Clinton deal not excused by 'no harm, no foul'

January 05, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

Everyone agrees that the land deal between Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton and one of their Arkansas cronies is very, very complicated.

It involves vacation property in the Ozarks called Whitewater, a failed bank that cost the taxpayers millions, documents spirited away into the night and now demands that an independent counsel be appointed to investigate the matter.

But as complicated as the mess is -- and how soon before we start calling it Whitewatergate? -- the Clintons' defense has been very, very simple:

They lost money on the deal, so it had to be honest.

If the logic of this escapes you, it is because you have not been around politics as long as the Clintons have.

In March 1992, the New York Times first raised the issue of Whitewater, whether Clinton had used his governorship to aid his real estate partner and whether that partner had funneled money improperly to Clinton.

Clinton denied everything. But to my way of thinking he did so in a strange way.

"There was nothing inappropriate," Clinton said. "I know we lost more than $25,000 -- never made a penny on it."

But the question was not whether Bill Clinton had made or lost money. The question was whether Clinton had abused his office.

There currently is no evidence that he has. But Clinton has hardly been forthcoming on the subject.

Only recently did he agree to turn over his files to the Justice Department and he has still not made any public disclosure of them.

Instead, he has stuck to his non-responsive response:

We lost money. So we didn't do anything wrong.

In July 1992, Hillary Clinton said: "This [i.e. Whitewater] has been a losing proposition for more than a decade, and I hope eventually we'll be able to take our losses and get out."

And even though the Clintons' tax returns reveal that they never claimed a tax loss on Whitewater and did report a $1,000 capital gain when they got out of the deal, the stonewalling has continued.

George Stephanopoulos, White House senior adviser, went on "This Week With David Brinkley" on Sunday and summed up the Whitewater affair in just two sentences:

"The president was part of a real estate deal many years ago where he lost a lot of money," Stephanopoulos said. "Those are the facts."

RF And Hillary told the Associated Press in December: " . . . we lost

money in this deal. And as far as we're concerned, that is the story. I'm bewildered that a losing investment . . . is still a topic of inquiry."

So let us see if we can help clear up this bewilderment:

Let's say I tunnel into a bank. Let's say I rent the store next door and dig a tunnel into the bank's vault.

But when I crawl through the tunnel and come up into the vault, I find only one lousy sack of money containing $5,000.

I take the money, go back through the tunnel and emerge into the glare of police flashlights. The police arrest me.

"Wait!" I say. "The rent for the store, the digging equipment, the medical insurance, cost me $10,000! So I lost $5,000 on this deal! And I am bewildered that a losing investment is a topic of your inquiry!"

But courts might decide that it is how I attempted to make the money that counts and not how much I profited or lost.

The Clintons reject this notion when it comes to Whitewater, however.

They apparently believe that if you fail in a deal, then that deal cannot be scandalous.

But does Clinton really want to pursue this line of reasoning?

It would be like him saying: "Sure I still chase women. Every couple of weeks I try to lure one into the Lincoln Bedroom. But they keep turning me down. So I am not doing anything wrong."

The simple fact is that we care how our presidents behave. We care about their motives as well as their actions. We care about their failures as well as their successes.

Government is not basketball. The concept of "no harm, no foul" does not apply.

It doesn't matter if the Clintons made a dime off Whitewater olost a million.

What matters is what they did and how they did it.

And until they tell us the whole story, everyone is going to remaibewildered.

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