This Week

Issue: "Fighting Cultural Ebonics," Feb. 1, 1997

Return on investment

No wonder President Clinton in his inaugural address was so effusive about putting an end to the &quotpetty bickering" in Washington. Since WORLD's cover story last week (&quotThe power of the purse," Jan. 25) about questionable White House and Democratic fundraising practices, four fresh revelations raise disturbing new questions: 1. Until last week, there was little evidence that the payback for foreign-linked political contributions was anything other than coffee klatches and photos with the president. But people with the ability to make hundreds of thousands in political contributions don't get that way by making foolish investments; they expect a return. The Jan. 23 New York Times broke the story that a Clinton-appointed director of the taxpayer-backed Export-Import Bank aggressively championed a $6.5 million loan on behalf of a Democratic Party contributor. Right in the middle of the deal: the mysterious John Huang, the former Commerce Department official and Democratic fundraiser who is the central figure in the swelling campaign-finance scandal. The deal eventually broke down, but the story is, as the Times put it, &quotone of the first signs that some ... donors were seeking more specific help from the government." 2. Also last week, the Associated Press uncovered a White House deception concerning the Democratic Party's Indonesian benefactor Lippo Group and its relationship to former Justice Department number-two man Webster Hubbell, a key player in the Whitewater scandal who pled guilty to fraud. Since December, White House officials have insisted to the press that top-level Clinton aide Bruce Lindsey knew nothing of Mr. Hubbell's working for Lippo between the time he left government and entered federal prison. On Jan. 22, spokesman Mike McCurry finally had to admit Mr. Lindsey knew about the work. Why the deception? Did aides close to the president prevail upon Lippo to steer the financially stressed Mr. Hubbell some business to make it less likely he would cooperate with Whitewater prosecutors? 3. It was further reported last week that a Clinton-appointed representative of U.S. economic interests in Taiwan resigned amid questioning by the Justice Department about allegations he pressured Taiwanese businessmen to contribute to Mr. Clinton's reelection. 4. Document disclosures forced Vice President Gore to acknowledge he lied when he said he did not know last April's Buddhist temple fundraiser was actually a fundraiser. Despite some GOP protestations that last week's punishment of House Speaker Gingrich was unduly harsh, it was in effect a plea bargain; Mr. Gingrich accepted the deal. Sure, let's stop the &quotpetty bickering." But possible White House corruption is neither &quotpetty" nor its exposure and punishment mere &quotbickering."

Running for history

Bill Clinton Jan. 20 became the first Democratic president in 60 years to be sworn in for a second term. The legendarily late-for-appointments president recited the oath of office five minutes late, shortening his second term by at least a like amount. Mr. Clinton soared into the inaugural with 57 to 60 percent job-approval ratings, according to polls conducted by Newsweek and ABC News, respectively. But because Mr. Clinton has run his last campaign, those results weren't as important as the polls' other findings: 49 percent of those surveyed for Newsweek believed history would judge Mr. Clinton near the bottom of all American presidents; a majority of ABC News respondents--54 percent--said Mr. Clinton cannot be described as honest or trustworthy, and 55 percent believe the president does not have high personal moral and ethical standards. The day before the inaugural, The Washington Post carried an interview with Mr. Clinton in which he answered allegations that overnight lodging in the Lincoln Bedroom has been under his administration a payback to some of his more generous political donors. &quotI don't think it's a bad thing for a president to invite his strong supporters to stay in the White House," Mr. Clinton said, but he stressed that the strength of support is not measured in dollars and cents. The second-term president got down to dollars and cents the next day, giving Republican congressional leaders a peek at his plan to restrain the growth of Medicare; GOP leaders received the plan warmly. The Republican-led Senate also gave a warm reception to two members of the president's foreign-policy team. Voting 99-0 on both nominations, the Senate Jan. 22 confirmed Madeleine Albright as Secretary of State and William Cohen as Secretary of Defense. On the domestic-policy side, the confirmation of Andrew Cuomo (son of the former governor of New York) to become Secretary of Housing and Urban Development seemed all but assured; home-stater Sen. Alphonse D'Amato, chairman of the committee that will consider Mr. Cuomo's nomination, has announced his support.

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