, you need to flag this with Bersin.
“Our best allies on the City Council are Virginia [sic] Stallings and Christine Kehoe, fyi. Their districts would be fine."
Kehoe later became an assemblywoman and state senator. Valerie Stallings was forced to resign from the council in an influence-peddling scandal involving her close friend, then-Padres owner and Democratic moneyman John Moores.
Vargas went to the assembly, state senate, and finally made it to Congress in 2012, when the now-fallen Filner left his seat to become mayor.