I actually had some conversations with thoughtful people in the last week in which we discussed the possibility that Attorney General Stonewall Reno might have had enough. Maybe — just maybe — we mused, Reno might shock everyone and turn over the investigation of her boss to an independent counsel, sit back and smile and let nature take its course.

After all, how long could anyone in such a position allow herself to be used? Hadn’t she been disgraced enough by the White House? Wasn’t it likely that she had an ounce of pride and dignity left? Would she want to be remembered as the most political attorney general in American history? Since she is obviously not well, wasn’t it likely she would want to go home to Florida with her head held high?

But, with this administration, it’s always a safe bet to expect the worst — and that’s what we got Monday with her decision not to name an independent counsel to investigate President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore for campaign finance violations. Remember, this is the woman who reportedly begged like a dog to keep her job after the 1996 election. What was her asking price? I think we’ve just witnessed the payoff.

We should have expected it all along. But forgive me for still being hopeful that even people who share criminal culpability — as many Watergate whistleblowers did — could still turn around, do the right thing, even if it was for the wrong reasons.

The difference in Watergate, of course, was that people in the administration were trying to save their own skins. The perception Clinton cronies have is that it is far safer not to jump ship, as Ron Brown did, as Vince Foster might have done, as David Hale did, as the Arkansas troopers did, as Paula Jones did, etc., etc. Without an independent judiciary, without a gutsy independent counsel, without a watchdog press and without a courageous Congress committed to the truth even if it hurts, Clinton is going to walk away from what even my 11-year-old children can understand is treason — pure and simple.

I don’t really care about the fund-raising calls Clinton and Gore made from their government offices. That’s penny-ante stuff. What I do care about is the selling of America’s vital interests, our national security and our country’s very soul to a hostile foreign power for campaign contributions.

It appears even the very political FBI Director Louis Freeh has had enough of the cover-up. He undoubtedly fears for his legacy. How public he goes with his criticism of this decision will reveal whether he also fears more for his legacy or for his life.

That’s right. The stakes are high. The cover-up has reached massive proportions. And there are lots of dirty people in Washington. What else could explain the business-as-usual atmosphere in Congress? Newt Gingrich’s willingness to stand by as Clinton betrays everything for which America has stood for 200 years? Trent Lott’s disappearance from public view and the fact that only a handful of congressmen have sponsored an impeachment inquiry?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We won’t recognize this country in the year 2000 unless action is taken to challenge this administration’s unspeakable corruption and abuse of power.

Well, here’s another test for the system. Janet Reno has challenged Congress. By accepting her decision passively, the House and Senate leadership will be as responsible as she is for emboldening the White House to continue the war on its enemies, to politicize every government agency within its grasp, to sell public policy to the highest bidder.

Janet Reno sold her soul long ago when she sent those tanks and SWAT teams to Waco, Texas, and incinerated innocent men, women and children who were no threat to anyone. She should have been impeached for that offense. By letting her off the hook then, Congress itself made this latest outrage inevitable.

If this doesn’t stir Congress to impeachment — of Reno first, Clinton second and Gore third — then, my friends, we don’t have an independent Congress. What we have is a one-party system and a legislative branch of the White House. The American political system is going down the tubes faster than I ever imagined it could.

I hate to think that the fate of our nation — the greatest experiment ever in limited constitutional government — right now rests in the hands of men like Gingrich and Lott, men who have yet to demonstrate any integrity, any responsibility, any sense of historical perspective. It’s scary and tragic.

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