Washington ticket fixers
Their snowmobiles broken down, former auto-racing star Bobby Unser and a friend trudged for two days through deep snow and a December blizzard along the Colorado-New Mexico border looking for help. After 18 more hours of walking, the two came upon a barn and some welcome warmth. There, they called for help. Eventually they were rescued, but also subpoenaed. The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner faces a June 11 trial in Denver on a federal misdemeanor charge of driving a snowmobile in a wilderness area. Mr. Unser-unwittingly, he says-stands accused of violating the Wilderness Act of 1964 and could be looking at six months in prison and a $5,000 fine. Mr. Unser testified to Congress last week that the U.S. Forest Service, which is hauling him into court, is "worse than the KGB in Russia" for prosecuting him. "The value of human life has to be worth more than the enforcement of an alleged technical violation of the law." Environmental activist Darrell Knuffke sniffed, "He should not expect U.S. senators to fix his ticket for him." Apparently the Indy speedster doesn't know how to get a ticket fixed in Bill Clinton's Washington. The Los Angeles Times reported on April 14 that California developer (and Friend of Bill) Angelo K. Tsakopoulos violated environmental laws but had possible criminal charges against him reduced to what a government memo called a "highly favorable" settlement. "We were just stunned," the Times quoted one Environmental Protection Agency staffer familiar with the deal. A month later, Mr. Tsakopoulos cut a $100,000 check to the Democratic National Committee. He gave $65,000 a day before the 1996 election. Times reporters interviewed three former and current EPA officials for their story. Said one staffer, explaining the government's deference to the DNC money man: "Mr. Tsakopoulos has a direct line to the White House." Indeed he does. Mr. Tsakopoulos was one of the president's 900+ friends to have slept in the Lincoln Bedroom. Moreover, months before the government settlement with him, Mr. T detailed specifically to the president his troubles with the federal bureaucracy during a DNC coffee at the White House. It's all just one more striking example that in this administration, money talks-and Bobby Unser walks.
"Sick and tired of lying"
Just before White House officials last week appeared before a Little Rock grand jury to answer questions about possible "hush money," Whitewater felon James McDougal enjoyed the benefits of turning state's evidence. Mr. McDougal on April 14 received a lenient sentence-three years out of a possible 84-in exchange for his assistance to independent counsel Kenneth Starr. Saying he "just got sick and tired of lying" for President Clinton, Mr. McDougal said publicly the president's refusal to pardon his wife Susan (who is sitting in jail on contempt charges for refusing to cooperate with prosecutors) turned him against his old friend. The Clintons, Mr. McDougal said, "should be deeply concerned about [my testimony]." Hillary Clinton on April 17 claimed she wasn't. How useful will Mr. McDougal's testimony be? By himself, the smooth-talking former Arkansas banker is hardly credible. But Mr. Starr, who is usually tight-lipped about his evidence, said Mr. McDougal's story has checked out. Mr. McDougal has led investigators to other evidence-both witnesses and supporting documentation-that "independently corroborates substantial portions of Mr. McDougal's testimony." Testimony from the current and former White House chiefs of staff centers on questions of possible hush money paid to a close Clinton aide. Both Erskine Bowles and Thomas McLarty denied to reporters that they arranged for wealthy Democratic benefactors to hire Webster Hubbell as a means of keeping the former Justice Department official from cooperating with Mr. Starr's probe. Mr. McLarty said he was "just helping a friend in a time of need." Meanwhile, a Washington Post report documented that Mr. Hubbell, the friend in need, had friends indeed-and plenty of them. The newspaper revealed that in the nine months between his resignation from Justice and his guilty plea to fraud, Mr. Hubbell had 70-plus meetings at the White House with more than 20 different administration officials. The Post reporter said she obtained an appointment calendar, telephone message slips, and other supporting documentation for her story.
Newt on the Dole
House Speaker Newt Gingrich once called Bob Dole "the tax collector for the welfare state." In loaning Mr. Gingrich $300,000, Mr. Dole became the bill collector for the Speaker's ethics case. The vanquished Republican presidential candidate April 17 called his loan an investment in the future of the GOP, helping Mr. Gingrich to pay off his ethics committee plea bargain and putting the scandal behind him. The loan, according to a spokesman for Mr. Gingrich, is at 10 percent interest, compounded annually; it must be repaid in full, and does not require a first payment before the year 2005. Democrats ridiculed the loan as a "sweetheart deal." Mr. Gingrich says he cleared it with Ethics Committee leaders.
Back to the lab
Does FBI stand for "Frequently Botched Investigations"? Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich on April 15 released a 500-page report criticizing the FBI's crime lab and some evidence technicians. Scientifically flawed reports and inaccurate testimony tailored to favor the prosecution, his report concluded, may have tainted investigations such as the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings, among others. The report, based on an 18-month probe, recommends censure, transfer, or other discipline for five agents responsible for the greatest abuses. Justice Department officials predicted scores of appeals in cases where prosecutors used FBI crime lab information or testimony. The report accused one lab agent of misconduct in both the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombing probes. For the Oklahoma City trial, agent David Williams is not on the prosecution's witness list. "I guess a good day is when we're not in the paper," said Deputy FBI Director William Esposito.
At the Supreme Court
Both sides in a dispute over the recently enacted line-item veto seek an emergency review. Lawyers representing members of Congress who challenged the constitutionality of the line-item veto, and lawyers for the White House, which supports the new veto power, asked for a decision on the issue before the court takes its summer recess in July. The congressmen won a lower-court ruling two weeks ago that found unconstitutional the new law giving the president the power to veto single items in spending bills, instead of having to accept or reject entire pieces of legislation covering multiple spending items. Republicans, arguing the line-item veto would promote spending restraint, passed the measure with the support of President Clinton. Georgia's candidate drug testing law violates the Constitution's guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure, an 8-1 majority holds. Writing for the court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted the court has allowed such blanket drug testing only in the cases of railroad workers, Drug Enforcement Agency officials, and student athletes. Justice Ginsburg called the Georgia law well-intended symbolism that did not justify an exemption from the Fourth Amendment. Chief Justice William Rehnquist was the sole dissenter. Crack cocaine offender's appeal is rejected. Noting that federal guidelines require 100 times more powdered cocaine evidence than crack cocaine to draw a 10-year sentence, the lawyer for a Washington, D.C., drug offender argued his client should go free because the guidelines are unfair. The court refused to hear the case.
Big Tobacco to cough up?
Seeking to end the mounting financial and political costs of battling health-related lawsuits, the nation's two top cigarette makers began negotiating a settlement with many of their opponents. The Wall Street Journal broke the story that both Philip Morris Inc. and RJR Nabisco Holdings Corp. entered into secret talks with several state attorneys general, offering sweeping concessions that include submitting to regulation by the Food and Drug Administration, ending cigarette sponsorship of sports events, and paying some $300 billion over the next quarter-century to compensate states and individuals for tobacco-related health care costs. In return, the two tobacco companies want near-total immunity from current and future lawsuits. Any deal would require the consent of Congress.
Twenty-one-year-old golf sensation Tiger Woods won the prestigious Master's Tournament in Augusta, Ga. Shattering one course record after another, he finished with a 18-under-par 270, 12 strokes ahead of his nearest competitor. Mr. Woods is the youngest golfer ever to win the Master's.
Floodwaters gushed like geysers from backed-up storm drains in Moorhead, Minn., as the engorged Red River took forecasters by surprise and rose more than a foot above its predicted crest. Hitting almost 40 feet-some 23 feet above flood stage-the Red inundated areas along the Minnesota/North Dakota border. In Fargo, N.D., hundreds of college students worked through the night to increase the height of makeshift dikes.
The nation in brief
Standing up. Thousands of supporters-some from as far away as California and Colorado-came to Montgomery, Ala., to rally for Judge Roy Moore, the Circuit Court jurist who has defied a judicial order to remove a plaque of the Ten Commandments from his courtroom (see WORLD, Feb. 22). The case is on appeal to the state Supreme Court. Alabama Gov. Fob James, a supporter of Judge Moore, told the cheering crowd: "There comes a time when free people will no longer tolerate their loss of liberty. That time has come." Backing down. Confronted by a top legal official, the U.S. Department of Education dropped its demand that Texas ignore a 1996 federal court decision barring use of racial preferences in college admissions and scholarships. In no uncertain terms, acting Solicitor General Walter Dellinger told the department that the decision by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals must be enforced. Last month, the Clinton Administration threatened to withhold $500 million in education aid unless Texas continued to give preferences based on race. Going half way. In Hawaii, House and Senate negotiators wrestling with the issue of homosexual "marriage" reached a compromise: Same-sex couples will be able to sign up as "reciprocal partners"-giving them inheritance rights and certain other benefits-but the legislature will place before the voters a constitutional amendment that would bar legalization of homosexual marriage. Voter approval of the amendment, believed to be all but certain, would reverse a 1993 state Supreme Court decision that said denying marriage to homosexuals is unconstitutional.
Declaring that "the truth will triumph," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to stay in office, despite an Israeli police recommendation that he be indicted for making an illegal deal with a political ally. The case involves the appointment of an attorney general three months ago. Police say evidence exists that Mr. Netanyahu made the appointment at the behest of a politician with legal problems who hoped the new attorney general would extricate him from his corruption trial. In announcing the indictment recommendation, Police Commissioner Assaf Hefetz conceded there were problems with the evidence that raised questions about whether it "will stand up to a legal critique." For example, the case relies on the testimony of one "central witness." Mr. Netanyahu's supporters claim the move to indict is nothing more than a politically motivated attempt to bring down the conservative-led government.
Slow, massive starvation
A week after an American congressman returned from North Korea and described the country as "rapidly descending into the hell of severe famine," the Clinton Administration announced it will ship 50,000 metric tons of corn worth about $15 million to the communist government in hopes that the food will reach the people. Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio) reported evidence of "slow starvation on a massive scale." In a story April 16, the Los Angeles Times quoted a North Korean woman who arrived in China as saying people in her country "have been eating wild plants and tree bark for several years."
See no evil
At a United Nations meeting in Switzerland, Chinese diplomats fended off an attempt by the United States, Denmark, and other nations to censure the communist country for its brutal and oppressive human rights policies. Japan, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain all refused to co-sponsor the censure resolution. Beijing had let it be known it would retaliate economically against any country that supported the measure.
Can't beat 'em, join 'em
Despite his strong opposition to expansion of the NATO defense alliance, Russian President Boris Yeltsin said he will sign an agreement with NATO in Paris next month. The surprise announcement came after Mr. Yeltsin met with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Mr. Kohl, who said that the Russia/NATO agreement is now 90 percent complete, pledged to use his influence to ensure that Russia's concerns about NATO's expansion are addressed. According to NATO sources, Mr. Yeltsin has said Russia will not tolerate any significant improvement in the military capabilities of the new NATO members, widely expected to be Russia's near neighbors, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.
Escalating the war against cyberporn, prosecutors in Germany announced criminal charges against the head of CompuServe's German service. He's accused of "knowingly allowing images of child pornography, violent sex, and sex with animals" to be available on CompuServe through Internet newsgroups. The case is thought to mark the first time a Western country has tried to prosecute an online service for distribution of material it did not produce. Officials at CompuServe, which is based in the United States, vowed to "vigorously oppose" the German government's action.