The victim soars

Mona Charen

9/22/2000 12:00:00 AM - Mona Charen
The announcement by Independent Counsel Robert Ray that he lacks sufficient evidence to prosecute the president or first lady on Whitewater-related matters went through two spin cycles in the space of one. First, the president questioned the timing of the announcement. His implication: that Ray was attempting to damage Hillary Clinton's chances in New York. The tendency to charge his opponents with malice is reflexive with the president. It was most recently on display during the Democratic convention, when a news leak revealed that Ray had impaneled a new grand jury to examine possible criminal charges against Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The president and his minions immediately rushed to microphones to condemn this Republican dirty trick. Later, a federal judge revealed that he had inadvertently leaked the information. But the Ray announcement was good news on several levels, so how could this be an attempt to hurt Mrs. Clinton? In the first place, even assuming that Ray were a fierce anti-Clinton partisan, he would have to know that the press would report this decision not to prosecute as a vindication. And indeed they did. National Public Radio spoke of Ray "clearing" the Clintons of Whitewater charges, and other media outlets likewise portrayed the decision not to prosecute as a certificate of innocence. The announcement also gave Mrs. Clinton -- and here we get into the second half of the spin cycle -- the opportunity to posture in her favorite clothing, that of innocent victim. She referred to the extreme length of the Whitewater investigation and opined that the American people had long since made up their minds about the case. It takes gall for the Clintons to complain about the length of the probe when their own refusal to cooperate, invocation of privileges, and strange inability to respond to subpoenas accounts for most of the delays. Only the Wall Street Journal editorial page pointed out that Ray's decision -- obviously not a vindication, merely a recognition that he lacked enough evidence to go forward -- actually represented a triumph of the Clintons' stonewalling tactics. Only the Journal seems to recall the infamous disappearing billing records (such withholding of evidence would be considered obstruction of justice in normal circumstances), the witnesses who refused to cooperate (Webster Hubbell and Susan McDougal), and the 14 convictions of Clinton allies and cronies in the Whitewater mess. This is not the only opportunity Mrs. Clinton has enjoyed to pose as victim. Tim Russert and Rick Lazio apparently handed her another chance. Responding to Russert's very reasonable question about whether Mrs. Clinton should apologize for blaming "a vast right-wing conspiracy" for the Monica story, she answered in a way that compounds her duplicity. She said that she herself was misled (and it is oh-so-painful to talk about), and therefore couldn't mislead anybody. Hooey. Voters who believe this deserve Hillary as a senator. Let's leave aside her reported remark, the day that she made the VRWC comment, "That'll teach 'em to f--- with us" and go straight to the common sense of the matter. This woman has lived with Bill Clinton for more than a quarter century. In that time, he has consorted with hundreds of women (his figure, not mine -- it's in the Starr Report). So, the "smartest woman in the world" hears of the Monica accusations and assumes her husband is innocent and that this is all the work of a VRWC? She assumes this even after hearing him respond to Jim Lehrer's question as to whether the charges were true, "There is no sexual relationship." Does that mean there once was? Lehrer asked. "I'm going to cooperate with the investigation," Clinton replied (I paraphrase). Well, New Yorkers are too worldly to fall for this rot, right? Maybe not. According to Te New York Times, a majority of both male and female likely voters thought Rick Lazio was "too aggressive" in the debate with Hillary Clinton. They sympathized when Mrs. Clinton fretted that her "personal space" had been violated. Since the debate, Mrs. Clinton's favorable rating has risen, while Lazio's has plunged. Looks like Mrs. Clinton will get more mileage out of Monica than her husband ever did.