In the footsteps of the master

June 20, 1996|By MONA CHAREN

WASHINGTON -- Late in 1992, news surfaced that members of the Bush administration had attempted to comb State Department files in search of a letter young Bill Clinton was said to have written renouncing his citizenship while a student at Oxford. (No letter was found.)

Washington erupted in indignation. From every quarter came demands for an investigation -- and the State Department duly instituted one.

Vice-presidential candidate Al Gore said, ''The White House is using the State Department in a blatant attempt to politicize the entire bureaucracy in a failed attempt to discredit Bill Clinton.'' Lawrence Eagleburger, then secretary of state, submitted his resignation to President Bush as penance for the misbehavior of his department (it was rejected). Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell promised an oversight investigation, as did House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt.

No one said, ''This isn't Watergate.'' No one said the Bush administration was composed of a bunch of bunglers who had made an honest mistake.

Today, news surfaces that the Clinton White House (not some officials in a Cabinet agency) demanded and received the confidential FBI files of 340 Republican officials from the Bush and Reagan administrations. Instead of rage and indignation at this outrageous invasion of privacy and misuse of power, we are everywhere cautioned not to make too much of it. This isn't an ''enemies list,'' we keep hearing.

Who knows?

How can they be so sure? This is not a personal matter with me, though I suppose I should mention that I worked in the Reagan administration and my name falls in the A-G part of the alphabet. I haven't seen my name on the list of those whose files were pulled, but maybe it will surface one day on a table in the living quarters at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The White House was true to form when this news broke. Its first explanation dissolved on contact. It was a bureaucratic mistake, we were told. A low-level military aide had mistakenly sought the files in order to expedite the granting of security clearances to Clinton appointees.

Within days, we learned that the low-level military aide was actually one Anthony Marceca -- not a neutral civil servant but a Democratic Party operative and veteran of four Democratic presidential campaigns.

The other supposedly low-level person involved was Craig Livingstone, another Democratic Party official who served Geraldine Ferraro, Gary Hart and Al Gore. Mr. Livingstone has a demonstrated taste for skulduggery. He boasted about infiltrating Dan Quayle's vice-presidential campaign in 1988 and feeding information to the Democrats. He claims to have passed word that Mr. Quayle was planning to compare himself to John F. Kennedy, thus preparing the ground for Lloyd Bentsen's devastating put-down.

According to former FBI agent Gary Aldrich, writing in the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Livingstone was hand-picked for his White House post by none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Are we to believe that an administration that granted White House passes to friends like Harry Thomason, who was not even a prospective employee, and permitted many others to get passes before their background checks were complete, was looking at Republican files to learn how the task is done?

It's preposterous. The files themselves, full of private information, would yield nothing about the process of doing security clearances.

The more sinister interpretation happens to be the more plausible. This is, after all, the White House -- specifically the first lady -- that fired an usher because he kept in touch with Barbara Bush. (He was teaching her to use a laptop.) This is a White House that leaned on the FBI to start an investigation into Billy Dale -- in order to smear him after his politically motivated dismissal. This is the White House that thwarted the investigation into Vince Foster's death and then lied about it. This is the White House that transferred numerous Secret Service agents until they found those of whose political loyalty they felt sure.

Hillary Rodham Clinton cut her political teeth on the Watergate Committee. Evidently, instead of learning how to get Nixon, she learned how to be Nixon.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 6/20/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.