PARTNERS IN CRIME

A Clinton Scandals Primer

           Finally, a 70-page diary kept by Vincent Foster about the Travelgate affair was concealed from Justice Department investigators--and from Billy Dale's legal defense team--for over two years after Foster's death, on orders from Hillary's pal and White House counsel, Nussbaum. When the diary was finally disgorged by the White House under pressure from the House investigating committee, the counsel to the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility complained to his superiors that "the fact that we have just now learned of the existence of obviously relevant notes written by Mr. Foster... is yet another example of the lack of cooperation and candor we received throughout our inquiry into Foster's death and Travelgate." In a September 15, 1995 letter to the House committee investigating all this, a deputy White House counsel wrote that the White House had found the diary "not responsive" (i.e., not relevant) to a subpoena from the Whitewater special prosecutor. The full text of Foster's Travelgate diary has yet to be released by the White House for public scrutiny.

           At Dale's trial, a raft of journalists headed by ABC's Sam Donaldson and including news producers from CNN, NBC, and CBS testified as character witnesses for Dale, proclaiming him an honest man. Despite a curious ruling by the Clinton-appointed judge who presided over the trial (one of whose clerks had previously worked with Cornelius in the White House in preparing her proposal to take over Dale's job) that the question of destruction or removal of Travel Office documents by Cornelius and others was inadmissible, it took the jury less than two hours to acquit Dale. The full exoneration of the Travelgate Seven was now complete.

          

           Yet the White House continued to stonewall the House investigation's requests for 3,000 pages of Travelgate documents until just last month, hiding behind Nixonian claims of "executive privilege" until a growing public clamor finally forced them to cough up the first 1,000 pages. That installment included Billy Dale's FBI file, which the White House had obtained illegally seven months after he had been fired and no longer needed access to the White House. Thus was the Filegate scandal launched.

           Aside from the abuse of power in the attempted frame-up of the Travelgate Seven, what makes it significant in assessing the Clinton scandals is the pattern of behavior that emerges. A White House willing to countenance destruction of documents legitimately sought by federal investigators, prosecutors, Congress, and a private citizen's defense lawyers in a clumsy attempt to avoid bad press over a bungled patronage grab is, to say the least, unlikely to shrink from the same tactics in protecting the ethical reputation of the president and his wife in matters of greater gravity.

           Filegate happened in some measure because in at least one instance, it was part of an elaborate attempt to protect Hillary from a perjury indictment for her sworn statement to a federal investigation that she had nothing to do with the Travel Office filings. The notion now being peddled by the White House that Craig Livingstone and Tony Marceca, the bouncer and the repo man, were simply rogue operators--acting on their own in obtaining not only FBI files but also IRS records on private citizens--is a patent fiction.

           The stonewalling continues: Only weeks ago the House probers finally won permission to view the remaining 2,000 pages of Travelgate documents, but only by threatening current White House counsel, Jack Quinn, with contempt of Congress. Yet when investigators finally arrived at the White House to view these remaining documents, which they are not allowed to copy, they found that huge chunks of them had been "redacted," or, in other words, blacked out.

           Filegate, Travelgate, and the various messes relating to Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan and grouped under the name Whitewater all met in Vincent Foster's office. For example, remember that in 1993 following Foster's suicide, the White House asserted that it was bad press over Travelgate (referred to in Foster's pre-suicide jottings) that led him to take his own life. But to comprehend the mysterious migrations of documents from Foster's office and the accompanying massive memory failures by the Clintons' closest associates--indeed, by Hillary herself--it is first necessary to understand the Rose Law Firm.

           A 1992 profile of the firm in American Lawyer described Foster as "the soul of the firm." Foster, Hillary Clinton, and Webster Hubbell were a tightly knit band at Rose; indeed, they are credited with organizing a money-motivated coup that took over the firm in the mid-1980s. But Hillary owed her presence in the firm to her husband, whose relationship with Rose went back to his pre-Oxford days when partners in the firm interviewed him for his Rhodes scholarship. Bill and Foster were childhood playmates, and Foster and a Rose partner and former legislator named Herbert Rule III organized the first major fundraiser for Clinton's very first campaign for Congress in 1974--an event held in the Rose offices. Hillary didn't join the firm until 1976, after her husband had already won the Democratic nomination to be Arkansas's Attorney General. Rose, in its 150-year history, had always been a very political firm, and its partners have included judges, mayors, and state and federal legislators.

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