First lady Hillary Clinton and White House policy adviser Ira Magaziner have been nailed by a court for their illegal, secret plot to hijack the American health-care system.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth issued a 19-page report last week condemning as “reprehensible” the dishonest work of the health-care task force over which Mrs. Clinton presided.

Magaziner had issued a sworn statement saying only federal government officials were members of the task force and, therefore, the meetings could operate without public scrutiny. So-called “sunshine laws” prevent such secret meetings from taking place when “outsiders” — or non-government people — are present. (I’m not quite sure of the logic, but that’s the law.) In any event, Magaziner lied. And Judge Lamberth, God bless him, called him on it.

“The Executive Branch of the government, working in tandem, was dishonest with this court, and the government must now face the consequences of its misconduct,” the judge said.

Despite Magaziner’s bold claim to the contrary, those present for the meetings included German health-care officials, representatives of various foundations and think-tanks and executives of corporate interests such as Kaiser Permanente. Not to mention Hillary Clinton herself presiding over these meetings with no official government portfolio. When it was convenient to do so, she billed herself as a private citizen. When it was convenient to be considered a federal official, she represented herself as a “full-time volunteer.”

With all that in mind, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons sued the task force for its secret meetings. Still, the White House refused to disclose to the court key information about the meetings, the participants and the interests they represented.

In his decision, Lamberth said he is convinced that Magaziner “intended to deceive the court.” He also recognized that he had received counsel from two interesting sources — Webster Hubbell and the late Vincent Foster.

“It is clear that the decisions here were made at the highest levels of government,” the judge said. “There were no rogue lawyers here misleading the court.”

Interestingly, even when confronted with the truth, the judge found, the administration continued to lie — to cover up. The White House “improperly thwarted … legitimate discovery requests,” as the judge put it. He even found that the Justice Department — surprise, surprise — aided the White House in the scam.

“It seems that some government officials never learn that the cover-up can be worse than the underlying conduct,” he said.

That’s the good news — that someone in authority is blowing the whistle on the Clintons. The bad news is that even when the Clinton administration is nailed as it was in this case, there is really no penalty.

While it’s true the judge fined the government $300,000 for its shady dealings in the health-care task force, that money won’t be paid by any of the offending parties. Instead, it will be paid by you and me.

How does that kind of sanction breed responsibility among government officials? How does that make them more accountable for their actions? It doesn’t.

Worse yet, you know the administration is not going to rebuke those involved at all. What is Bill Clinton going to do to punish Hillary? What is the White House going to do to Magaziner — who was only carrying out the policies established by the first lady?

That’s the trouble with government in general. It’s one of the reasons it is so inefficient. No one ever gets fired. No one ever gets disciplined. And even when government officials go out of their way to display arrogance and abuse their power, there’s still often no personal cost for it.

I guess, ultimately, there’s really only one way to make politicians pay — at the ballot box. But the year 2000 still seems like a long way off.

This story raises some other questions. Why did it take a protracted lawsuit by an interested party to expose this abuse by government? Where were the Fourth Estate “watchdogs” when Hillary Clinton was conducting her secret meetings? Why weren’t the New York Times and CNN suing the government to open up those meetings?

When all the checks and balances built into the American political system fail and where “controlling legal authority” is under question, the press is supposed to be there to keep government honest. Even when exposed by a federal judge as a bunch of liars and cheaters, the media have not made any heroic efforts to hold the Clinton administration accountable for its actions.

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