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Jewish World ReviewFeb. 27, 2001 / 4 Adar, 5761

Roger Simon

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This Clintoon circle member said 'no' -- THE guy sitting next to me at the dinner party is a friend of Bill Clinton. He tells me what he does for a living -- it seems to involve owning large objects like city blocks -- which he has in common with many friends of Bill: They have big dough.

And they gave chunks of that dough to Bill's last campaign, to Hillary's last campaign, to the defense fund, to the recount fund, to the library fund, to the Democratic National Committee ... you name it.

What he got in return was Bill's friendship, a chance to hang around with Elvis.

This was no small thing -- it gave him a certain status that mere money could not -- and, to tell the truth, he didn't miss the money. How many cars can you buy? How many boats, how many airplanes?

People who believe that money can't buy friendship probably don't have enough money to really find out. Clinton was happy to pal around with lots of rich people.

To be sure, he had friends who were not rich, but most of them he met long ago, before he was a mega-star.

After he got elected to the presidency, the people he hung out with were people who could afford to spend a few hundred thousand dollars to get invited to the White House, to a state dinner or to a fund-raiser where Bill would sit and talk to them.

The only thing they had to do in return to stay on the shmooze-list was to give more money.

Until it came to the last weeks of the Clinton presidency, when many of them got involved in seeking pardons.

You didn't help anybody get a pardon, did you? I ask the guy seated next to me.

"No," the guy says. "I was approached. But I said no."

You were approached? Really?

"Oh, sure," he said. "We all were."

By "all" he means all those people who were known to be close to Clinton. Some of them were friends, some of them were relatives and most of them now seem to be bad news.

Clinton was concerned about his "legacy" to the nation from the day he began his second term.

He needn't have worried. His legacy is clear: scandal -- more and more scandal.

You'd think a guy who was accused of as many dirty deals in office as he was would have liked to leave with a clean slate.

But it seems Clinton could not help himself. He pardoned people who should not have been pardoned, and after he was approached by people who should not have been approaching him.

What I find most striking about this scandal is how few Democrats, how few friends, are willing to defend him. In the past, he could always count on his closest buddies to go on TV and say a good word about him, and dirty up his accusers.

Not now.

Bill Daley was Clinton's commerce secretary, his golf buddy and Al Gore's campaign chairman. Here is what Daley said recently about the Clinton pardons: ''It's terrible, devastating, and it's rather appalling. Bush ran on bringing dignity back, and I think the actions by Clinton of the last couple of weeks are giving him a pretty good platform.''

You don't get any more devastating than that.

OK, so how about James Carville, Clinton's most reliable friend and attack dog?

Here is what Carville told NBC recently: "I'm not here to defend a hundred and -- however many pardons there were, because I don't know all of the circumstances, but what I am saying is that when I think the president made these decisions, he was doing what he thought was in the best interests of the country. I mean, we can look in retrospect and say, maybe we would've done this different or maybe we would've done that different, but that's OK, because this is a policy dispute that we're having here, as opposed to an idiotic sexual dispute."

If that's all the defense Clinton can get from Carville -- "I'm not here to defend ..." -- then that is a very bad sign for him.

Does Clinton knows he has booted it? Probably not. He has come back from so many disasters, he probably figures he is invulnerable and immortal.

As historian Douglas Brinkley recently said, "Even when he dies, we better make sure the coffin's nailed shut."

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