Wall Street Journal

Looking After Mr. Gore

Review & Outlook

January 28, 2000

(from paragraph 4 and on)

Orrin Hatch, who dropped out of the Presidential race this week, deserves considerable thanks for placing before the electorate the damage done to our system of politics by the Clinton Presidency. He charged Bill Clinton with "a unique and historic brand of wrongdoing," to wit: "Whenever a politician wants to halt a corruption investigation, he not only stonewalls the probe but claims a vast conspiracy against him and then launches embittered political attacks on law enforcement."

Senator Hatch returns to his post as chair of the Judiciary Committee, where he should now continue this act of public service by undertaking long overdue oversight hearings of much unfinished business.

In the year since President Clinton's impeachment trial, White House spin has cast the Clinton scandals as mere private failings. In fact, the essence of the Clinton scandals is the corruption of justice, only the most visible aspect of which was Judge Susan Webber Wright's condemnation and fining of the President for his "willful" obstruction of a civil lawsuit.

Administration stonewalling in the Lewinsky scandal has been at least equaled in its derailing of the investigation into the 1996 Clinton-Gore fund-raising scandal. By keeping almost all investigations "ongoing," the Clinton Justice Department has been able to thwart Congressional oversight committees from gaining access to documents that would show how serious main Justice's probe really was.

John Huang, Charlie Trie and the other ringleaders of schemes to import illegal foreign cash into the Clinton-Gore campaign all negotiated plea bargains that have led to no further indictments of such higher-ups as Clinton pal and Indonesian businessman James Riady, who Mr. Huang has fingered as having set in motion his fund-raising efforts. "After all this wrongdoing, no one is going to jail,"

Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman observed. Senator Hatch should try to find out why. Senator Lieberman has also been harshly critical of Justice's mysterious rejection of an FBI request to wiretap now-indicted scientist Wen Ho Lee over his possible role in transferring nuclear secrets to China.

But no failure at Justice quite matches the bizarre handling of various union leaders and Democratic National Committee officials involved in the 1996 re-election of Teamsters President Ron Carey. After several guilty pleas, the investigation has bogged down despite compelling evidence that key backers of Vice President Gore were involved.

Mr. Carey was removed from office when it was shown that $885,000 distributed by the Teamsters to the Clinton-Gore campaign were illegally made in exchange for contributions to the Carey campaign. Last November, Teamster PAC director William Hamilton was found guilty of embezzlement for his role in the illegal swap.

But he wasn't the only union official involved. Gerald McEntee, the president of the powerful AFSME government employees union, admitted to Judge Kenneth Conboy, the federal election officer, that he had passed $20,000 in cash from a vendor of his to the Carey campaign. Trial testimony revealed that Richard Trumka, the No. 2 official of the entire AFL-CIO, personally turned over AFL-CIO funds to the Teamsters as part of the swap.

Mr. Trumka has taken the Fifth Amendment both before a Congressional committee and Judge Conboy. He remains in office because AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has ignored a 40-year-old AFL-CIO rule calling for the removal of union officials taking the Fifth. But neither Mr. Trumka nor Mr. McEntee has been shy about appearing at Iowa union rallies with Vice President Gore, who can thank union backing for his solid win in that state's caucuses. Meanwhile, Mr. Hamilton, who faces up to 30 years in prison, has written a swaggering letter to the Washington Post dismissing the entire Teamsters scandal. Unusual behavior for someone just prior to his sentencing.

All this leads one to wonder if the code of silence and Justice inaction that has permeated every Clinton scandal is now emboldening Messrs. McEntee and Trumka to think they're home free, like so many other Clinton scandal figures. Mr. Gore's own swagger suggests he's feeling pretty home-free on these matters himself. The Vice President has taken so little heat during the campaign for his role that he hasn't even hesitated to appear with Messrs. McEntee and Trumka, despite the recommendation of a 1988 White House Commission on Organized Crime that no current or future President should be seen with a labor leader under investigation.

Senator Hatch could start his post-campaign activities by asking Justice if its inaction in the Teamsters case means that Mr. Gore's allies are no longer being probed. Has a deal been cut to make all these matters "ongoing" into the black hole of a Gore Presidency? The point is that these were not in fact "private" failings. They were explicit abuses in institutions that belong to the public.

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