President Clinton’s first act after being sworn in Jan. 20, 1993, was issuing an executive order establishing what he characterized as “the most ethical administration in American history.”

His top aides would be banned from lobbying any agency of the U.S. government for five years after leaving office, he said. They would be forever barred from lobbying on behalf of any foreign government.

Clinton took that action less than half an hour after he was sworn in. That’s how important it was. He got a big public relations boost from the action and from his accompanying claim that he wanted to “send a signal that we are going to change politics as usual.”

Clinton’s arrogant boast of creating “the most ethical administration” quickly became a joke to those of us who followed the criminal and sub-criminal activities of the president himself and many of his top officials. But the real punch line came during the holidays.

When Clinton thought no one was watching — while Americans were focused on family and holiday activities and not paying much attention to the news — he revoked his first executive order and lifted the phony ban on the future lobbying activities of his administration’s top officials.

White House mouthpiece Jake Siewert explained, in his usual disingenuous way, that the order was no longer needed because there wasn’t much question of Clinton appointees exerting influence with members of President Bush’s incoming administration.

White House Counsel Beth Nolan went further: “The main policies underlying the executive order no longer apply when there is a change of parties at the White House. Because special access is no longer a concern, the special measures contained in the executive order are no longer necessary.”

Do you believe this nonsense? First of all, there is more to the federal government than the executive branch. Second, influence peddling in Washington has always been a bipartisan scandal. Third, what about the foreign lobbying? And fourth, if what Nolan and Siewert said is true, and special access considerations are no longer a concern, why take any action at all? Why was it necessary to revoke the executive order?

The truth of this action is this: Clinton is getting ready to cash in on his eight years feeding at the public trough, and he is setting the stage to allow his cronies to get their share of the action, too — just as we always knew they would.

“For him to set a higher standard and then quietly remove it at the end of his administration is not just appalling, it’s breathtaking,” said Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity.

I’ll second that comment. Just when you think Clinton could no longer do anything to shock you, he finds a new depth of hypocrisy to plumb.

“It’s just plain outrageous but I guess it’s not surprising given that it’s Clinton and given all the things he has done,” added Lewis.

What can be done about this? I’m not confident much of anything. But I’ll tell you what should be done. The incoming Bush administration should impose its own ban on lobbying contacts from the former Clinton administration once the transition is complete. Will Bush do it? I doubt it. The magnanimous spirit of bipartisanship infects the incoming administration from top to bottom.

There’s a lot of talk these days about the need to restore respect for government institutions. Personally, I think it’s healthy that many Americans distrust government. I would prefer to see even more Americans distrust government. But how in the world are Americans expected to respect government service and government institutions when the revolving door of influence peddling continues so flagrantly?

I want you to know, America, that Clinton has, once again, insulted your intelligence with this stroke of the pen. He thinks you aren’t watching. He thinks you aren’t paying attention. He thinks you don’t care. He thinks you won’t or can’t make him pay a price for this arrogance and for his eight years of criminal reign.

I ask you, especially those who have criticized me for my skepticism of the incoming Bush administration, to use your influence with the new regime. Persuade Bush’s officials to punish the abuses of the last eight years. Convince them to bar the collaborators from public service in the new administration and from using their influence and access as lobbyists.

Clearly, the lesson of Clinton’s first executive order is that promises from politicians don’t mean much. Action is what counts. Let’s demand action from the Bush administration, not promises.

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