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Clinton And His Enemies

by Alexander Cockburn

The Democrats
The vultures are picking his bones. Bob Herbert, Salon, Barney Frank, Joe Biden, Lannie Davis ... they've all finally thrown Bill over the side. In the Wall Street Journal Hamilton Jordan stigmatized Bill and Hillary as "the First Grifters," the term used for scam artists preying on the poor and desperate in the Depression of the 1930s. "The Clintons," Jordan sneered, "are not a couple, but a business partnership, not based on love or even greed, but on shared ambitions. Everywhere they go, they leave a trail of disappointed, disillusioned friends and staff members to clean up after them." Jordan contrasted the elevated moral tone of the Carter White House against the Augean filth of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Clinton time.

If he, Jordan, had recommended something like the Rich pardon, "Carter would have thrown me out of the Oval Office and probably fired me on the spot." As for Clinton's hubris after Lewinsky-gate, "If a president can get caught having sex in the Oval Office with an intern and commit perjury about it to a federal grand jury, and still get away with it, what could possibly stop him?"

Yes, this is the same Hamilton Jordan who is now happy to flay Clinton on the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, a page that mercilessly abused him and his boss through the Carter years. (One Wall Street Journal editorial appearing in the wake of some message of doom from President Carter carried the title "More Mush from the Wimp.") And yes, this is the same Hamilton Jordan who did his bit for the high moral tone in Carter time by leering across the table at the wife of the Egyptian ambassador during a formal White House dinner and making a lewd crack about the pyramids. Jordan further enhanced the White House's reputation by being accused of snorting coke at Studio 54.

And yes, it was the Carter White House which opened its doors to Henry Kissinger, who lobbied successfully for what could be fairly construed as a U.S. government pardon for the Shah of Iran, allowing the deposed dictator sanctuary in the United States, thus directly prompting the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Teheran.

As for liberal Democrats like the folks at Salon, why now? Salon stuck with Clinton through thick and thin, never conceding the jaunty corruption that has been Bill's preeminent characteristic since the day he entered the gubernatorial mansion in Little Rock, Ark., but insisting all the while on his honesty and innocence on all charges. At the conclusion of her mournful parting of the ways with Bill, Salon's Joan Walsh wrote, "If Clinton really abused the power of the presidency -- and the power to pardon may be the most sacred, in a way, beyond the bounds of any other branch of government to reverse or rectify -- as part of any kind of quid pro quo, political, financial or social, he will have done what his enemies never could do: tarnish his legacy irrevocably, ensuring that when the moral accounting is complete, he is judged a failed president.

Failed because he pardoned Marc Rich? In other words, Salon could take the welfare bill, the effective death penalty act, the telecommunications reform bill, Waco, the war on drugs, the doubling of the prison population, and the sale of the Lincoln bedroom as testimonies to a successful presidency. That is until Clinton spoiled everything by issuing a pardon urged him by people normally held in the highest respect by liberal Democrats, among them Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, Shimon Peres, Abe Foxman of the ADL and Elie Wiesel (if you believe the e-mail traffic flowing through Jack Quinn's office and no doubt on his billing receipts, though not Elie Wiesel if you believe Wiesel's recent insistence to the New York Times that he had compassion in his heart for only one spy for Israel at a time).

Yes, they're kicking Bill over the side. Here's Bob Herbert of the New York Times, another long-time defender: "You can't lead a nation if you are ashamed of the leader of your party. The Clintons are a terminally unethical and vulgar couple, and they've betrayed those who have ever believed in them. As neither Clinton has the grace to retire from the scene, the Democrats have no choice but to turn their backs on them."

Yes, this is Bob Herbert, who, only four months ago, managed to avert his gaze from the mountain of evidence about the ethics and vulgarity of the Clintons, and who lashed Ralph Nader for presuming to raise the standard of honesty and dignity in government.

There's nothing more distasteful than listening to a bunch of dupes suddenly announcing eight years after the evidence was in that they'd been duped. Bill has a legitimate gripe. Why now? The evidence in 1992 about the character of the Clintons and the likely contours of a Clinton government was in. Sure, you could make a calculation, if you cared to, that even factoring this evidence, the Real Bill and the Real Hillary were a better deal than a second term for George Bush. And you could say that tacky as Bill's affair with Monica was, it still offered no sound basis for impeachment. What you can't say is that you had no idea what the Clintons were like until he signed off on Marc Rich, or until HRC put in a good word for those Hasidic Jews.

When it comes to moral symmetry, what's the bigger crime, for the entire liberal establishment to pardon Clinton and Al Gore for their welfare bill, or for Clinton to pardon a crooked commodities trader?

The Republicans
Hearken to the delighted squawks of the Republicans about the Rich pardon and about the vindication of their charge that Clinton is morally beyond the pale, the worst of the worst. Who do they think they're kidding? Corruption of the presidential power to pardon? Let's just take another look at those pardons issued by George Bush Sr. at the onset and conclusion of his presidential term.

In 1989, President Bush used his power to pardon a longtime Soviet spy who had been prudent enough to offer $1.3 million to Ronald Reagan's presidential library, plus a $110,000 disbursement to the Republican National Committee (RNC), this latter bribe being made in the week of Bush's inauguration. The pardon duly came a few months later, on Aug. 14, 1989.

The spy was Armand Hammer, whose successful maneuvers for his pardon are hilariously described in Edward Jay Epstein's brilliant 1996 book on Hammer, "Dossier." Epstein describes how Hammer had bizarrely hoped he would be in line for a Nobel Peace prize for his efforts to foster U.S.-Soviet understanding. To this end he lobbied both Prince Charles and the then Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin, who duly nominated him for the Peace prize. But Hammer discovered that no one with a criminal conviction had ever won the Nobel award. On his record there was the embarrassment (a trifling one, given his amazing career as a spy and oil bandit, eliciting no less than six federal investigations dating back to 1938) of A federal misdemeanor conviction in 1976 for his illegal campaign contributions to Nixon's campaign in 1972. So he needed a pardon.

Hammer made his $1.3 million pledge to the Reagan library and began to agitate for a pardon. The FBI alerted the Reagan White House to ongoing investigations of Hammer for attempting to bribe members of the Los Angeles City Council to the tune of $120,00 to give a green light to Hammer's company, Occidental, to drill off the California coast. Nonetheless, it seemed that the pardon would come through in Reagan's parting hours. Then a hitch arose. Hammer had asked Reagan for a pardon based on innocence. As he had pleaded guilty to the misdemeanors, even the compliant Reagan White House couldn't oblige.

Hammer shifted gears and greeted the incoming President Bush with the request for a pardon based on compassion, which Bush gave him. Ever the businessman, Hammer felt that since Reagan hadn't come through, he had no obligation to pony up the $1.3 million he'd promised to the library. He did make the $110,000 br... , uh, contribution, to the RNC. So he got his pardon, though, alas, not his Peace prize, which, in 1989, went to the Dalai Lama.

Now let's go to the other end of Bush time. As he left town, Bush pardoned, among others, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, former assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, former National Security Council Director Robert McFarlane and three former CIA men, Duane "Dewey" Clarridge, Alan Fiers and Clair George. Abrams, McFarlane, Fiers and George had all been convicted of withholding information from Congress in connection with the investigation of the Iran-contra scandal. Clarridge was facing trial. Weinberger had been indicted by special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh on the eve of the 1992 election.

At the time of the pardons, Walsh said bitterly, "It demonstrates that powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office -- deliberately abusing the public trust -- without consequence." But there was more to this pardon than just getting some former criminal associates off the hook. Walsh said that new evidence had come to light in the form of notes taken by Weinberger, suggesting that as vice president, Bush had been in the loop on the Iran-contra deals. Said Walsh, "In light of President Bush's own misconduct, we are gravely concerned by his decision to pardon others who lied to Congress and obstructed official investigations."

In other words, Walsh was suggesting that outgoing president Bush had pardoned Weinberger to ensure the silence of a man who could testify about his own criminal complicity in the Iran-contra scandal.

These days, Republicans are shouting that it's unprecedented to pardon a man who has not faced trial, as was the case with Marc Rich. Walsh made the same point in 1993. Ford pardoned Nixon before the latter was indicted; and Bush pardoned Weinberger and Claridge, post indictment but before trial.

One final point: Clinton is savagely denounced for using military adventures to distract attention from his own predicaments. Look at the timing of Bush's sudden decision to commit U.S. forces to Somalia. The concern with Somalia was always somewhat bizarre, but it sure did take those Bush pardons out of the headlines.

And now? Well, all this fuss about Clinton's pardon of Rich sure distracts attention from the mountain of evidence that George W. Bush is the beneficiary of a fixed election. What offense is greater: pardoning Marc Rich or stealing the White House?

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor March 1, 2001 (

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