Opening Argument – The White House Leak Scandal: Is a Cover-Up in the Works?

National Journal

President Bush’s assertion on Tuesday that "we’ll get to the bottom of this and move on" has the ring of wishful thinking. This scandal is going to roil the White House for quite a while. That prediction holds even if — as seems reasonably likely — the "senior administration officials" who allegedly sought to discredit, or spite, a whistle-blower by telling reporters that his wife worked for the CIA were unaware that she was a covert agent, and thus committed no crime.

Legal Affairs – How the Marc Rich Pardon Could Spawn a New Prosecution

National Journal

Here we go again. Another criminal-congressional tag-team crew investigating Bill Clinton. This time, it’s to determine not whether he lied under oath about sex-which Clinton essentially admitted at long last on Jan. 19-but whether, on the very next day, he sold a pardon, or two, or a few before he left office.

Legal Affairs – Smearing Linda Chavez: The Poison of Partisan Thinking

National Journal

"The narcissism and duplicity of Chavez’s [Jan. 9] press conference announcing her withdrawal … was simply staggering…. She trotted out a gaggle of immigrant admirers to offer staged testimonials about her history of assisting those in need…. Even the Bush team had abandoned the absurd pretense that Marta Mercado was not Linda Chavez’s employee…. You shouldn’t exploit [illegal immigrants]…. What’s more, rather than tell the Bush team the truth … she lied." -The New Republic

"Reasonable people would call a two-year houseguest who is not a relative and who vacuums, does laundry, looks after the kids, and receives free room and board and spending money a maid. But Ms. Chavez had insisted that Marta Mercado … was a needy charity case…. [Chavez] telephoned a former neighbor, presumably to coach her on what to say about Ms. Mercado [to] FBI agents…. The law is quite clear. Harboring an illegal alien is a felony." -The New York Times

"As one online political wag put it, is this the definition of compassionate conservatism, to bring illegal immigrants into your house, put them to work, and then not pay them?" -Los Angeles Times

These are some of the things they said about Linda Chavez as her nomination to be Labor Secretary was going up in smoke. For giving from 1991-93 what liberals used to call "sanctuary" to a battered and depressed illegal immigrant from Guatemala who clearly was a needy charity case, the conservative Chavez has now been smeared as an exploiter, a criminal, a liar, and a hypocrite.

Legal Affairs – The Mayor, The Art Museum, and The Freedom Of Speech

National Journal

As one who doesn’t much like Catholic-bashing "art," and doesn’t dig pigs and sharks suspended in formaldehyde, and doesn’t want taxpayers dragooned into subsidizing whatever in-your-face, sensationalistic stuff titillates the artsy set, and would love to see Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate campaign go the way of her Whitewater land deal, it pains me to say this: New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani is a menace to the freedom of speech. He mauled the First Amendment quite badly when he cut off the long-standing city subsidy that covers a third of the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s operating budget, and sought to evict the museum and its 1.5 million art objects from the city-owned building it has occupied for more than 100 years. Giuliani’s stated reason was the museum’s refusal to cave in to his 11th-hour demand that it cancel an exhibition titled Sensation–or at least take down a painting of the Virgin Mary adorned with elephant dung and surrounded by tiny pornographic pictures of body parts. The mayor says he considers these works "sick," "disgusting," sacrilegious, and insulting to Roman Catholics. Even if the mayor is right about the art, he is wrong about the law. A U.S. District Court judge, Nina Gershon, was entirely persuasive in calling a halt to Giuliani’s jihad. This she did in a Nov. 1 preliminary injunction issued on the ground that the city’s punitive measures violate the First Amendment. Indeed, the mayor’s campaign to bludgeon the museum’s board of trustees into submission exudes "a thuggish quality that sets all sorts of constitutional bells ringing," as Floyd Abrams, who represents the museum in its lawsuit against the city, said in an interview. Worse, Giuliani’s crusade comes at a time when Republicans have a golden opportunity to occupy the high ground in the perennial battle between the forces of free speech and the forces of censorship.

Iraqgate: Mother of All Phony Scandals

"This is a bigger cover-up than Watergate ever was… It involves the decision by George Bush to arm Saddam Hussein."

Vice President nominee Albert Gore Jr., Oct. 25,1992

‘We did not find evidence that U.S. agencies or officials illegally armed Iraq…. We also considered whether the Justice Department’s earlier work…. was subverted for political purposes, and found that it was not…. I found no evidence of corruption or incompetence…. On the contrary, the work of the Department and other agencies has by and large been thorough, persistent, and careful."

John Hogan, counselor to Attorney General Janet Reno, in final report of special task force investigating alleged Bush administration crimes involving Iraq, made public Jan. 23, 1995

So the last word is in. At least, it will be the last word for all but the looniest of conspiracy theorists. The great "Iraqgate" scandal of 1992-a cavalcade of claims democrats and big-shot journalists that the Bush administration secretly and illegally armed Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, then lied to Congress and obstructed justice to cover it up-has been found phony, by none other than the Clinton administration.

John Hogan, a longtime close aide to Attorney General Janet Reno, whom Reno chose in June 1993 to get to the bottom of Iraqgate, has now issued a carefully documented 119-page report, summarizing the work of nearly 20 prosecutors and investigators over 15 months.

The bottom line: no evidence of Bush administration crimes, no evidence of a cover-up, no evidence of a "decision by George Bush to arm Saddam Hussein," no evidence of obstruction of justice.

As Hogan notes, with admirable understatement, "Neither I nor the Justice Department have any stake in protecting earlier administrations from embarrassment."

Taking Justice Beyond Mud-Slinging

The gridlock symbolized by ever-mounting budget deficits is not the only noxious legacy of decades of divided government that the Clinton administration will inherit.

There is also the scandal syndrome: the corrosive atmosphere of mutual mistrust that poisons public discourse whenever any suspicion of official misconduct arises. As illustrated by the latest round of mud-slinging in the "Iraqgate" affair, the executive branch, Congress, and the press are all too quick to presume bad faith by one another in dealing with such matters. The result is to compound public cynicism about all of these vital institutions.

Maybe Bill Clinton can do something to break this destructive syndrome. He should at least try. It would be nice to avoid repetition of the spectacle that unfolded last week.

In his Dec. 9 press conference exonerating the Justice Department of cover-up charges, former federal judge and prosecutor Frederick Lacey-a Republican handpicked by Attorney General William Barr to pre-empt demands for a court-appointed independent counsel to probe Iraqgate-came across as intemperate, injudicious, closed-minded, and arrogant to the point of egomania.

Lacey’s two-hour tirade was characterized by blunderbuss attacks on the press and Democrats in Congress for "arrant nonsense"; unresponsive, rambling, and combative answers to entirely reasonable questions; revealing admissions of gaps in his hasty inquiry; uncritical acceptance of officials’ protestations of pure motives; and insistent self-promotion as the world’s toughest investigator.

Congressional Democrats compounded the spectacle that same afternoon by faxing out press releases trashing Lacey’s 190-page public report as a whitewash before they could possibly have read it.

Special Journalist Indicts Special Counsel

Judge Malcolm Wilkey, Retired "Special Counsel" c/o Attorney General William Barr Department of Justice Washington, D.C. 20530

Dear Judge Wilkey:

By open letter of April 20, 1992, the Office of Special Journalist notified you of our self-appointment to investigate your investigation of the so-called House Bank.

You are hereby notified that our grand jury (a rubber stamp, like yours) has returned an indictment charging you with four counts of prosecutorial misconduct:

(1) knowingly presenting the House of Representatives with a grotesquely overbroad subpoena for financial records of all 435 members;

(2) smearing the Congress with a false aura of criminality, for the purpose and with the effect of coercing members to abandon their constitutional rights to challenge said subpoena;

(3) betrayal of your own first principles;

(4) false pretense of impartiality, while acting like a ventriloquist’s dummy for your very partisan former law clerk. Attorney General William Barr.

Our investigation continues into whether you may have committed more serious offenses. These may include conspiracy to abuse the Justice Department’s authority to help President Bush and other Republican candidates under the guise of non-partisan criminal investigation.

We have been so impressed (though hardly pleased) by the boldness of your drift-net fishing expedition into House members’ financial affairs that we are using your subpoena as a model. Accordingly, we hereby demand that you supply the Office of Special Journalist, by Thursday, May 7, with:

A. All extant banking, credit-card, investment, gambling, speech-honoraria, and other financial records; all tax returns; and all professional and personal correspondence, telephone records, and medical records, for you since birth, and for your wife since you were married.

Those Checks Didn’t Really Bounce

We live in a country where the President has proposed a budget with a $400 billion deficit.

A country with a corrupt campaign-financing system, rotting cities, rampant violence, third-rate schools, a dying industrial base, lagging productivity, crumbling health care, grotesquely overpaid business executives and lawyers, bankrupt savings-and-loans, soul-crushing poverty, disappearing forests, profligate overconsumption of oil, richly padded employees’ expense accounts, and undisciplined voters who yelp whenever they are taxed to pay for the benefits they so insistently demand. A country that stares at the sky through a thinning ozone layer.

So what is everybody scandalized by these days? What is it that has whipped the radio talk shows into a frenzy, the public into an apopolexy, and the press into a feeding frenzy?

And what is Attorney General William Barr having investigated by a special counsel-who is the former GOP judge Barr clerked for, no less?

Why, the great congressional "check-kiting scandal," of course.

This is a scandal in which not one dime of public money was stolen or misappropriated. Nor were more than a handful of "rubber" checks on the House Bank "bounced" or "kited."

The rampant misuse of these words by virtually every mass publication in the country involves more than just loose semantics and flaccid oversimplications reverberating through the echo chamber of pack journalism.

It reflects a reckless lust to pander to public ignorance by hyping humdrum transactions that would sound far less scandalous if they were described as the interest-free overdraft privileges that they in fact were.

A couple of definitions, from Webster’s Third New International Dictionary: "Bounce. . . of a check: to be returned by a bank as no good (as because of lack of funds).”

The Capitals Peculiar Rituals

Richard Allen. Robert Bauman. James Beggs. Peter Bourne. Tony Coelho. Tai Collins. Daniel Crane. Deborah Gore Dean. Raymond Donovan. Fanne Foxe. Newt Gingrich. Stephen Gobie. Thereza Imanishi-Kari. Rita Jenrette. Tim Kraft. Bert Lance. Rita Lavelle. Donald Lukens. Robert McFarlane.

Edwin Meese III. Ozzie Myers. Lyn Nofziger. Oliver North. Theodore Olson. Tom Pappas. Paula Parkinson. Elizabeth Ray. Nancy Reagan. Donna Rice. Gus Savage. Denise Sinner. Gerry Studds. Jim Wright. Joseph Wright Jr. John Zaccaro Jr.

Pop quiz: Try to recall how these people became embroiled in front-page Washington scandal (or what passes for scandal); which of them were accused of crimes; which were convicted; and what became of them. (For answers, see Page 29.)

Then read Scandal: The Crisis of Mistrust in American Politics. It’s a much-needed antidote to the obsession with exposing wrongdoing that has distorted our political culture since Watergate.

Scandal, a new book by former Wall Street Journal columnist Suzanne Garment, is one of the most sensible and readable analyses of our capital’s peculiar rituals ‘in years. Garment argues compellingly that political Washington and its scandal-happy press corps have spent far too much energy chasing tales of corruption, sin, impropriety, and the appearance thereof, and far too little on our deeper problems, which "spring less from individual wrongdoing than from more widespread failures of political will."

It’s a cautionary tale for the self-appointed, often self-righteous guardians of ethical purity whom Garment calls "scandal entrepreneurs." The carefully documented, entertainingly rendered, sometimes deliciously ironic narrative lends weight to Garment’s sobering conclusion: