Dirty tricks along the Potomac Filegate: Clinton foes flub with Aldrich book after administration bumbling exposed.

July 02, 1996

JUST WHEN Republicans thought they had the Clinton administration's neck neatly in place, waiting for the guillotine to fall in the FBI files case, along comes a tall-tales G-man named Gary Aldrich to scramble the plot. Mr. Aldrich's "expose" of alleged presidential trysts in a Washington hotel, as contained in a book issued by a right-wing publisher, was quickly repudiated by the conservative journalist he cited as a source.

The Clinton entourage knows a distraction when it sees one, and it quickly sought to shift attention from its mass invasions of privacy to Mr. Aldrich's tabloid-style disclosures. While the FBI agent might have had worthwhile information about the White House mishandling of FBI files obtained by its Office of Personnel Security, his credibility was self-destroyed in a twinkling. Two big TV shows canceled his bookings. Administration spokesmen slyly asked what connection Mr. Aldrich has, if any, with Bob Dole's campaign.

Until Mr. Aldrich blew his cover as a lawman outraged by what he observed in the White House, the key bumblers in the "Filegate" case were a couple of Democratic operatives named Craig Livingstone and Anthony Marcesa. The former was in charge of a roomful of FBI files, mostly on Republicans, that he had no right to have. The latter was a so-called investigator looking for damaging information, including what was in his own dossier. He wound up taking the Fifth Amendment, which often confirms everyone's worst suspicions.

By that time, the operative question had become who in the Clinton entourage had ordered the hiring of a character as obviously unqualified as Mr. Livingstone. Mr. Aldrich alleged it was none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first lady Republicans love to hate.

Talk about touching the third rail in the White House! Suddenly days of obfuscation ended. Suddenly presidential aide George Stephanopoulos disclosed that Mr. Livingstone was hired by a dead man, Vincent Foster, Mrs. Clinton's best friend and law partner who committed suicide early in the Clinton era. Curious.

The Livingstone-Marcesa episode says a lot about how much the Clinton bunch will destroy itself if left to its own devices. The Aldrich episode is revealing about what lengths the president's right-wing foes will go to destroy him. And the American public is left to ponder the choice it will have to make in November.

Pub Date: 7/02/96

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