Clemency for Clintons
September 13, 1999 - William Safire - The New York Times
It is as if Bill Clinton looked us
directly in the eye, and waggling his
finger, said: I want you to listen to
me. I never discussed clemency for
terrorists with that woman, Ms. Clinton. Not a single time; never.
That is in essence his line in pretending he was not using the power of
the Presidency to help get the First
Lady a job in New York.
A strong Hispanic vote in the city is
vital to her election. His departing
political counsel, Charles Ruff,
cooked up a brief to spring the ringleaders of an 80's terrorist campaign.
Many Puerto Ricans who condemn
their violence and cause feel sympathy for them.
Although a charge of "sedition" has
been an abomination in America
since 1801, these were no mere protesters exercising free speech. These
convicted gunrunners incited followers to "armed struggle" that resulted
in 130 bombings that killed six people
and maimed scores more.
Ignoring opposition by law enforcement officials, the least clement President in recent history -- who turned
down 3,000 other pleas -- O.K.'d this
Then his political ploy backfired.
When Hillary saw she was losing
more upstate and suburban votes
than would come from New York City
Hispanics, she frantically reversed
field. Too late; most of the convicts
grabbed the deal to walk and are now
hailed as heroes.
"I did not discuss it with her,"
insists the President who discusses
every political angle with her.
that for credibility: he supposedly
panders to an ethnic group his wife
needs without even a hint from her,
and when the misuse of his pardon
power to shore up her campaign becomes a front-page controversy --
they never talk. He did it all for Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu.
Even as Clintonites got the queasy
feeling that both Clintons were weaving another tangled web of deceit, the
President plunged in deeper, suggesting that the enablers of terror had
been wrongly convicted -- in his
words, "in effect by guilt by association."
Those familiar with the McCarthy
investigations of the early 1950's
know what the phrase guilt by association means. It has the clear meaning
of "smear." Those attacked for their
friendships with the guilty are in
themselves innocent -- unfairly besmeared by those using the sneaky
technique of "guilt by association."
That gives us this spectacle: Surprised by the widespread disgust at
his pandering to an ethnic group to
boost his wife's candidacy, the President then struck back by demeaning
police, prosecutors and jurors who
put these criminals in jail.
apostles of armed struggle, Clinton
would have us believe, were merely
victims of "guilt by association" with
those incited to carry out the bombings.
That's typical Clinton: brazen it
out. And Hillary will stick by his story
that they never discussed it at all.
They will claim to be "not discussing"
the timing of Jonathan Pollard's release.
What they cannot deny discussing,
because both are famously familiar
with influencing banks, is their $1.35
million mortgage assistance loan
from the Democratic fund-raiser Terry McAuliffe.
This financial angel is a witness in
a criminal investigation in the teamsters' fraudulent swap of funds with
close association with the President
and potential senator is of value to
He deposits $1.35 million in Bankers
Trust at a low interest rate. The bank
then profits by lending that McAuliffe
deposit to others at a much higher
interest rate. It shares that profit with
the Clintons by reducing the interest
on their mortgage loan, reportedly
saving them about a thousand a
month on carrying charges. "In effect," to use the Clinton phrase, Bankers Trust is the Clintons' money laundry for private largesse.
The I.R.S. may not consider this
benefit a gift, and the Office of Government Ethics happily goes into the
tank for the boss. But Federal employees are forbidden to accept even a
lunch from outsiders lest they be influenced; what are they to think when
the President and First Lady can go
on the take for a grand a month?
Both "never discussed" political
clemency and the sleazy mortgage
are ethical outrages. But the greater
outrage is the way so many shrug and
say: that's the Clintons for you.
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