Return on investment
No wonder President Clinton in his inaugural address was so effusive about putting an end to the "petty bickering" in Washington. Since WORLD's cover story last week ("The 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, "one 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 "petty bickering." But possible White House corruption is neither "petty" nor its exposure and punishment mere "bickering."
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. "I 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.
Running for cover
One day after the sunny but cold presidential inaugural, the 395-28 vote to punish the Speaker of the House was yet more rain on Newt Gingrich's parade. The House acted on the Ethics Committee's recommendation that Mr. Gingrich receive an official reprimand and be forced to pay $300,000 to cover some of the expenses related to its investigation of the Speaker. The charge stems from the use of tax-exempt foundations to fund the distribution of a college course the committee viewed as "partisan." Mr. Gingrich admitted failing to seek proper legal counsel regarding the use of the foundations and filing of inaccurate information with the committee during its investigation. In the Senate, Republican leaders laid out their legislative agenda for the year: The push for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution topped the list. GOP senators also pledged to seek educational vouchers and tax breaks; a five-year, $163-billion tax cut; and a crime bill aimed at fighting illegal drugs, terrorism, and child pornography. Democrats said they would emphasize new campaign-finance laws, federal money for local schools, and the expansion of government-paid health care benefits for children.
Sowing and reaping
A new law forbidding the sale of sexually explicit magazines at U.S. military bases was struck down Jan. 22 by a federal judge in New York. Backers of the law--passed as part of the 1996 defense authorization bill--had argued that the discount pricing system at base exchanges put the government in the position of subsidizing materials that have the effect of undermining core military values of "honor, courage, and commitment." The law didn't prohibit military personnel from buying pornographic materials off base, but Judge Shira Scheindlin still found the provision unconstitutional, ruling that it violated "our cherished right to free speech." Pornographer Bob Guccione, who led the fight against the law, breathed a sigh of relief. Mr. Guccione sells 19,000 copies of his magazine, Penthouse, on Army and Air Force installments each month. "The First Amendment has been given a new spit-shine," he said. One day before the pornography ruling, a maintenance instructor at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland was charged with sexual crimes against two female trainees and a female civilian. He's the fourth officer to face sex charges. In November, a captain and two drill sergeants at the school were accused of rape and other sex crimes. In early January, a private at Aberdeen--facing court martial for an alleged rape--was found dead in his barracks, an apparent suicide. At the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., a male cadet went on trial Jan. 21 for raping a female cadet. School officers said it was the first case of its kind since women began attending the prestigious military school in 1976.
In North Carolina, a jury ordered ABC to pay Food Lion more than $5.5 million in punitive damages related to a 1992 undercover report. Two ABC producers--aided by a food workers' union that had vowed to put the grocery chain out of business--used fake resumes and phony references to gain employment at Food Lion. The jury found the misrepresentation to be a clear case of trespassing and fraud, and the damage award was designed to deter such behavior in the future. "It's like a football game," said jury foreman Gregory Mack. "There are boundaries [in news gathering] and you have to make sure you don't go outside the boundaries." Using hidden cameras, the two producers shot some 45 hours of video for a story alleging that Food Lion engaged in unsanitary food handling practices and sold spoiled food. Although the accuracy of the ABC report wasn't at issue in the trial, after the verdict, cable's Fox News Channel showed previously unaired "outtakes" from the hidden camera video that suggested some of the most damaging material against Food Lion may have been staged.
An FBI sting stung 47 reputed members and associates of the Gambino, Luchese, and DeCalvacante organized crime families Jan. 23. They face charges ranging from racketeering to drug dealing. James Kallstrom, head of the FBI's New York office, said his undercover agents had been running a social club in Brooklyn where "mobsters would come to meet and plan details of the criminal activity." Investigators have it all on videotape.
The depravity of man
Two New Jersey teenagers, charged in the shaking and beating death of their newborn son, were freed on bail Jan. 21. Brian Peterson and Amy Grossberg were jailed in mid-November, hours after Miss Grossberg gave birth in a Delaware hotel a few blocks from her college dormitory. The two teens have been fitted with electronic monitoring devices and ordered to stay at their parents' homes. They face charges of first-degree murder. A Pennsylvania man, convicted of trying to push his nine-year-old deaf daughter in front an oncoming truck so he could could collect her life insurance, was sentenced Jan. 21 to multiple prison terms. David Crist also faces charges of trying to electrocute his four-year-old daughter. In Maryland, a 17-year-old boy who admitted stabbing and bludgeoning his sleeping family to death was sentenced to 90 years in prison. Michael Fisher said in a confession that he just "snapped." "It was like I tried to stop, but I couldn't," he said.
Next year, in Jerusalem?
Wearing his trademark khaki uniform and black-and-white kaffiyeh, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat returned to Hebron in triumph Jan. 19, two days after Israel turned over most of the historically rich West Bank city to Palestinian rule. Mr. Arafat, addressing some 60,000 ecstatic Palestinians from the balcony of the former Israeli military headquarters in Hebron, proclaimed the city "liberated" after 30 years of Israeli occupation stemming from the 1967 Middle East War. "Hebron is a step toward what comes after," he said, "the establishment of our Palestinian state.... We will continue to Jerusalem." As he spoke, however, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared on American television explaining how he was "forced" into the Hebron deal under agreements signed by Israel's previous Labor government. Now that Hebron has been resolved, he said, Israel is expecting "reciprocity" from the Palestinians--including "annulling the PLO charter that calls for Israel's destruction." As for Mr. Arafat's desire for a Palestinian capital in Arab East Jerusalem, Mr. Netanyahu said: "He can seek all he wants. We are not going to re-divide Jerusalem."
"Misguided and damaging"
Residents of Hong Kong are growing increasingly worried about their future as the July 1 deadline approaches for the British to hand the territory back over to China. On Jan. 19, a Chinese panel in Beijing proposed repealing Hong Kong's bill of rights and issuing restrictions on protests, free association, and privacy. Chris Patten, the territory's British governor, characterized the proposals as "misguided and damaging," and he called on the man who will be Hong Kong's new leader to reject them. But in a Jan. 23 speech, Tung Chee-hwa, a shipping magnate chosen by Beijing to be the territory's first administrator under reestablished Chinese rule, said he supported repeal of the civil rights laws. Individual rights, he said, need to subjugated for "the good of the public at large." Two days later, Beijing hosted the first meeting of its hand-picked Hong Kong legislature. The current legislature, elected under recent reforms that give average citizens greater representation, will be disbanded as soon as China assumes control.
Elementary, my dear Yeltsin
In Russia, an ailing President Boris Yeltsin survived a parliamentary attempt to oust him from power, but Yeltsin opponents say they will try again. Mr. Yeltsin, who underwent heart surgery late last year, is now recovering from what his doctors say is "an elementary case of pneumonia." Viktor Ilyukhin, a hard-line Communist Party member who sponsored the resolution calling for Mr. Yeltsin to step down, complained that "the president has been to the Kremlin only four times over the last eight months."
American balloonist Steve Fossett, hoping to circle the world nonstop, didn't make it--but before being forced down by a lack of fuel he did break the record for the longest time aloft in a balloon. The 52-year-old securities trader, who took off from St. Louis Jan. 13, touched down a week later in Nunkhar, India. Some villagers mistook the balloon for a floating temple and thought Mr. Fossett was a human incarnation of their monkey god, Hanuman.