What the Clin­tons don’t get

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - JONAH GOLDBERG jgold­berg@la­times columnists.com

Ionce had a boss who gave me some great ad­vice, not just for man­ag­ing peo­ple but for judg­ing politi­cians: You for­give mis­takes; you pun­ish pat­terns. Every­body screws up. But if some­one won’t learn from his mis­takes and try to cor­rect his be­hav­ior, then he ei­ther doesn’t think it was a mis­take or he just doesn’t care. The one in­dis­putable take-away from Peter Sch­weizer’s new book, “Clin­ton Cash,” is that Bill and Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton be­long in the lat­ter cat­e­gory.

Let us re­call Marc Rich, a shady bil­lion­aire in­dicted for tax eva­sion and de­fy­ing trade sanc­tions with Iran dur­ing the U.S. hostage cri­sis, Rich fled to Switzer­land to es­cape pros­e­cu­tion.

He hired Jack Quinn, a for­mer Clin­ton White House coun­sel, to lobby the ad­min­is­tra­tion for a par­don. Quinn sought help from then-Deputy Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., who ad­vised Quinn to pe­ti­tion the White House di­rectly — ad­vice Holder later re­gret­ted. On the last day of his pres­i­dency, Bill Clin­ton par­doned Rich.

The en­su­ing scan­dal was enor­mous and bi­par­ti­san. It was widely be­lieved that Rich had bought the par­don. His ex-wife, Denise Rich, had made huge dona­tions to the Demo­cratic Party, in­clud­ing $100,000 to Hil­lary Clin­ton’s Se­nate cam­paign and $450,000 to the foun­da­tion build­ing Bill Clin­ton’s pres­i­den­tial li­brary.

Lib­er­als were in­fu­ri­ated. “You let me down,” wrote the Wash­ing­ton Post’s Richard Co­hen. “It’s a pie in the face of any­one who ever de­fended you. You may look bad, Bill, but we look just plain stupid.”

“It was a real be­trayal by Bill Clin­ton of all who had been strongly sup­port­ive of him to do some­thing this un­jus­ti­fied,” ex­claimed then-Rep. Bar­ney Frank (DMass.). “It was con­temp­tu­ous,” Sen. Pa­trick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) chas­tised. “It was in­ex­cus­able.” New York Times colum­nist Mau­reen Dowd sug­gested Clin­ton had “traded a con­sti­tu­tional power for per­sonal ben­e­fit.” Jimmy Carter all but called it bribery and said it was “dis­grace­ful.”

You can un­der­stand the bit­ter­ness. Democrats had de­fended the Clin­tons through White­wa­ter, Trav­el­gate and Hil­lary Clin­ton’s billing records shenani­gans. They even de­fended Bill Clin­ton when he raised mil­lions in re­elec­tion dona­tions from Chi­nese donors and rented out the Lin­coln bed­room. But this was just too much. Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us half a dozen times….

The Clin­tons said it was all a mis­un­der­stand­ing, which is what they al­ways say. Quinn of­fered the familiar de­fense: “The process I fol­lowed was one of trans­parency.” Bill Clin­ton: “As far as I knew, Marc Rich and his wife were Repub­li­cans.” Hil­lary Clin­ton kept quiet.

Per­son­ally, I think Jimmy Carter was right, which is not some­thing I say of­ten.

But let’s as­sume it re­ally was just a mis­un­der­stand­ing. Wouldn’t a nor­mal per­son — never mind a fam­ily with his­toric am­bi­tions — go to great lengths to avoid even the ap­pear­ance of a re­peat per­for­mance? When Sen. John McCain was un­fairly lumped in with the “Keat­ing Five” in­flu­en­ceped­dling scan­dal, he said the dis­honor was more painful than his five years in a Viet­namese pri­son. He ded­i­cated him­self to demon­strat­ing the sin­cer­ity of his shame, in­clud­ing his decades-long — though in­tel­lec­tu­ally mis­guided — quest to re­form cam­paign fi­nance laws.

There are no al­le­ga­tions of par­dons for sale in Sch­weizer’s book. Af­ter all, Bill Clin­ton had none to sell any­more. But the Rich scan­dal was equally about the wealthy buy­ing ac­cess and in­flu­ence. And though there is no clear proof that Bill Clin­ton il­le­gally sold ac­cess to shady gold-min­ing in­ter­ests in Haiti or ura­nium moguls in Canada, no one this side of long­time Clin­ton de­fender Lanny Davis can dis­pute that the Clin­tons have acted as if they re­ally just didn’t care how it all looked.

As New York mag­a­zine’s Jonathan Chait notes, the “best-case sce­nario” is that the Clin­tons have been “dis­or­ga­nized and greedy.”

The Clin­ton spin on the book is that there’s not a “shred of ev­i­dence” of crim­i­nal wrong­do­ing, or as ABC’s Ge­orge Stephanopou­los help­fully re­peated over the week­end, “there’s no smok­ing gun.” He’s right, but not be­ing a crim­i­nal is a re­mark­ably low bar for a politi­cian, even a Clin­ton.

The stan­dard is that public ser­vants should avoid even the ap­pear­ance of im­pro­pri­ety. But there’s three decades of ev­i­dence that the Clin­tons don’t think it ap­plies to them.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.