What Americans are not ready for

January 10, 1996|By Mona Charen

WASHINGTON -- In April of 1994, swathed in a feminine pink sweater set, Hillary Rodham Clinton performed spin control on the Whitewater affair at a special White House news conference.

Responding to questions about her legal representation of Madison Guaranty and specifically about the Castle Grande deal, Mrs. Clinton claimed that her legal role in the matter had been ''minimal,'' that most of the work had been performed by a young associate, and that ''this was not my practice area.'' Asked to provide billing records to support her contention, the White House responded -- for two years -- that the billing records were missing and could not be found.

The records appear

Then, the other day, the records were found in the White House residence (this administration has a peculiar habit of storing official records in the living quarters). What President and Mrs. Clinton were doing in possession of law firm documents has never been clarified. Billing records are the property of the firm, .. not the individual lawyers.

But what the records show is that Mrs. Clinton indeed performed extensive work for Madison. She billed more than $6,000 and met or spoke with one of the Castle Grande partners, Seth Ward (father-in-law of her former law partner and convicted felon Webster Hubbell) no fewer than 14 times in a seven-month period.

According to Rep. Jim Leach, who is investigating Whitewater, the records also reveal that Mrs. Clinton discussed legal matters with Madison Guaranty's owners, Jim and Susan McDougal, on 16 occasions and participated in 28 conferences or phone calls with lawyers in the Rose firm to discuss legal issues affecting Madison.

The big deal

What's the big deal? ask Clinton supporters. Well, for one thing, Mrs. Clinton's firm was also representing the Resolution Trust Corp. during this period, presenting a conflict of interest that could be a disbarment offense for a lawyer.

Second, the incompatibility between Mrs. Clinton's statements (some sworn) and the documentary record could amount to perjury.

Third, the Castle Grande deal is widely viewed by government investigators as a sham transaction that was designed to permit McDougal's savings-and-loan to circumvent federal rules.

There's more. The other document belatedly released by the White House last week reveals that Mrs. Clinton also may have lied about taking no part in the firing of the White House travel office employees. A contemporaneous memo written by David Watkins, then in charge of White House management and administration, to former chief of staff Mack McLarty reads in part, ''We both know that there would be hell to pay if we failed to take swift and decisive action in conformity with the first lady's wishes.''

Her wishes were that the seven employees be fired summarily so that the business could be handed over to an Arkansas crony.

Mrs. Clinton has quite a history of firing people for trifling reasons. She fired the White House chefs, claiming that their cuisine was too high in fat. She fired the White House usher, who had served several administrations loyally, because he was keeping in touch with Barbara Bush (helping her learn to use a laptop computer).

Dragon lady

If Hillary Rodham Clinton were a Republican, she would be taken apart piece by piece by the press. She would be the dragon lady, scourge of little people who cross her (there is a reference in the Watkins memo to the ''secret service incident'' that probably refers to her fury when a story about throwing lamps in the White House was leaked to the press), profiteer off her husband's power (did Tyson chicken magnate Jim Blair provide cattle-futures investments to all his friends?) and, most of all, hypocrite who railed against the greed of the 1980s but seems to have accepted every sweetheart deal that came her way.

Different rules

Different rules apply to liberal Democrats. Perhaps more offensive than anything else about the first lady is her patronizing and at the same time self-justifying explanation for her reputation.

She has let it be known that she isn't sure the country is ''ready'' for an independent, strong woman as first lady. Accordingly, each time the records begin to contradict her on some key point, Mrs. Clinton dons the mantle of cookie-baking, child-oriented mom.

It's a shameful act. What the country is not ready for is a dissembling first lady whose word cannot be trusted.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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