The Travelgate Isn't Closed Yet

August 07, 1993

A shabby episode in the Clinton administration appears on its way to conclusion. Five employees summarily fired amid false accusations of mishandling travel office funds have now been cleared by the Justice Department. Two supervisors are still under investigation. However that probe turns out, the conclusion is inescapable that senior White House officials violated laws or long-standing and well-founded regulations and procedures.

Thomas F. McLarty III, the White House chief of staff, has already said his mea culpas over the abrupt and groundless discharge of the travel office employees amid broad insinuations of corruption. He has admitted that a White House lawyer bypassed the strict procedure for dragging the FBI into potentially political affairs. In effect, the five employees who have been cleared of suspicion -- by a leak to the Washington Times, not a public announcement by the Justice Department -- were exonerated more than a month ago. Despite its strenuous efforts, the White House has not yet succeeded in exonerating itself.

Whatever sloppy management or worse that may yet be pinned on the two travel office supervisors, it is clear the principal malfeasants are White House officials and Clinton family cronies. The phony scandal was whipped up by some of the president's old buddies in a transparent grab for the lucrative chartering of airplanes and other travel arrangements for the White House press corps and administration officials. As their false accusations against career employees started to unravel and their sneaky role in the affair surfaced, the Clinton cronies sought to draw in the FBI to create the false illusion of criminality.

That's what still needs investigating. The presidential cousin from Little Rock who tried to move the bookings to her own agency is still hanging on. Harry Thomason, the ubiquitous television impresario, presidential adviser, tout for Hollywood barbers and part-owner of an airline leasing company, also flouted conflict-of-interest principles. A White House lawyer called in the FBI directly, without going through senior Justice Department officials. (This lawyer worked for Vincent Foster Jr., the deputy White House counsel who committed suicide last month. There are indications that remorse over injecting his aide into the scandal contributed to Mr. Foster's fatal depression.)

Only an independent investigation of the roles of the White House officials and Clinton relatives and cronies will provide a satisfactory conclusion to this noisome little mess. Quietly burying it piece by piece won't do the trick.

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