Jewish World Review Feb. 22, 2002 / 10 Adar, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- ABOUT that House panel report on the scores of unreported presents and dozens of undervalued gifts that left the White House along with Bill and Hillary Clinton:
Ex-president Bill Clinton's office calls the investigation "blatantly partisan." Given the impeccable (unimpeachable?) source, this must be true.
New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's office says the investigation cost "far more than the American people want to pay during this time of deficits and urgent national needs." This is not only a brilliant point, but shows an obviously sincere concern for the American pocketbook that should elicit grateful sighs of relief across the land.
Meanwhile, former Clinton White House spokesman Joe Lockhart knows a conspiracy when he sees one, declaring that that the "the core right-wing of the Republican Party is refusing to let go of an issue that was fully resolved last year." With this dispassionately reasoned observation, Mr. Lockhart has nullified all evidence to the contrary.
But maybe it was Sen. Clinton herself who put it best when she told the New York Post, "I don't why anybody is still talking about this. You know, we followed every, single law."
And they did. So what if it was the law of the jungle (possession is nine-tenths of the law), the law of the schoolyard (finders-keepers), and the law of the chiseler (what they don't know won't hurt them)? They followed every single one of them. The result was a perfectly wretched interlude in American history known as Giftgate -- a.k.a. the Great Gravy Train Robbery, the White House Heist, and the Sack of Home -- when Bill and Hillary Clinton left office with hundreds of thousands of dollars in furniture, clothing, jewelry and other luxury items to help them get their start in non-presidential life.
Such "gifts" included $50,000 worth of furnishings that belonged to the White House, which the Clintons had to return, and some $86,000 worth of housewares for which the couple ultimately said they would pay. This, as their respective offices have said, would avoid any appearance of impropriety.
The time to avoid impropriety's appearance, however, is long before the red-handed stage. To ensure the cleanliness of future presidential paws, a Congressional panel led by Rep. Doug Ose (California Republican) is now calling for legislation to tighten the rules on presidential gifts and pare down the number of agencies with jurisdiction over them from six to one -- the National Archive. This, as we have been told, is an issue only a blatantly partisan, deficit-defying, national-need-ignoring, ring-wing core could care two fish knives about.
For what, as the Clintons (or their offices) might say, is $361,968 in gifts among friends? This is the value House investigators placed on the total Clinton haul. Or, to break it down a little, what's $38,617 worth of mighty fine tableware from friends to a senator-elect? This is what investigators discovered Mrs. Clinton received during the last month of 2000 through a bridal-style Internet registry established at Borsheim's Fine Jewelry and Gifts in Omaha. And why not? The Senate rules Mrs. Clinton became subject to in January, 2001, stipulate that donors may spend no more than $100 on gifts per senator annually (at no more than $50 a shot). That means the trove of silver and china Mrs. Clinton amassed from 11 donors in December, 2000 -- the month in which she also received a book advance that made her a millionaire eight times over -- would have taken roughly 35 years, give or take a $150 fish knife in the Grand Duchess pattern she selected.
Investigators say the Clintons may have depressed the value of many gifts to avoid the rule requiring presidents to report tchotchkes worth more than $250, and later, $260. But maybe they really did believe a suit by Yves Saint Lauren could cost $249, a dollar below what was then the reporting threshold, or that a large Coach travel bag valued between $498 and $698 could actually go for 60 to 75 percent off the retail price. Meanwhile, who among us could possibly remember to report a pair of Lennox crystal bowls worth roughly $50,000?
Certainly not people preparing to launch a post-presidency and a senate career in style. Such rules just get in their way. When they trip, the only thing to do is to pony up and call everyone a partisan for having noticed. But that doesn't do anything about cutting away the source of that lingering odor. Maybe that's what the fish knives are really
JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.