The bell has just rung on the 2008 presidential sweepstakes and already more entries have crowded into the gates than the American grandstand can count, much less account for. That’s all to the good, as the only winners over the past two decades have been named either Bush or Clinton. Still, since nothing less than the fate of the nation seems to be at stake, it is imperative that all candidates be measured as closely as possible for merit and accountability, beginning with the most visible pretender, Sen. Hillary Clinton.
The disturbing problem is, neither the Democrats or Republicans on Capitol Hill are disposed to brace Mrs. Clinton, even though it is immediately within their power to do so.
Let’s return one year to the yellowing Barrett report. In February 2006, after nine years of hard labor, Washington lawyer David Barrett, the independent counsel appointed to investigate the Henry Cisneros scandal, finally published his 684-page report. His study provoked commentary mainly for what was missing — 120 pages of evidence, reportedly devastating to both Clintons, which Democratic congressmen, led by Sens. John Kerry, Dick Durbin and Byron Dorgan, had redacted by attaching a rider to another bill.
Deeply frustrated by nine seasons of blockading by Clinton lawyers and Democratic congressmen, Mr. Barrett issued a statement saying, “An accurate title for the report would be, ‘What We Were Prevented from Investigating.’ ” What, indeed. In an online column written before he signed on as President Bush’s press secretary, Tony Snow reported that by all accounts the redacted pages contained enough damning evidence to sink Mrs. Clinton’s presidential ship.
Mr. Snow’s widely held view made sense, else why would the Democrats go to such extravagant lengths to shield the pages from the light of day? However, there was a catch to the redaction: Any congressman could secure a copy of the vaulted evidence merely for the asking.
As it happened, I had trod a path parallel to Mr. Barrett’s in my own investigation into corruption in the highest precincts of a global media conglomerate which led in turn led to evidence of obstruction by President Clinton.
An abiding theme in the redacted pages, insiders say, is the Clinton camp practice of using the IRS to punish its enemies. Mr. Clinton plainly did not leave this illegal practice behind in the Oval Office. By all accounts he has maintained a tight grip on a number of government departments and agencies, notably the Justice Department and the IRS, the folks who can deal the deadliest damage.
I can personally vouch for the Clinton-IRS strategy. In 2002, after I had learned of Mr. Clinton’s intrusion into the case I had reported to the IRS, I informed Mrs. Clinton of the facts I’d uncovered. Soon enough the IRS came calling with unwarranted tax demands and threats of criminal investigation. I replied accusing the IRS of conspiring with the Clintons and the media conglomerate to perpetrate “institutionalized terrorism.” The agency, finally grasping the irony that it was seeking to punish its own whistleblower, quickly backed off.
So: You really can Just Say No to Clintonian bullying. All of which brings me back round to the 120 missing pages of the Barrett report, still smoking in some nether Beltway trash barrel. I tried to pry the pages out of Florida Republican Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr. (who, in this tale’s one comic episode, referred me to my local Democratic representative) and even appealed to Mr. Snow and the chairman of the Republican National Committee — and got nowhere. It’s a puzzlement: Why would the Republicans sit on a report they think destined to deep-six the presidential campaign of the Democratic front-runner?
Alas, there are several unholy answers to that riddle. The first is the cynical theory that we don’t really live in a democracy but in a series of autocracies changed at fixed intervals. Thus the inevitable corollary: At the top, power-brokers stick together. It further must be clear to the Republican brain trust that the party is on course to take an even worse drubbing in 2008 than it did in 2006, so they’re surely counting future cards. And if they have to suffer a Democrat in the White House, who better than Mrs. Clinton, poster girl for moral ambiguity? In that event, it follows, the sequestered pages of the Barrett Report would surely give the Republicans a dandy wild card when upcoming hands are dealt on Capitol Hill. Bluntly put, they’d have Mrs. Clinton at least halfway in their pocket.
Finally, under the law of unintended consequences, it occurs to me that Mr. Bush’s Roman abuses of power have provided welcome cover and concealment for Clinton crimes and misdemeanors. I’m an avowed liberal and a registered Democrat, but I do understand that a wrong Bush doesn’t make two right Clintons. I submit that in this crucial election season the American public — which, after all, paid $20 million in hard tax dollars for the Barrett report — has every right to access of all pertinent information available on presidential candidates.
Now that the senator from New York has announced “I’m in to win,” voters should demand that their representatives release the mystery pages so that they may examine Mrs. Clinton red in tooth. Otherwise, Americans run the risk of going to the polls in 2008 seeking the rebirth of a nation only to discover that they have merely traded the devil for a witch.
Mark Goodman is a veteran journalist and author of the novel “Hurrah for the Next Man Who Dies.”