- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2001

Disgusted and outraged by the pardons Bill Clinton has handed out to wealthy, politically connected benefactors and eager for the party

to be rid of him once and for all, Democrats are deserting the former president in droves.

New disclosures have been emerging weekly that Mr. Clinton absolved drug dealers, swindlers and fugitives from justice including millionaire fugitive Marc Rich, whose ex-wife and chief advocate gave the Clintons millions. As a result, Democrats are condemning him with increasing ferocity for the actions he took in the final hours of his presidency.

And not just any old Democrats, but Democrats who had been among his most loyal defenders: Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts; Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Joe Biden of Delaware, Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and Tom Harkin of Iowa; and Mr. Clinton's former commerce secretary, Bill Daley. Now Jimmy Carter, the party's esteemed elder statesman and a paragon of ethics and honesty, has had it with Mr. Clinton and has said so point-blank.

They are tired of defending him or looking away while yet another scandal unfolds. They want him to go. They want the embarrassment and humiliation to end. The party has suffered enough under him, they say.

"They blame him for the party's loss of the White House and the failure to win back Congress last year. They are extremely eager to move on and to put another new face on the Democratic Party," a veteran Democratic campaign strategist told me.

Mr. Carter, the latest party leader to rebuke Mr. Clinton, did so in a stinging, bitter indictment that charged him with selling pardons for money and disgracing the presidency.

In a speech last week at Georgia Southwestern State University, Mr. Carter dropped his reluctance to criticize a former president and said Mr. Clinton had "made one of his most serious mistakes in the way he handled the pardon situation. A number of them were quite questionable, including about 40 not recommended by the Justice Department."

Even worse, Mr. Carter thought, was the taint of money associated with the controversial pardon given to Mr. Rich, whose ex-wife had given huge sums to Mr. Clinton's presidential campaigns, $450,000 to his presidential library fund, $70,000 to Hillary's Senate campaign, and thousands more in expensive furnishings for their luxurious homes.

"I don't think there is any doubt that some of the factors in his pardon were attributable to his large gifts. In my opinion, that was disgraceful," Mr. Carter said.

That remark not only conveyed Mr. Carter's disgust with the pardons, but also sent a strong and unmistakable signal to the rest of the party that they cannot condone Mr. Clinton's actions.

Mr. Carter's broadside at Mr. Clinton came on the same day that Mr. Carter's former White House chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, published a blistering attack on Mr. Clinton's pardons in the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Jordan called them "outrageous" and said they were the result of Mr. Clinton's self-centered, egotistical arrogance, which led him to believe after escaping the ax in his Senate impeachment trial that he could get away with anything.

Mr. Jordan said that if he had ever suggested that Mr. Carter grant a pardon "to someone who contributed generously to our campaign and even promised to contribute to the Carter presidential library, he would have thrown me out of the Oval Office and probably fired me on the spot."

He called the Clintons calculating, self-absorbed, arrogant people, driven by "their own egos, appetites and ambitions," who had used Arkansas to advance their hunger for power and have now moved on to New York, where the big money is.

Mr. Jordan compared them to "grifters," who, during the Great Depression, were "fast-talking con artists who roamed the countryside, profiting at the expense of the poor and the uneducated, always one step ahead of the law, moving on before they were held accountable for their schemes and half-truths."

Prominent Democrats who have defended Mr. Clinton in the past have been pounding him during the last few weeks. Barney Frank, a die-hard Clinton defender, said the pardons were "just abusive. These are people who forgot where the line was between public service and what was personally convenient for them."

Even Bill Daley, who served Mr. Clinton in his Cabinet and went on to manage Al Gore's campaign, turned on his former boss, calling his actions "rather appalling."

"Democrats are tired of the Clintons. They want the party to move on and find new leadership," a Democratic Party adviser told me.

Also driving the flight from the Clintons is the mood of disgust at the grass roots and in the polls. The latest Zogby survey showed that the number of people who approve of Mr. Clinton is plummeting. A 51-percent majority disapprove of his conduct.

"If there was not substantial outrage around the country, you would not hear this outrage within Clinton's own party," said Chuck Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity.

A few weeks ago, the conventional wisdom was that with their handpicked fund-raiser running the Democratic National Committee, the Clintons would be dominating party politics for years to come and Hillary would soon be running for president. But last week, with the Democrats attempting to purge Bill Clinton from their party, that scenario was becoming increasingly unlikely. The humiliating Clinton era is finally coming to an end.

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