Editor’s note: This article reflects the personal views of Larry Klayman, chairman and general counsel of Judicial Watch, Inc.
President Bush’s newly acquired interest in ridding the nation of business corruption was not only designed to deflect attention away from his and his vice president’s own past involvement with corporate securities and related accounting capers at Harken Energy, Halliburton, and other assorted companies, but also nicely fits into the overall White House strategy of continuing to “spin” the American people about the professed commitment of the administration to address wrongdoing among the political elite.
For those who closely followed the myriad of scandals of the Clinton era, it may have seemed surprising that, during the 2000 presidential campaign, then-candidate Bush was quick to dismiss their importance when challenging his opponent Al Gore for control of the White House. Interestingly, when the “Tennessee titan” was “exonerated” by then-Attorney General Janet Reno (despite his obvious role in the Chinagate fiasco), Bush conspicuously failed to pounce on the opportunity to blast the obvious Justice Department cover-up of perhaps the most significant Clinton-Gore scam. He told a malleable electorate:
While it’s clear that Al Gore engaged in a number of questionable fundraising activities and gave the FBI statements that continue to raise the issue of credibility, the American people are sick and tired of all these scandals and investigations. The best way to put all these scandals and investigations behind us is to elect someone new. I’m running to uphold the honor and dignity of the White House.
Later, at the Republican National Convention, he again passed up the chance to make a point of the corruption of the Clinton-Gore administration, causing conservative New York Times columnist William Safire to observe:
The Yale graduate and child of privilege assumed, Jimmy Carter style, a hardscrabble pose to assert that his “background may lack the polish of Washington.” And then, following a focus group distaste for controversy, he dissociated himself from all investigations into Clinton-Gore scandals, including illegal fundraising: “I have no stake in the bitter arguments of the last few years.” Republicans on the unpopular ramparts of the rule of law were coolly informed he preferred “civility and respect.”
In the days leading up to the election, Bush would later issue other statements signaling then-Independent Counsel Robert Ray to pardon Bill Clinton over the Whitewater and Lewinsky scandals, emphasizing that it was time to “move on.” And, when it became apparent that the Arkansas hustler and his erstwhile wife had sold pardons, taken public property and allowed their staffs to vandalize the White House on their way out the door at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the Texan had little problem with this behavior, adding, at least with regard to the purloined White House property, that he thought the Clintons would do the “right thing.”
The diffidence of the “president to be” seemed to some like good politics at the time: “Take the high road,” many would advise. Allow others, particularly public-interest lawyers and conservative media critics, “to dirty their hands” by prosecuting and publicizing the corrupt morass that Al Gore found himself trapped in. Indeed, Bush and Cheney were elected with a mandate to clean up the cesspool of Washington politics. Polls immediately following the election showed that a whopping 44 percent of the voters pulled the lever for the Republican duo as a reaction to the scandals of the past eight years, not because of Bush’s intellectual acumen, policies or requisite experience to be president. They simply would not have been elected in such a close election without these voters.
But now that Bush’s and Cheney’s own past ethical peccadilloes are finally coming into public consciousness, many Americans are beginning to understand the primary reason for G.W.’s magnanimity toward Clinton and Gore. Exploit the criminality of his Democrat opponents, and order a new Bush Justice Department to enforce the rule of law, and be prepared for “mutual assured political destruction.” This was the calculation of Karl Rove and company, Bush’s equivalent of Clinton adviser Dick Morris. The two major political interests obviously agreed on a truce. Early photographs of the Bushes and Clintons getting along famously over tea at the White House, as the new first couple prepared to ascend to the throne, were not as pro forma as they may have appeared at the time.
But life, particularly in the nation’s capital, with its teeming masses of scandal-mongering investigative reporters and public-interest groups bent on promoting government ethics, is not so simple. It was only a matter of time that the true story about Bush and Cheney would emerge – with or without Democrat help. And, like any good “price fixing arrangement,” eventually the co-conspirators – in this case the back-scratching Democratic and Republican parties – will cheat.
This helps explain why top Democrats – seizing the opportunity to bring down the huge popularity ratings of the administration that flow naturally from the revival of national pride in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy – are now hypocritically ripping into the poor business ethics of Bush and Cheney as they prepare to take back total control of Congress this year, and ready themselves for the presidential elections in 2004.
By not coming clean and owning up to their past business and other failings, and by not holding Clinton and Gore accountable for their scandalous behavior, Bush’s surrender to actually enforcing ethics has created the political conditions which will likely sow the seeds for a Democrat congressional victory in the fall. And, then, Bush will have only his league of what King Louis XIV would have called his (conservative) “minions” – who have flattered the president into actually believing that he is a great political tactician and leader – to blame.
If Bush does not finally move beyond rhetoric and make a real and concerted effort to clean up corruption in his own casa blanca, as well as the homes of others in the political and business establishments, and prosecute these violators of the public’s trust, his days as the prima donna of the privileged elite of Washington, D.C., are likely numbered. Couple this with virtual certainty that Bush will ultimately be blamed if there are a series of additional terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, and he faces a real challenge to remain in office beyond 2004.