The White House of Ill Repute

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Mother Jones Editor in Chief Jeffrey Klein was a guest on Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy NOW!” on Monday, March 10. He was interviewed by Pacifica’s Amy Goodman, who was his co-host in the gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Newt Gingrich hearings co-produced by Pacifica and Mother Jones earlier this year. The following remarks are from their discussion of President Clinton’s March 7, 1997 press conference, in which he responded to allegations of campaign finance wrong-doing.


Why don’t we start with Clinton’s statement,

“I don’t believe you can find any evidence of the fact that I had changed government policy solely because of a contribution.”

JK: “Solely” would lead a mathematician to say, “You mean it was an element but it wasn’t the sole element.” The money helped you make your decisions on policy, but other things came into account too, like perhaps, on a rare day, the value of the policy to the American public might have entered into the discussion. I’m cautious about descending into this language, but if you want to be modest about it, [Clinton] is geisha in chief. If you want to be immodest, he’s the call girl in chief. He’s told his officials, I want to get elected no matter what.

How significant is it that Gore was on the hot seat this past week?

JK: The people re-elected Clinton knowing he was a liar and a cheat, but they felt like he was a likable liar and cheat and was probably going to do a better job than the other guy. Gore’s public image is somebody who’s honest and ethical. So these disclosures, and there will be more, will go to the core of his strength. What will you be left with? That Al Gore is charming? I don’t think so. He is going to have a risk of seeing his whole political career evaporate before him. He has to consider whether he’s going to file for a divorce or at least do a trial separation, and that will make Clinton very angry. Clinton now has to keep an increasing number of people in close to his group. If one of these people breaks, he’s in major-league trouble, because, as in a divorce situation, once somebody splits, all of the stuff that was kept inside the household then pours out. And there’s much more inside the White House household.

Like what?

JK: I personally think that when Clinton says [the White House coffees] were rather “pedestrian” affairs, he was, in a way, telling the truth, because he’s just tickling those people. That’s the $25,000 and $50,000 crowd. He’s just trying to give them the impression that their voice matters. I was told by a very senior official inside the White House that under a quarter of a million dollars you don’t even register on the policy radar. The people we need to look at are those who are giving more: You have some highly corrupt people who say, “This is a way that I can buy policy.” We’re in for some major-league exposés on what these people got back, because many of them don’t care about photo ops. They want the exact opposite. They want them to be stealth contributions and they want the reward to be stealth. And it’s those hardball players who will make this scandal.

In some ways this is worse than a Watergate scandal already. Because we’re not talking about one maniacal individual driving a process. Clinton’s remove from the process — his deniability, which in some cases he probably deserves — shows you how bad it is, because a whole system is in place to manipulate him.

[What about] the people who are making these deals, who are actually profiting off them, not just being emissaries, but taking cuts?

JK: The logic is simple. When you shake hands with the Chinese government or the Taiwanese government, you have to arrange middlemen. One is Mark Middleton. Mark Middleton was working for Mack McLarty in the White House. All of a sudden he gets discharged from his job in the White House and he’s now introducing himself to these various fundraisers as a man who does private business but, incidentally, he also does the president’s business. He’s talking to these representatives from the various tyrants — the Suhartos and the Chinese military and so on. He’s talking to them about doing deals. And they’re saying, “This is how we do deals in our country.” He’s exposing himself and the White House to the way business is being done in other countries.

There was in place a checks and balance system to audit the checks that came into any White House campaign; it was in place for many years. And Clinton said yesterday that he was shocked that this checks and balances system to audit the checks was dropped. You’ve got to be pretty naive to think that a checks and balances system gets dropped. Somebody removed that. Find out who removed that, who said, “We have got to get the cops out of here,” and this whole thing unravels. Because that person, under pressure, will tell you who directed them to do it and why.

Back to Gore for a minute: You’ve got a lot of people who will benefit if Gore goes down. Including Dick Gephardt, who’s a major recipient of Lippo Group funds, isn’t he?

JK: Congress has narrowed the scope of its various investigations [so] they want to just go after Clinton! The main problem with the “i word,” with the impeachment word, is, who would impeach the impeachers? Because [Congress doesn’t] want foreign money and its ties to the American government to be investigated. The key thing that will be different [from previous administrations] for the American public is if you find that foreign governments were actively manipulating the election, then you’re into treason areas. You will now then get the fury of conservatives. Real conservatives, of which there are very few among the Republican leadership, but of which there are quite a few in the American population, will be outraged. They’re going to say, “Hold on a second. It’s my government. What are you doing letting these foreign governments manipulate things?” And then you have the possibility of a coalition between progressives and conservatives that would overcome the common corruption in Congress and the White House.

Do you see it going in that direction, ultimately leading to impeachment? The new Harris Poll says that two-thirds of respondents say they see no difference between Republicans and Democrats and how much they’re influenced by campaign contributions. And other polls say that campaign finance is not a major issue for Americans today.

JK: People are disgusted. It would be really wrong to underestimate the repulsion that the American public feels on both sides of the ideological divide. But because they see no leadership telling them that their disgust can be catalyzed into action, they are just laying back and saying, “I can’t be interested.” What does that mean? It means, “My life is busy, my life is frustrating. I can’t afford to put time and mental energy and my hopes into something where I don’t feel like a change is going to occur.” Once they have leadership and candidates and somebody who they trust to do this, I think they’re going to be tremendously interested.

I think that will likely happen on the state level first. I’ve predicted this now for four years. Some state is going to break out with some governor or some senator who’s going to run on a La Follette-like ticket — it could be a Republican. And they’re going to say, “The way we do business now is absolutely wrong, and this is my issue. And when I get elected I’m going to change the system.” They’re going to run on a sort of anti-Huffington campaign. They’re going to come forward and say here’s exactly my money, here are exactly my limits. They’re going to model this behavior, and they’re going to win. And that’s all politicians care about. And then other politicians will start saying, “Ahh, this is a winning technique.” And that’s how I think reform will sweep into Washington.


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