Editor’s Note: Jon’s column now appears every Friday.

What is it about the Clinton-era campaign finance scandals that leaders from both major parties don’t want revealed? That’s the most pertinent question any American can ask in politics right now, mostly because of the recent behavior of President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Both men are refusing to provide Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., chairman of the House Government Reform Oversight Committee, a couple dozen Justice Department documents related to alleged Democratic fundraising abuses from the 1996 campaign.

“Burton is seeking more than 12 sets of internal documents from Justice, including several related to probes of alleged Democratic fundraising abuses during the 1996 presidential campaign,” The Washington Post reported Thursday.

“The rest are connected to the FBI’s controversial handling of mob informants in Boston,” the paper said.

Understand that Burton is behaving characteristically. He was a thorn in the side of the Clinton administration and the Clinton Justice Department under Janet Reno, constantly pressing the administration and Justice to provide documents he requested and to come clean about what really happened during the 1992 and 1996 campaigns. So essentially, he’s just asking for stuff he never got – only now, he’s asking different players – players who weren’t around when the laws were being broken.

Clinton and Reno were Democrats, so even though it is angering to see any administration denying any member of Congress the ability to do his or her job, it’s understandable politically when it’s a Republican doing the probing. But it is just plain weird to see a Republican administration behaving the same way toward one of their own – when there is no clear reason to behave that way. If anything, Bush and Ashcroft should be going out of their way to provide this information to Burton.

But, instead, Ashcroft is playing Reno – even though Ashcroft chided Reno for the exact same behavior while he was still a Republican senator – and Bush is playing Clinton, vowing to use “executive privilege” to block the release of the documents Burton is seeking.

The Post said Bush, at the advice of his counsel, Albert Gonzales, Jr., is “preparing to invoke executive privilege – a doctrine allowing presidents to protect internal discussions from becoming public.” So it seems to me that come hell or high water, Burton isn’t getting what he is asking for – unless he takes a dozen Capitol Police officers with him and goes and gets them himself.

Burton has every reason to be hacked off at the administration. The Bush White House and the Ashcroft Justice Department is stonewalling him just like the Clinton administration stonewalled him. The question – since Bush and Ashcroft allegedly had nothing to do with Clinton’s campaign finance violations – is why?

Bush was supposed to usher in a new era of morality and accountability in government. He went out of his way to point out these inequities within the Clinton-Gore administration during his campaign.

If he can’t be up front about scandals in which he played no part, how in the hell can we trust him to run an honest administration of his own?


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