Jewish World Review March 16, 2000 /9 Adar II, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- A FEW DAYS after the Los Angeles Times reported on the revolt at the Department of Justice against Attorney General Janet Reno for covering up the vice president's apparently criminal behavior, New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote: "Thank G-d for Janet Reno."
The L.A. Times had unearthed a long-suppressed internal memo written by the Justice Department's former chief campaign finance investigator, in which he denounced Reno for legal "contortions," "gamesmanship" and being "intellectually dishonest" in refusing to appoint an independent prosecutor regarding Vice President Al Gore's felonious fund raising.
Paradoxically, the memo's author, Charles LaBella, had been brought to the job by Reno herself -- precisely in order to satisfy burgeoning criticism that she was blocking criminal investigations of her bosses at the White House.
But it turned out that LaBella was not willing to play Reno's fig leaf. When she continued her stonewall, in open disregard of the law and the facts, LaBella left Washington in disgust. But not before writing a 94-page expose, harshly criticizing Reno for obstinately refusing an investigation of the vice president, in particular. "Thank you, Ms. Reno," Collins writes. "We owe you one."
As the pompous, know-it-all Collins explained the issue: "There's an old law barring federal employees from soliciting campaign contributions in federal buildings. Nobody's sure if it applies to the vice president, but if Mr. Gore had gone outdoors and used the family cell phone, we would not be having this conversation."
That last sentence makes as much sense as saying: "If the flasher had gone indoors and dropped his pants alone in his apartment, we would not be having this conversation."
Moreover, the only person who questions whether the law "applies to" the vice president is the vice president -- but only in the sense that the entire administration questions whether any laws apply to it.
The law itself quite lucidly states that it is a felony for "any person to solicit ... any (federal campaign) contribution in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties by any (person who is paid by the government)." Even Janet Reno has not thought of advancing the argument that the "any person" in that sentence excludes Al Gore.
Not to question the valuable legal insights of schoolmarm Collins (who regularly addresses her readers with the classic spinster trope: "People, ..."), but every White House counsel for at least 20 years has believed the law applies to both the president and vice president, and has warned all White House staff that it is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment to make fund-raising calls from the White House. (Though admittedly not (outside the White House -- and flashing isn't flashing if you do it at home.)
The memo that Clinton's first White House counsel, Bernard W. Nussbaum, sent to Al Gore, for example, said this -- under the heading "Criminal Statutes": "(T)he following types of activities are clearly prohibited: Soliciting ... campaign contributions on federal property or in federal buildings. This means that ... no fund-raising phone calls or mail may emanate from the White House or any other federal buildings ..." (memorandum to all White House staff, dated July 12, 1993).
Indeed, the law against fund-raising on federal property is as well-known in political circles as speeding laws are in trucking circles. Once, during a luncheon for donors in the Carter White House, an exuberant guest -- out of the blue -- proposed making a campaign contribution to the Carter campaign. He was quickly hushed by another guest, who informed the generous fellow that such discussions were not permitted on White House property. The offending remark was not uttered in the presence of the president or vice president, much less by them. Still, there was an immediate FBI investigation as well as a report by the attorney general regarding the incident.
So seriously did the George Bush administration take the law that his counsel's office believed it was their duty to refer any checks sent to the White House -- innocently mailed by little old ladies -- to the Department of Justice for prosecution. (The DOJ would regularly decline prosecution in such cases.)
While it's true that the law against making fund-raising calls from federal property is
"old," so are laws against murder and theft. The fact that something has been illegal for a
really long time is usually not an argument in favor of breaking it. It's not as if the law
were put on the books in 1882, and then forgotten about for over a century until Gore came
along to violate it. Congress has frequently amended this "old" law -- most recently in 1994.
The Department of Justice and FBI have investigated its possible violation. And other
administrations didn't have to thank G-d for an attorney general who would allow them to commit
JWR contributor Ann Coulter is the author of High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton.
03/13/00: Vast concoctions II