The Washington Post Obituary on Evelyn Lieberman, former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Emily Langer, "Evelyn Lieberman, deputy chief of staff under President Clinton, dies at 71," washingtonpost.com
President Bill Clinton walks to Marine One with Mrs. Lieberman and aide Bruce Lindsey in 1996. (Robert A. Reeder/The Washington Post)
Evelyn S. Lieberman, a veteran public-relations specialist in Washington who as deputy chief of staff under President Bill Clinton helped arrange a job transfer for Monica S. Lewinsky after becoming uneasy about the junior staffer’s frequent presence around the Oval Office, died Dec. 12 in Washington. She was 71.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, said a friend, Julie Mason.
Mrs. Lieberman was known in the capital as the consummate public-relations professional, an adviser who assiduously worked to support her powerful bosses, including, at times, defending them from self-inflicted wounds.
“She is absolutely protective of your interests and she is always totally, unabashedly frank with you,” Vice President Biden, who had a long career as a senator from Delaware and who employed Mrs. Lieberman as his Capitol Hill press secretary, once told The Washington Post. Whenever Biden said something “stupid,” he recalled, she would close his door and ask in spirited fashion why he had done so.
Her accomplishments included serving, from 1997 to 1999, as director of Voice of America, the government broadcasting institution, and later as the first undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs at the State Department. In that demanding role, she worked with hundreds of employees and traveled to embassies around the world to coordinate the effective integration of the U.S. Information Agency into State.
At her death, Mrs. Lieberman was a senior adviser and assistant to the secretary for external relations at the Smithsonian Institution, where she had worked closely with leaders of the sprawling cultural organization for the past 13 years, assisting in major projects including the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian.
Mrs. Lieberman met the Clintons in the 1980s while serving as director of public affairs at the Children’s Defense Fund, the nonprofit advocacy organization where future first lady Hillary Clinton was a board member.
After Bill Clinton’s election as president in 1992, Mrs. Lieberman joined the White House as assistant to the chief of staff in the first lady’s office. She later became deputy assistant to the president and deputy press secretary for operations before being named, in 1996, assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff — the first woman to serve in that role.
News accounts described her as a respected enforcer of schedules and standards. When younger staffers reported for duty with unshined shoes, unkempt hair or overly revealing clothing, Mrs. Lieberman often invited them to remedy the problem.
Leon E. Panetta, who served in the White House with Mrs. Lieberman as chief of staff, compared her to “a first sergeant.” Even President Clinton, The Post reported in 1998, was “apparently a tad intimidated.”
Lewinsky began her White House internship in the summer of 1995 and by later that year had attracted the attention of a Secret Service officer who found her visits to the Oval Office to be a “nuisance” and complained to Mrs. Lieberman.
Clinton, despite his initial professions to the contrary, would later be revealed to have had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky.
In the 1998 report on the matter prepared by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, Mrs. Lieberman was quoted describing Lewinsky as “what we used to call a ‘clutch’ . . . always someplace she shouldn’t be.”
The Starr report recounted that in 1996, with Panetta’s approval, Mrs. Lieberman arranged for Lewinsky to be moved from the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, where she had obtained a job after her internship, to a position at the Pentagon.
Mrs. Lieberman emphasized that she was unaware of any relationship between Lewinsky and Clinton at the time the transfer took place but said she considered the move necessary because “the President was vulnerable to these kind of rumors.”
At the Pentagon, Lewinsky befriended Linda Tripp, the colleague who would provide to Starr taped conversations in which Lewinsky described her relationship with the president. Those tapes would help lead to Clinton’s impeachment by the House of Representatives in December 1998 for allegedly lying under oath about Lewinsky during the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit. The Senate acquitted Clinton two months later.
After her time at Voice of America and the State Department, Mrs. Lieberman became director of communications and public affairs at the Smithsonian. She took a hiatus from her work to serve as chief operating officer of then-Sen. Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008.
In a statement provided by Mason, the former first lady, now seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, described Mrs. Lieberman as “funny, brilliant and confident” and “a public servant of the highest order whose commitment has inspired me throughout my career.”
Evelyn May Simonowitz was born in Brooklyn on July 9, 1944. In 1966, she received a bachelor’s degree in education from Buffalo State, part of the State University of New York.
She began her career as an English teacher and later worked at Georgetown University as a science librarian. In the 1970s, she did public relations work for organizations including the National Urban Coalition.
An early marriage ended in divorce. Survivors include her husband of 35 years, Ed Lieberman of Washington; and a brother.
Those who expressed admiration for Mrs. Lieberman during her career included President Clinton. “Her unique strong voice has reverberated throughout the White House,” he said when she assumed her role at Voice of America. “Evelyn has a special talent for cutting to the chase and getting to truth.”
An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that Mrs. Lieberman was the first female director of Voice of America. Mary G.F. Bitterman, director from 1980 to 1981, held that distinction.
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United." Affiliated with Georgetown University for over ten years, he shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."