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Dirty tricks and Clinton's enemies list

Back in 1994, when my office was burglarized in what local police described as a “professional job” in which strangely nothing was stolen, I strongly suspected it might have something to do with the high-profile work our news agency was doing investigating scandals within the Clinton administration. I didn’t make any accusations, however, because I wasn’t even certain the White House had noticed what we were doing.

Much later, after congressional investigators released task memos written in the White House counsel’s office in 1994 that targeted my group specifically, my suspicions deepened.

A few months later still when I learned that the White House had been circulating to select journalists a 331-page report again targeting me personally, my Western Journalism Center and a handful of other media outlets, my doubts lessened still.

Last year, when an Internal Revenue Service agent announced that my group was going to be audited and demanded to know why we had embarked on an investigation into the death of White House deputy counsel Vincent W. Foster Jr., my doubts were nearly eliminated. I thought even more about the break-in, the way our voice-mail system was hacked and about how surveillance experts determined that my home and office phones had been tapped during the previous two years when that same agent declared that the audit was “political” and that the decision about our fate would be made “at the national office.”

Any remaining doubts I had that this administration was both capable and willing to resort to such dirty tricks and illegal activity were erased in the last two weeks by two stunning developments.

The first was the IRS response to the Western Journalism Center’s Freedom of Information Act request for our case file. The IRS gave us a heavily redacted file missing all IRS paperwork save the final report clearing us of any wrongdoing and extending our tax-exempt status. In addition, the agency enclosed a cryptic letter explaining that other documents were being withheld because they involved “inter-agency” memos and “government privilege.”

The second development was what I learned about the experiences of Cindy Hays, director of the Paula Jones Legal Fund. In objecting to a request from President Clinton’s lawyer, Bob Bennett, for a list of donors to the fund, Hays explained that “confidential donors to the Paula Jones Legal Fund … reasonably can fear reprisal if its discovery is had.” Why would they have such fears?

In her sworn declaration filed in court about two weeks ago, Hays described what her group has been through — break-ins, wiretaps, stolen files and tampering with the office burglar alarm system. She also described the way her phone lines would go dead for five or 10 seconds at a time — an unexplained phenomenon identical to one we experienced in our office for months beginning well over a year ago.

In addition, I can back Hays’ concern about the intimidation of donors as well-grounded. At least one of our major contributors was threatened by no less than a Cabinet secretary to stop supporting the center.

Can you imagine such activity directed at those on President Nixon’s enemies list going practically unreported and unnoticed by the establishment press? Can you imagine there being no controlling legal authority to investigate such abuses? Can you imagine not one congressional committee having the cojones to interview the targets of such dirty tricks?

Look how far America has come. Where are the checks and balances? Where are the watchdogs? Where is the American Civil Liberties Union when you really need it?

I’ve got news for anyone who believes that police-state tactics are impossible in 1997 America. Not only is evidence accumulating that they are being used at the highest levels of the federal government, the abuses are going unpunished. It’s as if they never happened. There’s no accountability.

We have entered an extremely dangerous period of American history. Abuse of power is rampant. The very character of our country is threatened. And almost no one is even talking about it.

Recently, my good friend and colleague Christopher Ruddy, whose excellent new book, “The Strange Death of Vincent Foster,” is close to cracking The New York Times best-seller list despite a near total media blackout, got his first appearance on national television thanks to Chris Matthews of CNBC. But the deck was so stacked against Ruddy, with the moderator joined by two other critics, that the investigative reporter was virtually unable to complete a sentence uninterrupted.

Is all this part of some vast conspiracy? I’m afraid it’s worse than that. My sources in Congress and at the highest levels of the establishment press say, more than anything else, it’s fear that shrouds us all in this cloak of secrecy. Fear. In America. In 1997. Imagine that.