A GOP ace in the hole?

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Beyond the melodrama of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s tears-on-her-pillow triumph in New Hampshire and her gaming victory in Nevada lies the profoundly disturbing question of the Clintons’ hidden record of suspected crimes.

It’s that very record which likely prompted Sen. John Kerry’s sudden endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama just two days after Mrs. Clinton’s first primary win, followed by two more supportive votes from ranking congressional Democrats.

Their swift response was a clear sign that ranking Democratic colleagues are determined to derail Mrs. Clinton. Why? Because there exists a vault of information American voters are not aware of concerning the Clintons — information which should have been brought to the nation’s attention well before the kickoff of the 2008 presidential campaign.

The bedeviling problem is that party leaders on both sides of the congressional aisle conspired two years ago to bury the telltale documents. I’m referring to the 120 missing pages of the Barrett Report which, by all accounts from Washington insiders, former press secretary Tony Snow among them, contain sufficient evidence of Clinton misdeeds not only to furl Mrs. Clinton’s presidential flag but quite possibly to send her and her miscreant husband straight to the courtroom dock. Yet the papers have lain moldering in some deep Capitol Hill tomb with no one daring to dig them up though they can be exhumed on demand by any member of Congress.

How could this happen? Let’s go back to January 2006, when the 684-page report was finally released absent the incriminating pages. David Barrett, a Washington lawyer, had been appointed by the D.C. Court of Appeals to investigate allegations of misconduct on the part of Henry Cisneros, President Clinton’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Mr. Barrett then spent nine frustrating years watching his inquiry blocked at every turn by the IRS, the Justice Department and Clinton attorneys.

Ironically, the detours led him into a thicket of apparent Clinton crimes and misdemeanors largely revolving around the misuse of the IRS and Justice Department to punish their enemies — abuses that apparently persisted even after Bill Clinton’s term of office ended in 2000. Before Mr. Barrett could release the report, three Democrats, Mr. Kerry, Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Byron Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, managed to redact the potentially damaging pages by attaching a rider to an unrelated appropriations bill. Furious, Mr. Barrett issued a statement saying, “An accurate title for the report would be, ‘What We Were Prevented from Investigating.’ ”

What indeed. The papers must have been devastating. Why grasp at the desperate straw of redaction? Still, the Democrats had to realize they were merely buying time. Suppressed evidence cannot remain suppressed forever and the Republicans are well aware of the wild card they have in the hole. Odds are that’s why no Republican congressman has as yet unearthed the missing pages: The Republicans are banking on Mrs. Clinton, the scenario goes, to win the Democratic nomination so they can bake her in Mr. Barrett’s oven in the election campaign.

If there is any doubt about Democratic fears, witness the timing of Mr. Kerry’s lightning sweep into South Carolina to trumpet his support for Mr. Obama. It’s fair to conclude from this that Mr. Kerry, the party’s premier spokesman as well as the principal sponsor of the redaction rider, threw his weight behind Mr. Obama at this pivotal moment because he knows, better than anyone else, where the lethal poppy fields lie along Mrs. Clinton’s winding yellow-brick road.

On cue, California’s Rep. George Miller, a 33-year Democratic veteran of the House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s devoted confidante, quickly echoed Mr. Kerry’s support for Mr. Obama. Next, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, a 33-year veteran of the Senate, rang in with his Obama endorsement. So, the picture sharpens into focus: The Democratic establishment, which considered it too risky to put its chips on Mr. Obama in 2006, plainly reckons that it need not — indeed dare not — gamble any further on Mrs. Clinton in 2008.

The Clintons do not suffer rejection gladly. The collective rebuke Mrs. Clinton sustained surely explains why, as Mr. Clinton ratcheted up his Obama-bashing in South Carolina on Monday, she followed in the evening’s debate by cross-examining her worthy national rival as if he were an unworthy county defendant. It seemed poor local politics to beat up in open forum on a black opponent in a state filled with black Democrats; backroom bets say she was letting her colleagues know, before a television audience, that their preferred candidate was in for a nasty 15 rounds.

The long view is that Mrs. Clinton and her loose-cannon regent have slid by far too long on foul play aided by diminished expectations (they’re supposed to be ruthless). Now they’re pointed on a collision course with political disaster. It’s therefore time for Mr. Kerry and his Democratic colleagues to redress their misbegotten rescue of two years ago by opening up the concealed evidence on the Clintons for inspection by American voters.

Mark Goodman is a veteran journalist and author of the novel “Hurrah for the Next Man Who Dies.”

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