Jewish World Review Feb. 1, 2001 / 9 Shevat, 5761
In keeping with tradition, the story quoted various anonymous confidants of the former first couple explaining that (1) it was a mystery how such smart, capable, fine people as the Clintons could have suffered such inexplicable lapses in their otherwise flawless taste and judgment and (2) the real blame lay with staffers or advisers or the media or the right wing or gremlins.
Meanwhile, also in keeping with tradition, various of the Clintons' many mouthpieces were fanning out from their dens and warrens at the K Street law firm of Weasel, Weasel, Ferret & Stoat to spread the good news that none of this mattered anyway, that things were not as they seemed and that everything that had been done had been done for the best and noblest of reasons.
The sibilant sound you hear is a long, dawning sigh of relief. People are slowly remembering that White House life does not have to be this way.Generally, we do not have to read stories, day after day, about a first couple's pals refusing to testify in criminal investigations into the first couple's financial dealings; or about women who credibly allege that the president groped them or mauled them; or about shady donors declaring that the White House is like a subway, you have to pay to get in.
Now, somewhat suddenly, we are rediscovering the blessed peace and quiet of a non-pathological presidency. There is something comforting about the front pages in the first weeks of Bush the Younger. A lot of the stories are about controversies, but they are the old and usual sort of controversies: Nominees are put forth and savaged; the people you would expect not to like what the new president is doing do not in fact like it; pundits fan small embers of dispute into slightly larger embers. How boring, how adult, how nice, how normal.
Above all, the Bush White House, it appears likely, is not going to be one long continuing abuse of power. To the end, Clinton and his wife displayed a breathtaking contempt for the ethics of power. They abused authority and privilege in ways grand and petty, and simply did not care what anyone thought about it. In his last hours, Clinton committed what may have been his worst abuse ever, which is saying something. This, of course, was his conscious subversion of the presidential pardon system to hand out executive clemencies to Democratic donors and Democratic allies, fellow Whitewater stonewallers, even to his brother.
Because the presidential right of pardon is absolute and because it involves the most fundamental of powers -- the power to give or deny liberty -- the Justice Department has built a system in its pardon office designed to make sure all or at least almost all applicants for pardon work their way through a long process of checking and consideration before arriving, with recommendations, on the president's desk. As the New York Times reported in an extraordinary story Monday, the Clinton White House bypassed this system, secretly compiling its own list of pleaders and, "in the last hours of the Clinton administration," rushed those applicants "to the head of the line."
"Government officials said the Justice Department had no knowledge that the White House was compiling its own list," the Times reported. "But many felons with Washington connections did. Beginning last fall, the notion began to circulate among potential applicants that the White House might be receptive to direct proposals for pardons." The result: "a mad search around the country for lawyers with contacts in the Clinton administration." Jack Quinn, a former Clinton White House counsel and former chief of staff for Vice President Al Gore, reportedly received $300,000 for personally persuading Clinton to pardon Marc Rich, the billionaire financier who fled the country rather than face charges in the nation's largest-ever tax fraud case -- and whose ex-wife has, during the Clinton years, contributed $1 million to Democratic campaign chests.
On inauguration morning, the Justice pardon office received, the Times reported, close to two dozen names from the White House's list of special pleaders. In more than 20 cases, the only information the pardon office had was the felon's name. The officials prepared the paperwork for the pardons anyway. They had no choice but to bow to the president's
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