Partners in Crime: 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 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.Everything in politics has its antecedent, and what happened in Arkansas five, ten, or fifteen years ago is as relevant as what happened in Washington last year or last week, since the tone and moral texture of governance is set by the person at the center of it -- whether a governor or a president, whether in the Little Rock mansion, the Elysee Palace, the Kremlin, or the White House.FILEGATE: THE CLINTON ENEMIES LISTNearly every outrage in policy or practice to emerge from the Clinton White House has a precedent or parallel in Arkansas. The latest scandal, dubbed "Filegate" by the media, becomes more understandable if one recalls that, as James Stewart reported in Blood Sport, Clinton, in his 1990 re-election 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 guv. ("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's book Partners in Power.)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 like James A. Baker, Marlon Fitzwater, and Ken Duberstein down to non-political 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 "bureaucratic 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 some-time bar bouncer, and Marceca, a former furniture repo man, were a fairly gamey pair to have been 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.Dirty trickster Livingstone's role in obtaining the files has been well-publicized. Less well-known, however, is that Livingstone was seen on the morning after Vince Foster's suicide carrying boxes of documents from the vicinity of Foster's office by a Secret Service agent -- and that he later tried to learn the name of the agent who'd spotted him. Dennis Martin, a 21-year veteran of the Secret Service and a former White House deputy branch commander, swore last summer in an affidavit to Senate Whitewater investigators that he had received a phone call at his home from Livingstone in February 1994, soon after a Whitewater special prosecutor was first named. Livingstone told Martin that "some officer ID'ed him coming out of the West Wing [where Foster's office was located] and it was a concern of his... [Livingstone] went on to ask me who I think the officer is and I said, 'I can't discuss anything about this.'Now we've learned that nearly a year before the Filegate affair gave the hitherto anonymous Livingstone his 15 minutes of fame, he'd been collecting money for a legal defense fund. Wally Chalmers, a Washington lobbyist and a former top Democratic National Committee staffer, sent a letter to Democrats soliciting contributions for the defense fund, and a November 16, 1995 fundraiser netted an additional $3,600, bringing the total Chalmers helped raise to some $8,000. Chalmers told a Washington Post columnist that "Livingstone needed representation in connection with investigations into Vince Foster's death and the White House travel office firings." Although the law requires filings for a legal defense fund on behalf of a presidential appointee like Livingstone with the Office of Government Ethics, that office has no record of any such filing.Livingstone clearly had some powerful protectors. He received a 40 percent pay hike in under three years, from $45,000 when he began to $63,750 by the time he resigned under fire -- and this at a time when the White House was cutting staff by 25 percent and many others were taking pay cuts.It took the White House weeks to come up with an answer to the simple question: Who hired Craig Livingstone? Livingstone himself told a House panel that he was hired by William Kennedy III, a former partner in Little Rock's Rose Law Firm -- in which Hillary Clinton had been a partner -- who was associate White House counsel under Foster, the Rose firm's guiding eminence. Kennedy had to resign from the White House under a cloud when it became public that he made the calls siccing the FBI on the seven fired White House Travel Office employees to cover up the political machinations that led to their decapitations. But the White House, after weeks of dithering, now says that Livingstone was actually hired by Foster, who understandably has had no comment.Kennedy may have technically signed off on the hiring of Livingstone, but as he testified to House investigators, Livingstone had already been slotted for the job by the time Kennedy took up his White House post. Former FBI agent Gary Aldrich, in a seriously flawed book flecked with unsubstantiated rumors and skewed by reactionary prejudices against the lifestyles of younger Clinton aides, says that when he protested the hiring of the unqualified Livingstone to Kennedy, Kennedy replied that nothing could prevent it because "Hillary wants it." On this precise point, Aldrich's version is confirmed in sworn testimony to Congressional investigators by a still-serving FBI agent Dennis Schulimbrene, then Aldrich's partner, who was present for the conversation.PATRONAGE AND PARANOIAThe atmosphere of paranoia that reigned in the White House when the Clintons took over radiated outward from the president and his wife. It was epitomized in the unprecedented ukase from Hillary's long-time friend, White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum, ordering non-political career employees -- chefs, gardeners, secretaries, and the like, many of whom had served for decades -- to fill out new questionnaires detailing their political affiliations and membership in civic organizations. Even the Nixon administration never went that far.The scandal over the illegal acquiring by the White House of FBI files would never have been uncovered but for that prime example of Clintonoid paranoia, the Travelgate affair. It was, after all, the discovery of former Travel Office director Billy Dale's FBI file in papers obtained by House Travelgate investigators that finally forced the White House to admit that it had obtained at least 700 other FBI files.Dale and the six other fired Travel office staffers were victims of that paranoia and of a naked patronage grab. Even during the Clinton transition, the Travel Office staffers began hearing from the press corps that Clinton operatives were taking soundings as to what would happen if staffers were replaced. Unless it was for cause, newsies warned the Clintonoids, there'd be trouble. Only nine days after Bill Clinton took office, his close friend Harry Thomason received a memo from Thomason's business partner in TRM, an Arkansas-based aviation consulting firm, urging Thomason to use his Clinton connection to get business for TRM. Thomason and his wife, Linda, were close friends of the Clintons, especially Hillary, and as the producers of several hugely popular TV sitcoms provided the Clintons with entree to Hollywood, helping them raise millions in campaign contributions from the entertainment industry.The January 29, 1993 memo from Thomason's partner, Darnell Martens, suggested that the two "needed some form of official status as advisers to the White House for general aviation matters," and that they should "determine who controls the scheduling of the White House Press Corps aircraft. This can be done by TRM much as the campaign aircraft were handled" by TRM. Thomason and Martens soon had special White House passes, and Thomason was given an office in the White House. Thomason clearly had his sights on more than just Travel office business: A month later TRM pitched the president a review of non-military aircraft. Bill Clinton wrote to his aides: "These guys are sharp."The Martens memo and other documents obtained by the House investigators show that Thomason was soon peddling stories that Travel Office employees were "demanding kickbacks" (allegations that were later disproven) and should be fired. Thomason's co-conspirator in the plot to take over the office was Catherine Cornelius, a 25-year-old Clinton cousin who coveted the top job held by Billy Dale. Thomason and Cornelius concocted trumped-up charges of embezzlement and fiscal malfeasance by the Travel Office Staff, and soon had the ear of the First Lady as well as the president.Hillary denied under oath to the GAO on April 6, 1994 that she had any role in the decision to terminate the Travelgate Seven. Contrast these assertions with the now-famous memo written a year earlier to then-chief of staff Mack McLarty by David Watkins, at the time White House director of administration: "The First lady took interest in having the Travel Office situation resolved quickly, following Harry Thomason's bringing it to her attention. Thomason briefed the First Lady...Once this made it onto the First Lady's agenda, Vince Foster became involved, and he and Harry Thomason regularly informed me of her attention to the Travel Office situation -- as well as her insistence that the situation be resolved immediately by replacing the Travel Office staff. Foster regularly informed me that the First Lady was concerned and desired action -- the action desired was the firing of the Travel Office staff. On Friday, while I was in Memphis, Foster told me that it was important that I speak directly with the First Lady that day. I called her that evening and she conveyed to me in clear terms... her desire for swift and clear action to resolve the situation."Three days later, Watkins continued, "you [McLarty] came to my office... and explained that this was on the First Lady's radar screen... We both knew there would be hell to pay if we failed to take swift and decisive action in conformity with the First Lady's wishes. You then approved the decision to terminate the Travel Office staff."Watkins was hardly likely to have misunderstood Hillary. A Hope, Arkansas native, and former top political adviser to Governor Clinton who served as the chief financial officer of the 1992 presidential campaign, Watkins was not only an old friend of Bill and Hillary's but the First Lady's former business partner. In 1983, Watkins steered Hillary into a cellular telephone franchise, and her $3,000 investment netted her $48,000 five years later when the stock was eventually sold. Nor is Watkins likely to have prevaricated in a self-described "soul-cleansing" memo marked "privileged and confidential" and addressed to his old friend and fellow Hope native McLarty.Furthermore, Watkins' memoed version of events is buttressed by contemporaneous accounts from two other White House aides, Lorraine Voles and Todd Stern, who helped write the internal White House review of the Travelgate affair after it blew up in public. Stern's notes said that "if you give answers that aren't fully honest (e.g., no re: HRC) you risk hugely compounding the problem by getting caught in half-truths. You run risk of turning this into a cover-up." More documents extracted from the White House by House investigators show that Harry Thomason also told White House aides that Hillary would "be very upset" if the Travel Office workers weren't fired.The Travelgate Seven were fired, with the phony embezzlement charges hanging over their heads, even though none had ever been interviewed by any White House official. After five excruciating months -- during which they, their families, friends, and neighbors were besieged by FBI agents, and the Seven subjected to IRS scrutiny -- six of them were cleared of any wrongdoing by the Justice Department. The White House admitted that their firings had been a mistake and apologized, and five were given other government jobs (a sixth chose to retire).The seventh, Travel Office director Billy Dale, a non-political career employee who began working in the office during the Kennedy administration, was indicted on embezzlement charges after political pressure from the Justice Department (then effectively being run by former Rose law firm partner Webster Hubbell). But Travel Office spending logs that Dale said would prove his innocence were, the FBI determined, strangely missing. Patsy Thomasson (no relation to Harry), another longtime Clinton intimate from Arkansas, then head of White House administration, ordered removal of hard drives from computers in the Travel Office three days before the firings of the Seven and just two days before an audit of the office began. Documents obtained by House probers also show that, in the course of the White House internal review of the Travelgate disaster, two officials from World Wide Travel -- the Little Rock firm that had worked on the Clinton campaign and was brought in to help run the Travel Office after the firings -- complained to White House staff secretary John Podesta that many Travel Office documents were being disposed of improperly. When one of them, Fan Dozier, confronted Catherine Cornelius about the destruction and removal of documents and records, Cornelius told her that they were "just trash." Lee Johnson, deputy director of the White House office in charge of preserving presidential documents, also complained to Podesta about records taken by Cornelius.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 Bernie 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 1 5, 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 form 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 Catherine 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 Billy 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 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 that is 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 at least in 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, at least in several instances, 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 have not been allowed to copy, they found that huge chunks of them had been "redacted," or, in other words, blacked out.CLOSING INTravelgate, Filegate, and Whitewater all came together in Vincent Foster's office. The multiple scandals that the mass media have grouped under the rubric "Whitewater" all devolve from the criminal collapse of Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan. Jim McDougal and his wife have now been convicted by a Little Rock jury of having run Madison as a criminal enterprise. The S&L was essentially a piggy bank for politicians and McDougal cronies, and of all the series of interrelated check-kitings, land flips, and phony real estate appraisals the McDougals used to keep the bank afloat amid rising concern by federal examiners, none has proved more dangerous for Hillary Clinton than the scam known as Castle Grande. Castle Grande was a real estate Ponzi scheme on which Madison insiders made nearly $2 million. Among those insiders was Seth Ward, the father-in-law of Webster Hubbell, who was part of the Foster-Clinton-Hubbell troika that ran Rose. (Hubbell was chased out of his Clinton administration job as assistant attorney general for having defrauded his Rose clients -- including the U.S. government -- and is now known as Inmate #20219-009 at Cumberland Federal Prison.)The McDougals used Ward as a frontman to acquire Castle Grande, which was then carved into parcels and sold using inflated values (McDougal's appraiser has since pleaded guilty to 24 counts of land fraud and is cooperating with the special prosecutor.) The recently discovered Rose billing records show that Hillary worked on a number of Castle Grande matters for Madison, including an option to buy back from Ward for $400,000 land that the Resolution Trust Corporation later valued at only $47,000. The original purchase documents on this land have mysteriously disappeared.The RTC has found that "At the time it assisted Madison Guaranty with the Castle Grande deal, Rose Law Firm was aware of regulatory concerns about the soundness of the institution." The question is, what did Hillary know and when did she know it? In a sworn deposition to the RTC, Hillary has admitted that she ordered the shredding of four of her files on Madison, three of which dealt with Castle Grande and one with Madison's so-called Ward option. This admission is so damning that New York University Law Professor Stephen Gillers, the expert on legal ethics whose previous defenses of the Clintons on Whitewater and Madison had been cited by the president himself, now says it raises profound ethical and legal problems -- a turnaround so noteworthy that the CBS Evening News recently devoted a segment to Gillers' 180-degree switch.And this brings us to Vincent Foster's office and the missing Rose billing records. Hillary has claimed repeatedly that she was only the billing partner for Rose and in reality performed "little" work for Madison. But Rick Massey, who did the legal scut work for Madison under Hillary's supervision, testified before the Senate that the billing records reflect that her work was "significant." That, and not the dollar amounts involved, is the important legal question, for it raises the possibility of civil and criminal liability. Lawyers can be held responsible if it is found that their work contributed to a bank's failure, and that explains why the billing records were concealed until after the expiration of the statute of limitations in the Madison collapse. However, Hillary could still be indicted for obstruction of justice if it's proven that she had a role in hiding the billing records.Then there's the matter of Bruce Lindsey, Bill Clinton's closest confidant next to Hillary. It was Lindsey who offered Clinton a safe and lucrative haven at his law firm between Clinton's losing 1980 re-election campaign for governor and his successful comeback in 1982. Lindsey has been named an unindicted co-conspirator in a campaign-cash-for-jobs case now being tried in Arkansas -- the second trial in which Clinton has been obliged to testify -- and that is but the beginning of his problems. Published reports say that the Whitewater special prosecutor is examining whether loans were given out by the Arkansas Development Finance Authority in exchange for kickbacks to the Clinton campaign.That probe focuses on whether borrowers were forced to pay stiff advance fees to Lindsey's law firm as a condition for getting loans; investigators suspect that some of that money was in turn refunneled to the Clinton coffers. If prosecutors can make that case, Lindsey could be indicted for racketeering and possibly tax evasion. He may also face charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for a "heads up" phone call he made to his wife, Beverly, before the indictment of her then-employer, just-convicted former Arkansas Governor Jim Guy Tucker. Tucker and Susan McDougal were convicted of fraud in the Castle Grande matter, and it is indisputable that Castle Grande monies wound up in the McDougal/Clinton Whitewater account. That means that the Clinton de fenders can no longer claim that there was a cover-up without a crime.The Clintonoids keep bleating that the continuing investigations into this skein of scandals are nothing more than election-year politics. But it has been in large measure the administration's own deceptions, lies, and stonewalling -- repeatedly denounced on the editorial pages of both the New York Times and Washington Post, hardly GOP house organs -- that have pushed these probes so close to the election.Remember that in April 1994, Hillary claimed that neither she nor any of her staff had anything to do with the sequestration of papers taken from Vince Foster's office after his death. Not until five months later did the White House finally admit that numerous files had been moved by Hillary's chief of staff, Maggie Williams, to the First Family's residence to be "stored" in a locked closet. So, too, did the White House evade the special prosecutor's subpoena of the Rose Law Firm billing records for two and a half years before confessing their miraculous "rediscovery." The same pattern has been repeated in Travelgate and Filegate.Furthermore, the first heads to roll in this scandal were lopped off as a result of the investigation of administration interference with federal probes of Madison Guaranty by the Senate Banking Committee when it was controlled not by sleazoid Republican Al D'Amato, but by the Democrats. Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman, who lied to Congress about his meddling in the RTC investigation of Madison at the behest of George Stephanopoulos and Harold Ickes, was forced out when his resignation was demanded by Democratic Senators Paul Sarbanes and Don Riegle. The entire top leadership of the Treasury Department -- Secretary Lloyd Bentsen; his chief of staff, Josh Steiner; and department counsel Jean Hanson -- also resigned when contradictions in their testimony before the 1994 Democratic-led inquiry became apparent, as did White House counsel Nussbaum.No two White House scandals are exactly alike: The Credit Mobilier affair that engulfed Ulysses S. Grant was different from Warren Harding's Teapot Dome, and Watergate was different from both Iran-contra and Iraq-gate. The hydra-headed Clinton scandals, however, are just as morally and ethically indefensible as their antecedents. As for the Clintons' remaining defenders, it need only be noted that a genuine rebirth of progressive politics in this country will be impossible if the already weakened liberal left refuses to insist on a single standard of honesty in government. And that includes the important constitutional principle that Congress has a right to be told the truth by the executive branch. That's a principle this White House has refused to honor. The Clintons have similarly failed to understand the main political lesson of Watergate -- that the cover-up is more dangerous than the crime. That's why Hillary and her closest associates have been dragged before a federal grand jury, as have many of the president's top operatives. And the corrupt accommodations made by the Clintons in Arkansas over the course of a 20-year permanent campaign whose ultimate goal was the White House are indeed relevant today, as demonstrated by the fact that the president himself has been called as a witness twice in 10 weeks to defend his cronies on trial.That's why, as the list of indictments and convictions in the Clinton scandals continues to grow, Bubbaphiles in denial should remember the old Sicilian saying: The fish stinks from the head.

#story_page_ below_article

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.