Hillary Signals Free Pass for Bush
Hillary Clinton’s campaign is signaling that a second Clinton presidency will follow the look-to-the-future, don’t-worry-about-accountability approach toward Republican wrongdoing that marked Bill Clinton’s years in office.
That was the significance of former President Clinton’s remarkable Dec. 17 comment that his wife’s first act in the White House would be to send Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush on an around-the-world mission to repair America’s damaged image.
“The first thing she intends to do is to send me and former President Bush and a number of other people around the world to tell them that America is open for business and cooperation again,” said Bill Clinton, who has accompanied the senior Bush on international humanitarian missions over the past several years.
What was perhaps most stunning about the remark was its assumption that Americans would be impressed that the country’s two dominant political dynasties would team up in early 2009 to tidy up some of the mess created by the headstrong son of the senior dynasty, the Bush Family.
The Bushes and the Clintons – who have held pieces of the nation’s executive power for more than a quarter century dating back to George H.W. Bush’s election as Vice President in 1980 – essentially would be keeping matters within the board rooms of the Washington Establishment.
In responding to Bill Clinton’s remark, George H.W. Bush issued a statement making clear he would not join in any slap at his son’s foreign policy. That also means Hillary Clinton’s “first thing” is unthinkable if her new administration were trying to exact any accountability from George W. Bush for his wrongdoing.
So, to get the senior Bush’s cooperation on the worldwide tour, there would have to be an implicit understanding that the second Clinton administration wouldn’t investigate the younger Bush’s crimes – from authorizing torture, ordering warrantless wiretaps, exposing CIA officer Valerie Plame’s identity, waging war under false pretenses and other abuses of executive powers.
If Hillary Clinton does get elected, you can expect to hear lots of talk about “leaving that one for the historians” or about the danger of increased partisanship if the Democrats were viewed as trying to “get even” by exposing Bush’s offenses.
The wise heads of Washington surely would nod in approval at this “bipartisanship” of a Democratic administration deciding not to get bogged down in “refighting the battles” of the second Bush administration.
The First Clinton-Bush Deal
That’s exactly what happened in 1993 when Bill Clinton entered the White House after defeating George H.W. Bush.
Clinton and other senior Democrats shut down or wrapped up four investigations that implicated senior Republicans, including Bush, in constitutional abuses of power and criminal wrongdoing during the Reagan-Bush years.
The Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages case was still alive, with special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh furious over new evidence that President George H.W. Bush may have obstructed justice by withholding his own notes from investigators and then ducking an interview that Walsh had put off until after the 1992 elections.
Bush also had sabotaged the investigation by pardoning six Iran-Contra defendants on Christmas Eve 1992, possibly the first presidential pardon ever issued to protect the same President from criminal liability.
In late 1992, Congress also was investigating Bush’s alleged role in secretly aiding Iraq’s Saddam Hussein during and after Hussein’s eight-year-long war with Iran.
Representative Henry Gonzalez, a Democrat from Texas who had served three decades in Congress, had exposed intricate financial schemes that the Reagan-Bush administrations employed to assist Hussein. There also were allegations of indirect U.S. military aid through third countries, including the supply of dangerous chemicals to Iraq.
Lesser known investigations were examining two other sets of alleged wrongdoing: the so-called October Surprise issue (allegations that Bush and other Republicans interfered with Jimmy Carter’s hostage negotiations with Iran during the 1980 campaign) and the Passportgate affair (evidence that Bush operatives improperly searched Clinton’s passport file in 1992, looking for dirt that could be used to discredit his patriotism and secure reelection for Bush).
All told, the four sets of allegations, if true, would paint an unflattering portrait of the 12-year Republican rule, with two illegal dirty tricks (October Surprise and Passportgate) book-ending ill-considered national security schemes in the Middle East (Iran-Contra and Iraqgate).
Had the full stories been told, the American people might have perceived the legacies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush quite differently.
But the Clinton administration and congressional Democrats dropped all four investigations beginning in early 1993, either through benign neglect – by failing to hold hearings and keeping the issues alive in the news media – or by actively closing the door on investigative leads.
Clinton let George H.W. Bush retreat gracefully into retirement. [For details on the scandals, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
Joining the Cover-ups
In his 2004 memoir, My Life, Clinton wrote that he “disagreed with the [Iran-Contra] pardons and could have made more of them but didn’t.” Clinton cited several reasons for giving his predecessor a pass.
“I wanted the country to be more united, not more divided, even if that split would be to my political advantage,” Clinton wrote. “Finally, President Bush had given decades of service to our country, and I thought we should allow him to retire in peace, leaving the matter between him and his conscience.”
By his choice of words, Clinton revealed how he saw information – not something that belonged to the American people and had intrinsic value to the democratic process – but as a potential weapon that could be put to “political advantage.”
On the Iran-Contra pardons, Clinton saw himself as generously passing up a club that he could have wielded to bludgeon an adversary. He chose instead to join in a cover-up in the name of national unity.
Similarly, the Democratic congressional leadership ignored the flood of incriminating evidence pouring in to the “October Surprise” task force in December 1992.
Chief counsel Lawrence Barcella told me later that he urged task force chairman Lee Hamilton to extend the investigation several months to examine this new evidence of Republican guilt, but Hamilton ordered Barcella simply to wrap up the probe with a finding that the 1980 Reagan-Bush campaign had done nothing wrong.
Some of the new incriminating evidence – including an unprecedented report from the Russian government about its knowledge of illicit Republican contacts with Iran – was simply hidden away in boxes that I discovered two years later and dubbed “The October Surprise X-Files.”
The “Iraqgate” investigation met a similar fate under Clinton’s Justice Department, which chose to ignore or dismiss evidence of covert shipments of war materiel to Saddam Hussein during the 1980s.
In 1995, when former Reagan national security official Howard Teicher came forward with an affidavit describing secret U.S.-backed arms shipments to Iraq, Clinton’s Justice Department went on the offensive – against Teicher, trying to discredit him and bullying him into silence.
That same year, the Clinton administration did nothing when Reagan’s 1984 campaign chief Ed Rollins wrote in his 1996 memoir Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms that a top Filipino politician had admitted delivering an illegal $10 million cash payment to Reagan from Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
"I was the guy who gave the ten million from Marcos to your campaign," the Filipino told Rollins in 1991, according to the memoir. "I was the guy who made the arrangements and delivered the cash personally. ...It was a personal gift from Marcos to Reagan."
The stunning anecdote did attract some press coverage in 1996 but the story died because the Clinton administration made no effort to follow it up. No government investigator demanded that Rollins reveal the identities of the Filipino politician and the Republican lobbyist who handled the pay-off.
(Rollins is now chairman of Republican Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign.) [For details on Marcos-Reagan case, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Huckabee’s Chairman Hid Payoff Secret.”]
In the mid-1990s, even as the Republican attack machine pounded the Clintons with allegations about alleged ethical lapses and marital infidelities, the Clinton administration acted like it was determined to prove that it could be trusted with the nation’s dark secrets, that it could cover up wrongdoing with the best of them.
The consequence for America, however, was different. With George H.W. Bush’s dubious public record whitewashed, the door was opened to the restoration of the Bush Dynasty. If the full truth had been known about former President Bush, it’s hard to conceive how George W. Bush ever could have become President.
Now, as Hillary Clinton seeks a strong showing in the Iowa caucuses to solidify her image as the inevitable Democratic nominee, she appears ready to pick up the mantle as the Democratic protector of the Bush Family’s legacy. Though she may utter some tough words about George W. Bush on the campaign trail, she’s not likely to follow up if she wins the White House.
If Bill Clinton is telling the truth about Hillary Clinton’s “first thing” to do as President – recruiting George H.W. Bush for a worldwide goodwill tour on behalf of America’s image – that will require closing the door on any serious investigation of George W. Bush.
The two dynastic families then can look to the future, again.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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