A Clinton Scandals Primer

           It's time to face the facts about the scandals now swirling around the Clinton administration. Not since the final days of Richard Nixon's White House have there been so many of a president's closest associates, aides, and cabinet members under investigation. Four independent counsels are now probing the Clinton crowd's misdeeds--a record for any presidency--not to mention a series of Congressional probes, some of the most important of which, it should be remembered, began when the Democrats still controlled the House and Senate. And the stench arising from the moral and ethical sewer of lies, abuses of power, obstructions of justice, political payoffs, and plain old-fashioned boodling thus far uncovered surpasses by far the sleaze of a little land deal in Arkansas known as Whitewater.

           Why should all this matter? As the late Walter Karp wrote two decades ago in the wake of Watergate (in his important book Indispensable Enemies: The Politics of Misrule in America): "Since people cannot even begin to understand the requirements of their liberty without a grasp of political reality, the heart of republican education, the very core and spine of its curriculum must be the study of political history, that vast and wonderful stage of public action, which reveals what is most noble and vile in man, which discloses the scope of man's power over forces and processes, which displays ambition under all its shapes, which tells stories of the death of kings and of republics."

           This is especially true in the age of information overload, when the voting masses are electronically bombarded with a deluge of undifferentiated facts and factoids devoid of context. Everything in politics has its antecedent, and what happened in Arkansas five, 10, or 15 years ago is as relevant as what happened in Washington last year or last week, since the tone and moral texture of governance are set by the person at the center--whether a governor or a president, whether in the Little Rock mansion, the Elysée Palace, the Kremlin, or the White House.


           Nearly every outrage in policy or practice to emerge from the Clinton White House has a precedent or parallel in Arkansas. Take the latest scandal, dubbed "Filegate" by the media. It becomes more understandable if one recalls that, as James Stewart reported in Blood Sport, Clinton, in his 1990 reelection campaign for governor, used the Arkansas state troopers to investigate rumors that his Republican opponent, Sheffield Nelson, had fathered an illegitimate child.

           Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign likewise used a private detective to dig up dirt on the names that made up what was known inside the campaign as a "doomsday list" of Clinton's extra-marital sex partners. And Betsey Wright, the governor's former chief of staff, was in charge of what she called "bimbo patrol," putting out to reporters discrediting information on women who claimed to have gotten it on with the gov. ("Where's the info on Gennifer?" Hillary asked the Little Rock campaign headquarters from a pay phone when the Flowers story broke, according to Roger Morris.)

           Democrats were justifiably outraged in 1992 when it became known that Bush's campaign had people go through Bill Clinton's passport files in the State Department in a vain attempt to come up with damaging information. But after Clinton's election, in July 1993, two Clinton appointees went rifling through the State Department's confidential personnel files of 160 Bush-appointed department employees, leaking information about two of them--Elizabeth Tamposi and Jennifer Fitzgerald--to the Washington Post. Fitzgerald had been so frequently and widely rumored to have been Bush's mistress that a CNN reporter asked Bush about it during a campaign press conference. (The two Clinton appointees identified as responsible for unauthorized use of the files were later fired when the incident became public.)

           The State Department incident happened at roughly the same time the White House began illegally obtaining FBI files on a host of private citizens who had left government service, from prominent Republicans such as James A. Baker, Marlon Fitzwater, and Ken Duberstein down to nonpolitical career employees. Immediately, the White House began dissembling: It was all a "bureaucratic snafu" which Clintonoids blamed on a career-Army employee on loan to the Clinton staff. Then it turned out that the man in question, Anthony "Big Tony" Marceca, was a veteran operative of many Democratic presidential campaigns. The snafu was next blamed on Craig Livingstone, director of the White House office of personnel security.

           But it turned out that Livingstone had gone to great lengths to secure the services of Marceca, and that the two men were buddies who, when they worked together on Gary Hart's presidential primary campaign in 1984, had proposed blackmailing trade unionists and others supporting Walter Mondale into switching to Hart. Livingstone, a sometime bar bouncer, and Marceca, a former furniture repo man, were a fairly gamy pair to be given responsibility for handling the most sensitive information the U.S. government possesses on its citizens.

           The number of files obtained by this duo of campaign junkies grew. First 300, then 400, then 600. Finally it was learned that Marceca had copied files on some 100 National Security Council personnel onto a computer disk, and had taken them home on his laptop. That brought the number of files obtained to 700.

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