In the cloud of euphoria that accompanied Bill Clinton to the White House
seven years ago, he made a high-minded prediction about the extreme ethical
nature soon to be revealed to the country by his administration. Never, he
promised, had America seen such honest people.
The years have rolled on, and not even counting his “is-is,” impeachment
and other scandals, there are not many people left who’d consider Mr.
Clinton an even remotely honest man. It just doesn’t seem to be in his
nature to tell the truth. He opens his mouth and out come descriptions of
the world the way he’d ardently like it to be. The curious thing is that he
never seems self-conscious or rattled when he delivers these elaborate
fictions. But it would be rash to believe the fictions completely the way
they come out of his mouth.
Mr. Clinton as well as Vice President Al Gore were key players in the
1996 Democratic fund-raising scheme designed to “raise money by whatever
means and from whomever would give it, without meaningful attention to the
lawfulness of the contributions.”
This is perhaps the most startling passage in the just released 94-page
report from the House Government Reform Committee — itself one of 60
documents in a 1,000-page compilation. This 94-page report is by Charles
LaBella, former chief of the Justice Department’s campaign finance task
force, who recommended in his report back in July 1998 that Attorney General
Janet Reno seek an independent counsel to look into fund-raising abuses.
Mr. LaBella, a career prosecutor, concluded that “the intentional
misconduct and willful ignorance uncovered by our investigations resulted in
a situation where abuse was rampant, and indeed the norm. At some point, the
campaign was so corrupted by bloated fund-raising and questionable
contributions that the system became a caricature of itself.” Other persons
in attendance at fund-raising meetings presided over by Mr. Gore included
former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta and respected Democratic
elder Robert Strauss. Both Mr. Panetta and Mr. Strauss agreed that raising
“hard money” for the DNC was discussed at the meeting. Mr. Panetta, indeed,
observed that the vice-president was “very attentive” during the meeting.
Now on the all-important question of whether or not our witnesses for the
prosecution were “very attentive” hangs the key factor of iced tea. The
vice-president had told lawyers he didn’t remember much about the meeting
under discussion, but he did remember ingesting vast quantities of iced tea
— at least a pitcher’s worth. He confessed that at some point he had to
hasten out to the men’s room to relieve the pressure on his bladder. He
later estimated that the interval necessary for this bodily function was
half an hour, the men’s room being presumably at some considerable distance.
Among the committee’s documents was also a November 1997 memo from FBI
director Louis Freeh, describing Mr. Gore as an “active participant” in
these questionable Democratic fund-raising efforts, and calling on the
attorney general to seek the appointment of an independent counsel — to
investigate campaign finance abuses by the vice president.
“The evidence tends to show that the vice-president was an active
participant in the ‘core group’ fund-raising efforts,” wrote Mr.Freeh, “also
that he was informed about the distinctions between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ money,
and also that he generally understood there were legal restrictions against
making telephone solicitations from federal property.”
But Mr. Gore, repeatedly claiming “no controlling legal authority,” has
firmly stated that he was soliciting only soft-money donations. Documents,
however, show that both hard and soft money were discussed at meetings and
that at least 35 percent of the donations Mr. Gore sought went to hard-money
The Freeh memo said the FBI’s campaign-finance investigation focused on
accusations that the “core group” of White House and Democratic National
Committee officials, including Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore, were involved in an
“all-out effort” to raise money.
“The task force has now established that the vice president made
approximately 86 fund-raising calls from his West Wing office and reached at
least 43 potential donors,” Mr. Freeh added in his report. He described,
further, a decision by Miss Reno not to seek outside counsel based on Mr.
Gore’s assurances that he intended to solicit only “soft” money. This, Mr.
Freeh considered “seriously flawed,” in the face of compelling evidence that
the vice president is a highly active, sophisticated fund-raiser who knew
exactly what he was doing. His own self-exculpatory statements must not be
given undue weight,” he felt.
Mr. LaBella noted in his report that Mr. Gore had received a series of
memos from White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes, now running
Hillary Clinton’s New York campaign for the U.S. Senate. Mr. LaBella
describes Mr. Ickes as a Svengali, assuming power — with the imprimatur of
the President — to authorize DNC and the Clinton/Gore campaign
expenditures. Curiously, though considered a great policy “wonk,” the vice
president claims he never read the Ickes memos. Moreover, he claims he
doesn’t recall any group meetings — the iced tea defense not having yet
Examined at leisure well after the incident, the Gore account reveals to
the linguistic scholar a meaning of “lie” at considerable variance from the
way the word is used by our president. Mr. Gore lies like a beginner,
stiffly, clumsily, self-consciously, his very delivery attracting suspicion.
Whereas with our president — if one has ever come into close contact with
him — lies flow as the gentle rain from heaven. They soothe and refresh
and, sinking into the grateful earth of summer, give birth to the ever more
rich and luxuriant lies from which our great statesmen come.