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Let’s dropkick the spin and say it loud: Two major problems have emerged for democratic icons Bill Clinton and Jesse Jackson.

Both men are under intense scrutiny for financial dealings, and both could be staring at some rough cross-examinations. That is if anyone in our government ever bothers to investigate.

Consider the former president’s predicament first. His liability is fairly easy to understand. He gave a pardon to fugitive Marc Rich after his library fund received $450,000 dollars from Rich’s ex-wife, Denise. And a friend of Denise Rich, Beth Dozoretz, pledged to raise another million for Clinton’s fund. Both Ms. Rich and Ms. Dozoretz are pleading the fifth.

The federal criminal code (18 U.S.C. 201c) states, “As applied to donors, the gratuity law prohibits giving or offering to a public official anything of value for or because of any official act performed or about to be performed.” That is why our friends Denise and Beth are exercising their fifth-amendment rights.

The code goes on to read, “As applied to public officials, the gratuity law makes illegal a public official’s seeking or accepting, personally, anything of value, for or because of any past or future political act.” Hey, Bill Clinton, did you say you were going to pay your office rent in New York City with some of that library money? Uh-oh.

Now, Mr. Clinton’s legal defense fund organization has a lot of experience keeping ol’ Bill out of handcuffs, and I’m sure it could hire a lawyer who would say that the former president did not personally accept his library fund donations. But I believe a jury might not like that explanation since Mr. Clinton has unlimited access to those funds.

Clinton also has stated that he gave Marc Rich a pardon based on the merits of the case. But this is really a howler. The Justice Department is furious, all of Clinton’s advisers told him not to do it, and Rich is an unrepentant tax cheat. Perry Mason wouldn’t even need a full hour to get a conviction here, in my humble opinion.

As for Jesse Jackson, his situation is even more precarious than the one facing Mr. Clinton.

Jackson runs a tax-exempt organization called “The Citizenship Education Fund.” In 1998 and 1999, the Fund received about $12 million dollars in donations primarily from big corporations. Yet, on its 1999 tax form, no employee of the CEF is listed as making more than $50,000 a year. However, some of us wretched journalists discovered that Jackson’s mistress, Karin Stanford, was paid $120,000 by the CEF in 1999. Uh-oh, again.

Jackson’s financial officer, Billy R. Owens, told the press there is a “high probability” that CEF will have to amend that tax return. Mr. Owens also stated that Ms. Stanford gave just two days’ notice before quitting her big-bucks job and that the CEF paid her moving expenses to leave Chicago. I’m sure millions of Americans have gotten moving expenses after quitting their jobs — I just can’t think of any right at this moment.

By the way, and just coincidentally, Ms. Stanford was in the process of having Jesse Jackson’s child at the time.

Jackson says all this erroneous tax reporting was just an “oversight.” And it is true that he was extremely busy at the time, if you know what I mean.

He is now ready to make any amendments there are to make. Of course all the amending is taking place after the press dug up all this stuff. It is good to know where all these tax-exempt dollars are going isn’t it?

Obviously, the IRS should be all over Jesse Jackson but so far that feared agency hasn’t had time to look into any of this, at least according to Billy Owens. Another example of how quick our government is to investigate possible corruption among the powerful.

So there you have it. Bill Clinton and Jesse Jackson in deep trouble. Or at least they should be. However, this is America in the year 2001. A time when “moving on” is in vogue. A time when many Americans can’t quite figure out what the big deal is here. A possible pardon for money? Tax-exempt funds used to hush up an affair? So what? This is America — and contemporary America is indeed the land of opportunity.

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