Clinton administration aim to be 'most ethical' is just a joke now

December 03, 1997|By Mona Charen

THE CONTINUING drama of the Clinton administration is so disheartening that one tends to tune it out if only for self-protection. After all, to pay respectful attention to each statement coming out of the White House is to be played for a fool.

When the campaign finance revelations first hit last year, the president expressed dismay that folks over at the Democratic National Committee had shown such poor judgment.

Cash rush

It was later revealed that President Clinton himself was directing every aspect of the cash rush from the Oval Office -- including phone solicitations. As Dick Morris explains in his book, the president had become convinced that a massive television advertising campaign was essential to ensure his re-election. It was he who pushed the idea of having ''coffees'' in the Roosevelt Room and overnights in the Lincoln bedroom for major contributors.

The White House denies that these coffees were fund-raisers -- because to admit what they were would be admitting a violation of the law forbidding fund-raising on government property.

If they were not fund-raisers, why was the president devoting so much of his valuable time to meeting with these individuals? It was he who greeted these contributors and did not flinch when one identified himself by saying, ''James Riady sent me.'' In one of the tapes that has since been ''discovered'' months after it was subpoenaed, the president is seen explaining American political life to a room full of people who must not be familiar with it. Was he raising money from foreigners?

In one of its endless lawyerly evasions, the White House has denied that the money raised by the White House was spent on the president's campaign (that would be forbidden ''hard money'') but rather on party building (kosher ''soft money''). Yet, on another of the tapes, the president, thanking his major donors, says that the television ad campaign has made all the difference in the 1996 campaign. Before the ad blitz, the president recalls, he and Bob Dole were running even in the polls. After the ads, the president was comfortably ahead. Translation: The money was hard.

What that means is that the president, who promised to abide by spending limits when he accepted federal matching funds for his presidential race, violated the law by spending far in excess of the approved amount.

It's easy to imagine what the tone of press coverage would be if a Republican president had done these things. Outrage at the tawdry misuse of the White House would run very high. We'd hear a great deal about the president's contempt for the majesty of the law and strong denunciations of him for supposing that he was above it. There would be mordant reminders of the president's early claim that his would be the ''most ethical administration in history.''

Commentators would then count the matters on which special prosecutors have been appointed: Whitewater, filegate, travelgate, former White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum, former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros and former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy. The matters currently under investigation by the Justice Department include allegations of favor-selling by three cabinet secretaries, campaign finance law violations by the president and vice president and more. Oh, and this president is the subject of a civil suit that shouldn't be mentioned in polite company.

General Reno

His attorney general, Janet Reno, has been diligent in protecting the president's political interests. She filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court supporting Hillary Clinton's claim of attorney/client privilege regarding notes taken by government lawyers on Mrs. Clinton's private legal matters and went to court numerous times with the baseless claim that President Clinton ought to be immune from civil suits like that of Paula Jones. Yet, Ms. Reno is lionized on the front page of the New York Times as the greatest independent mind to reach high office since St. Thomas More.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 12/03/97

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