Former President Bill Clinton went on CBS’s 60 Minutes to promote his new autobiography, and gave the reason for his affair with Monica Lewinsky. “Because I could,” he told Dan Rather. The irony became apparent when he later ran off a list of other scandals, or alleged scandals, that he was involved in, and in each case claimed he had been exonerated. But the fact is that he got away with these abuses of power also “because he could.”
Dan Rather was enthralled. This is of course the same Dan Rather who, when congratulated by then-President Clinton for his new co-anchorship with Connie Chung, replied, “If we could be one-hundredth as great as you and Hillary Rodham Clinton have been in the White House, we’d take it right now and walk away winners.” It’s no wonder that Clinton chose Rather to start his book tour. Rather was on the Larry King show two nights before, and told Larry that Clinton’s memoir “compares very favorably with Ulysses S. Grant’s gold standard of presidential autobiographies.”
This view was not exactly shared by the New York Times book critic, Michiko Kakutani. She described the book as “sloppy, self-indulgent, and often eye-crossingly dull.” Most other major critics were similarly unimpressed.
But whether the book is good or not, the media have mostly missed the significance of his phrase, “Because I could.” This revealing comment?demonstrating a reckless attitude toward any standard of moral behavior and accountability?could also apply to many other controversial actions by Clinton and his wife, now Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. He claimed he was exonerated for Whitewater, Travelgate, Filegate, and the death of Vince Foster. It’s true he wasn’t indicted for any of those matters, but there is a substantial record to show the Clintons’ involvement in each.
If instead of focusing on the perjury and obstruction of justice related to the Lewinsky case, the House impeachment committee had gone after Clinton for abuse of power, obstruction of justice and defiance of subpoenas, the same charges that were the drawn-up articles of impeachment that President Nixon faced before resigning, the result might have been the same. Clinton might have resigned rather than face removal from office. Short of impeachment, it is generally viewed as unconstitutional to indict a sitting president. So, does claiming exoneration mean he wasn’t indicted, that the charges weren’t in the final impeachment consideration, or that the available body of evidence supported his claims of innocence?
I wrote and produced a documentary, “The Clinton Legacy,” five years ago, and it is more relevant today, as the Clinton Phenomenon cranks up its PR machine to rehabilitate Clinton’s legacy. Besides the book tour is the new documentary by one of Clinton’s Hollywood pals, Harry Thomason, called “The Hunting of a President,” based on a book, which details what the authors consider to be this vast-right-wing-conspiracy that Hillary claimed existed.
The sad truth is that once again, the media and talking heads are sticking to the Clinton official version. A story of redemption. Of a man who made a personal mistake, because he is a secret-keeper and living parallel lives; and who after therapy, and coming face to face with his demons, has figured it all out. It’s about forgiveness.
Like 1998, after a string of serious scandals, the only thing they want to talk about is the Lewinsky scandal: how, why, where, when and how could you. Yes, there are a few questions thrown in about al Qaeda, bin Laden, Bush and working for World Peace.
So far I haven’t heard a single question about why Billy Dale was fired from the White House Travel Office, and then hounded, persecuted and prosecuted. Was it because Clinton could? The liberal Washington Post recognized the injustice of what occurred, noting that “Billy Dale and his six travel office colleagues were summarily dismissed from their jobs in 1993 for the shakiest of reasons?and smeared with charges that they had engaged in wrongdoing. White House staff that had an interest in taking over the travel office even helped to concoct the allegations?Mr. Dale in particular was made to undergo a painful and costly ordeal before he was exonerated by a jury.”
How about the firing of Dennis Sculimbrene, the former FBI agent who for 10 years had been the gatekeeper of FBI files coming into the White House? And his replacement by Craig Livingstone, former bar bouncer with a phony resum?, just before thousands of FBI files on mainly former Republican administration officials arrived at the White House? Clinton called it a “completely honest, bureaucratic snafu.” Even Clinton’s FBI director Louis Freeh didn’t buy that. He called it “egregious violations of privacy without justification.” The Washington Post said “It is astonishing to think that sensitive background files on individuals currently involved in Republican activities?have been in the Clinton White House vault under the control of Clinton political operatives all this time.”
Another issue that is getting too little attention is Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, the fugitive financier who had fled the country rather than stand trial, while his ex-wife was funneling over a million dollars to Hillary’s campaign and the Democratic Party. Clinton told Dan Rather that he would take that one back if he could, only because of the heat it brought down on him. He also pardoned Carlos Vignali, the convicted coke dealer who had paid a lot of money to one of Hillary’s brothers to “represent” him.
Clinton issued these pardons “because he could”?another major abuse of power made just before leaving office.
And was Whitewater really “just a little land deal in which I lost money,” as Clinton told Dan Rather? In fact it was a land scam and bank fraud that resulted in about a dozen of Clinton’s associates being indicted and convicted.
Clinton and his interviewers have also failed to raise Chinagate, the channeling of illegal money to his re-election campaign and the Democratic Party. It was never investigated, let alone prosecuted, by an independent counsel, because Clinton Attorney General Janet Reno wouldn’t permit it. Starr stayed away from it too. Does that mean Clinton was exonerated? That depends on what the definition of “exonerated” is.
There are lots of other questions. Did Clinton arrange for hush-money to be paid to Webb Hubbell? Was the IRS used to go after political opponents? And the crash of TWA 800 became another scandal when the Clinton administration concealed evidence of missiles striking the plane.
Even on the Lewinsky matter, Clinton continues to mislead. Some reviewers have noted that there is a difference between his book and his grand jury testimony of August 1998 regarding when he began his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Perhaps he cleared that up during his appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America, where, when asked if he regretted not coming clean when the Lewinsky story first broke, he said “I have not talked to a single person who was [in the White House] then who knew what was going on who believes that I would have survived as president if I had said that.”
As it was, liberal columnists like Lars-Erik Nelsen and Clarence Page were calling on Clinton to resign. But with a cooperative attorney general like Janet Reno, Clinton rightly believed he could get away with these abuses.
Like former Independent Counsel Ken Starr, Dan Rather and much of the media want to focus on the sex scandal. This serves to reveal Clinton as a morally flawed man, not a corrupt abuser of the power of his office to commit crimes and cover them up. It makes him look imperfect?just like the rest of us.
Since then, Clinton has been everywhere. Except Fox. On the Larry King Show, they discussed the death of deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster. Clinton argued that everyone knew it was a suicide brought about by depression, caused by a series of editorials, mainly in the Wall Street Journal. This ignores the investigative reporting done by AIM founder Reed Irvine and others showing that Foster could not have committed suicide where his body was found, and that evidence ignored or dismissed by the authorities points toward his murder.
Apparently Bill Clinton doesn’t want to answer the tough questions, so he has lined up a series of largely celebrity journalists to toss him softballs. Larry King was taking phone calls for the ex-president, but apparently couldn’t find too many positive ones. As they went to a break, Clinton, apparently thinking the mike was off, said to Larry while looking at the phone, “You don’t like any of your questions?” Apparently Larry must have known that they weren’t all adoring calls like the two he had already taken, so he kept them off the air. That’s one good way to keep from answering any of the tough questions.