- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2000

A dispassionately analytical word for Independent Counsel Robert Ray's statement on the White House travel office investigation is "perplexing." Mr. Ray has attested to finding what he calls "substantial evidence" of Hillary Rodham Clinton's "role" (Mr. Ray's quotation marks) in firing seven White House travel office employees. He has determined that Mrs. Clinton "ultimately influenced" that decision. But despite the first lady's repeated denials, under oath, of any role (or "role") in what is known as "Travelgate," Mr. Ray announced last week that he will not bring any charges against the first lady for making false statements, committing perjury or obstructing justice.

It's not that the Ray statement is exculpatory of Mrs. Clinton or the White House, for that matter, which Mr. Ray excoriates for a range of blatant stonewalling tactics, from asserting "unfounded privileges" consistently rejected in the courts, to conducting "inadequate searches" for documents. The statement cites Mrs. Clinton's travel office "discussions" with then-deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster, then-Chief of Staff Mack McLarty and "longtime friend and adviser Harry Thomason," the wealthy Hollywood producer whose travel service stood to benefit from a change in White House personnel. Mr. Ray cites "one direct conversation" with David Watkins, the White House official directly in charge of the travel office whose infamous "hell to pay" memo about Mrs. Clinton would eventually trigger the Independent Counsel's investigation. As Mr. Ray very carefully puts it, "These individuals discussed her concerns among themselves, which produced a momentum to take immediate action."

"Produced a momentum to take immediate action." Sure sounds like the way any eminence rose worth her hotline operates. Even this somewhat rarefied vision of Mrs. Clinton at work contradicts the first lady's many denials, including testimony provided under oath. "Nevertheless" Mr. Ray's interesting word the evidence he first characterizes as "substantial" turns out to be also "insufficient" to "prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that any of Mrs. Clinton's statements and testimony regarding her involvement in the travel office firings were knowingly false." Would that he had given a jury a chance to make that determination.

In conclusion, Mr. Ray sounds what may strike one as a hopeful note: "The matter is now closed." To be sure, the report is now finished. But Mr. Ray may by now have an inkling of how difficult it is to achieve what is these days known as "closure" when logic appears to have been defied. In a deft display of the art of interviewing, NBC's Tim Russert quizzed Mr. Ray on "Meet the Press" on Sunday on the statement's startling contradictions, repeatedly inviting the independent counsel to reconcile Mrs. Clinton's record of denial with the evidence of her involvement in what amounts to the shoddiest scandal in two terms of the Clinton-Gore administration: the pitiless abuse of seven White House employees who did nothing but occupy jobs Bill and Hillary Clinton wanted to fill with assorted "cousins" and cronies.

Mr. Ray has determined that, despite "substantial evidence" of both Mrs. Clinton's involvement in and subsequent cover-up of this outrageous abuse of power, she remains beyond the reach of the law. "This matter then returns appropriately to the people and to the political process where it belongs," Mr. Ray told Mr. Russert. Without the law's guidance, one wonders what will they make of it.

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