Sure it was bad. It reeked. But from the response, you'd almost suppose that it was new. Former President Clinton (it still gives one a warm rush of relief to type that phrase), on his way out the door, pardoned an international fugitive named Marc Rich -- a man described by law-enforcement sources as "the most corrupt corporate executive in America" and a man whose wife, Diane, just happens to have been extremely generous to the Clintons personally.
Doesn't everybody do it? Didn't previous Republican presidents pardon all their friends, donors and cronies on their last days in office?
Many of punditland's most prominent liberals -- Juan Williams of the Fox News Network, Mark Shields of PBS and Richard Cohen of The Washington Post, to name just three -- pronounced their displeasure and dismay. Words like "disgraceful" and "contemptible" are suddenly on liberals' lips. Cohen, a staunch defender of the former president's during the impeachment battle, wrote plaintively: "You let me down. Yes me and everyone else who has ever defended you." Listing Whitewater, Filegate and Monica, Cohen recalled that he had always taken Clinton's side. But with this pardon, everything changed: "You may look bad, Bill, but we look just plain stupid."
While it is always nice to see the scales fall from someone's eyes, even if very tardily, this won't fly. Bill Clinton's blatant, shameless corruption has been on public display almost from the beginning of his national career.
Where were those who are now so shocked by the Rich pardon when Johnnie Chung dropped a $50,000 check, probably containing laundered money from the People's Republic of China, into the hands of Mrs. Clinton's chief of staff? What did they think when Mrs. Clinton's former law partner and assistant attorney general Web Hubbell suddenly received $400,000 in legal fees from China-linked businesses and Lincoln Bedroom overnight guests, just before he was heading to prison and just when he abruptly stopped cooperating with the independent counsel? What did they make of the fact that Clinton insisted that these payoffs were news to him?
Did they sleep through the press conference in which Clinton assured the nation that he had never changed government policy "solely because of a contribution"?
Whom did they believe, the White House or the FBI, regarding the whole China money connection? Recall that several senators revealed in 1997 that the FBI had alerted them the previous year to a Chinese attempt to make illegal campaign contributions. The White House issued a statement to the effect that President Clinton was never told of this. The FBI countered with a statement that yes, indeed, the White House had been briefed. Well, said the White House, officials had not turned over this information to the president
at the FBI's request. Wrong, the FBI responded, we made no such request.
(President Clinton is the only president in the whole history of the FBI to be publicly contradicted by that agency.)
How did they react to the news that the Clintons were selling nights in the Lincoln Bedroom, rides on Air Force One and lucrative trips on trade missions to the highest bidders? Did it bother them less or more the second time around when it was done for Hillary's senate race? Did over 100 White House "coffees" to raise money seem excessive or just about right?
Oh, and speaking of the coffees, remember how President Clinton said he knew nothing of Chinese money coming into the United States? Well, some of the White House videotapes of those coffees (tapes the White House at first said didn't exist) revealed Clinton thanking his Chinese visitors for coming such a long way. Among the most generous donors to the Democratic National Committee were defense contractors who were engaged in joint ventures involving missiles and satellites with Red China.
And what did they think when Clinton bombed Afghanistan and Sudan to distract attention from Monica Lewinsky's grand-jury appearance? How did they respond when President Clinton bombed Iraq in the midst of the impeachment trial?
Yes, the Rich pardon was low and dishonorable. But to suggest that it comes as any sort of surprise after Clinton's squalid presidency is laughable.