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Jewish World Review Feb. 22, 2002 / 10 Adar, 5762

Diana West

Diana West
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Consumer Reports

The White House heist -- 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 for.

JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


02/20/02:Making the grade
02/11/02: Studying student visas
02/06/02: Understanding arrogance
02/04/02: The professor's war
01/29/02: Disconnected dialogue
01/23/02: Anti-Indiscrimination
01/18/02: How much is enough?
01/15/02: Oh brothers, where art thou?
01/10/02: Air on the side of caution
01/04/02: Blacks seeing red at Harvard
01/02/02: Clinton's campaign continues
12/26/01: A tale of two exhibitions
12/24/01: Taliban Idyll
12/19/01: Right is right
12/17/01: Hillary strikes out
12/13/01: Lost files, lost presidency
12/10/01: Revolutionaries never grow up
12/05/01: Immigration reform talk is not just for 'haters' anymore
12/03/01: A new symbol of justice
11/30/01: Beyond morality
11/26/01: Can't keep a good man down
11/20/01: Tough talk at the United Nations
11/19/01: Hollywood's other battle
11/14/01: What's the matter with Sara Jane?
11/09/01: A beef with bin Laden's Beef Noodles
11/07/01: Facing up to the FBI's past mistakes
11/02/01: A school that teaches patriots to shutup
10/30/01: The gap between Islam and peace
10/26/01: The ties that bind (and gag)
10/24/01: This war is more than Afghanistan
10/22/01: The fatuous fatwa
10/19/01: Left out
10/16/01: Whose definition of terrorism?
10/11/01: Post-stress disorder
10/08/01: How the West has won
10/01/01: Good, bad or ... diplomacy
09/28/01: Drawing a line in stone
09/21/01: Prejudice or prudence?
09/14/01: When our dead will finally rest in hallowed ground
09/07/01: We want our #$%^&*() audience back!
08/24/01: The transformation from Green Mountain State to Green Activist State is all but complete
08/17/01: Enlightenment at Yale
08/10/01: From oppressors to victims, a metamorphosis
08/03/01: Opening the dormitory door: College romance in the New Century
08/01/01: How-To Hackdom: The dubious art of writing books about writing books
07/20/01: Hemming about Hemmings
07/13/01: Justice has not been served in the Loiuma police brutality case
06/22/01: When PC parades are too 'mainstream'
06/22/01: When "viewpoint discrimination" in our schools was not nearly so gnarly a notion
06/15/01: Lieberman flaunts mantle of perpetual aggrievement
06/07/01: Is graciousness the culprit?
06/01/01: The bright side of the Jeffords defection
05/29/01: Campus liberals should be more careful
05/18/01: 'Honest Bill' Clinton and other Ratheresian Logic
05/11/01: Dodging balls, Bugs, and 'brilliance'
05/04/01: Foot in mouth disease and little lost Tories
04/20/01:The last classic Clinton cover-up
04/20/01: D-Day, Schmee-Day
04/06/01: For heaven's sake, a little decency!
03/30/01: The sweet sound of slamming doors and clucking feminists
03/23/01: America's magazines and the 'ick-factor'
03/09/01: Felony neglect
03/02/01: Who's sorry now?
02/23/01: 'Ecumenical niceness' and other latter-day American gifts to the world
02/16/01: Elton and Eminem: Royal dirge-icist meets violent fantasist
02/12/01: If only ...

© 2001, Diana West