This Week

Issue: "Spring Draining," April 12, 1997

Easter in China

Not just a tourist without a compass, Newt Gingrich did more than ask the U.S. embassy whether it was safe to go to church while in China on Easter Sunday. He went to the experts. The House Speaker--obviously understanding the importance of the decision--consulted his colleague Chris Smith, chairman of the House subcommittee on human rights, along with top human-rights activist Nina Shea, on the eve of his trip. But he didn't listen to good advice. For the Easter services, Mr. Gingrich and members of his bipartisan congressional delegation attended Shanghai Community Church, which some journalists cited as "a model of respectability" among Chinese government-sponsored churches. Mr. Gingrich's attendance was a snub to China's persecuted Christians who meet in house churches in order to worship freely. "What he did," Ms. Shea told WORLD, "conferred legitimacy on the state-sponsored church, misled the American public, missed an important opportunity to stand for the persecuted, and was demoralizing for the underground church at a crucial time." Mr. Gingrich was already scheduled to be in Shanghai Easter Sunday, where there is an ongoing crackdown directed at Christians in underground churches. Christina Martin, spokesman for Mr. Gingrich, told WORLD: "The Speaker's initial request to attend a non-government sponsored church was not fulfilled because of fear that a public act could pose a threat of harm for the clergy and parishioners involved. The same threat held true for the requested meetings with religious leaders." That statement makes it seem as if Mr. Gingrich had no options. Not so. Ms. Shea said one option was to follow the example of former Philippines President Corazon Aquino, who flew out of China for one day in order to attend a freely held service. Another possibility: Hold a service in his hotel room and invite underground church members. "'Prop the door open and read Hebrews 13:3. Alert the press corps,'" Ms. Shea said she suggested. "It would have been a powerful symbol," she continued, "but in the end, he didn't believe his own rhetoric."

Will work for silence?

President Clinton April 3 said aides who sought lucrative work for disgraced Justice Department official Webster Hubbell in 1994 were acting "just out of human compassion." The Whitewater independent counsel wants to know whether they were acting out of fear of what testimony a more desperate Mr. Hubbell might provide against their boss, the president. White House officials April 1 revealed that former chief of staff Thomas McLarty and former administrator of the Small Business Administration (now chief of staff) Erskine Bowles put the arm on friends to become new clients of Mr. Hubbell. Months later, Mr. Hubbell would plead guilty to defrauding old clients of almost $500,000. These disclosures complete only part of the picture. In the nine months between his resignation from the Justice Department and his guilty plea that cost him 18 months in federal prison, Mr. Hubbell earned more money than he'd ever earned during the same amount of time as an Arkansas lawyer. About a dozen different clients paid a total of more than $500,000, of which a major benefactor of President Clinton and the Democratic Party--Indonesia's Lippo Group--paid him $100,000. Mr. McLarty hustled up several thousand dollars in business for Mr. Hubbell; Mr. Bowles was unsuccessful, even though he tried to tap a friend whose company was on the equivalent of probation with Mr. Bowles's SBA. Where did the rest of the money come from? Mr. Hubbell is not talking. A House committee April 3 issued 18 new subpoenas to find out. What the April Fool's Day disclosures reveal is that Mr. McLarty specifically informed First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton of his intention to "be supportive" of Mr. Hubbell. According to Lanny Davis, a lawyer who serves as the White House's designated scandal spokesman for the news media, Mr. McLarty "thinks he may have mentioned it to the president, but his memory is less clear about that." This is the first acknowledgment that the Clintons knew of an effort to secure lucrative work for Mr. Hubbell. When journalists reported in February on the Lippo payment, Mr. Clinton claimed newspaper reports represented his first knowledge of the Lippo-Hubbell connection.

Federal schoolmaster

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The California superintendent of public education, in Washington April 2, pledged her support for President Clinton's plan to devise federal government education standards. Also, more than 200 leaders of high-tech businesses endorsed the idea. Until then, only Maryland, Michigan, and North Carolina government school officials had endorsed the president's federal testing scheme. Mr. Clinton has said he wants a federal standardized test of reading for 4th graders and math for 8th graders. Of the nation's 50 million government school students, 10 percent of them reside in California, making the state superintendent's backing all the more significant. "California and all of you here today have given powerful new momentum to the crusade for national education standards," Mr. Clinton declared. Not so fast, said an aide to California Gov. Pete Wilson. Spokesman Dan Edwards said Superintendent Delaine Easton was speaking for herself when she pledged support of the federal standards. "Her endorsement does not speak for all of the education hierarchy of California," said Mr. Edwards.

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