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The great press awakening

Clinton’s poll numbers are diving. It’s not just Rep. Bob Barr talking impeachment these days, it’s Tim Russert and Tom Brokaw. Even George Stephanopoulos and Leon Panetta are distancing themselves from the Tailgate scandal and preparing for a soft post-Clinton landing.

It’s difficult to imagine how even the most resilient president in American history can survive this, the worst crisis of his administration. It will take an extraordinary measure of incompetence and/of malfeasance by both Congress and Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr to blow the case against Clinton. Of course, we’ve witnessed extraordinary incompetence and malfeasance by both before.

Nevertheless, the real question is whether the latest sex, perjury and abuse-of-power scandal leads the public and press to re-examine some even bigger Clinton administration scandals of the past. While Clinton is busy defending the indefensible, will the media finally begin thinking the unthinkable?

What am I talking about?

Let’s start with Filegate. Even when confronted with the fact that White House employees misused thousands of FBI files, the establishment press never considered the magnitude of this scandal – this unprecedented civil rights abuse and violation of the law. Now that it has become clear that Bill Clinton was so reckless in his personal behavior as to risk his presidency for a quickie in a back room at the White House, will reporters take another look at Filegate?

Then there’s the politicization of the IRS. Tomorrow, I will be meeting with the staff of Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation to discuss this issue – as both one of the many victims of it as well as the person who blew the whistle on the broad pattern of abuse. Not only have countless individual “enemies” of the Clinton administration been audited, but dozens of non-profit organizations as well. Is this an opportunity to persuade the skeptical that this administration not only had the means, the motive, the opportunity, but also the inclination to do whatever was necessary to preserve power?

How about Paula Jones? Her case for sexual harassment by Bill Clinton certainly has been strengthened by the latest revelations. On one of the tapes made by Linda Tripp, Monica Lewinsky reportedly relates that the president told her he could not settle the Jones case because hundreds of other women might come forward looking for settlements of their own. Think of it – hundreds! Sexual harassment, as experts on the subject will tell you, is a two-way street. Not only is it defined by victims who are threatened by those in power positions, it is also defined by those who are rewarded for succumbing to them. Clearly, that seems to be what happened to Monica Lewinsky, who got a high-security job after becoming involved with the president.

Foreign influence and campaign-finance violations? It was once unthinkable for many that the Clinton administration might have given China preferential treatment in exchange for funneling laundered money into the 1996 presidential campaign. There’s plenty of evidence that it happened. But few could actually believe that a president would sell out his country for his own personal gain. Could such an argument still be made in light of Tailgate?

The Vincent Foster cover-up? Despite the whitewash of the evidence by Starr, literally hundreds of questions about the deputy counsel’s death remain unanswered. Investigative reporter Christopher Ruddy, responsible for raising most of those questions, has been pilloried not only by the establishment press but even by many Clinton critics. Have any eyes been opened by the latest cover-up attempt? Aren’t there some striking parallels in the White House strategy of denial, obfuscation and attacking the messenger?

The Ron Brown death? There is compelling physical evidence that the Commerce secretary was shot, either before, during or after his plane crashed in Croatia. Instead of objectively reviewing that evidence, the administration has covered it up, issued gag orders on those who made it public and systematically ridiculed and attacked those who aided the whistleblowers. Is that a logical way for an administration to react to new details about the death of one of its own? Will the Tailgate scandal allow for more reasoned discussion and exploration of the case? Or will it simply be overwhelmed and swept aside by a more salacious scandal?

There are many, many more scandals from Clinton’s past that should get another look, now that the nation is beginning to understand the president’s profound character flaws.

The Watergate scandal began as a simple, third-rate burglary. It escalated into a major cover-up, complete with official obstruction of justice. Eventually, Watergate simply became the codeword for wide-ranging Nixon administration abuses of power – from the “plumbers” operation to attempted political manipulation the IRS to domestic spying operations.

Like the Watergate burglary, Tailgate is a scandal easily understood by the American people. There’s a political danger in trying to complicate it by raising more esoteric issues. On the other hand, it’s dangerous to ignore the broader abuse-of-power questions that have been raised about the Clinton administration during the last five years.

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