It appeared last week that the "luck" of President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore was holding. As new revelations surfaced about possible lawbreaking in the way they raised funds for the 1996 campaign, the deaths of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa kept the scandal out of sight, or downplayed, on most networks and in the big newspapers.
Spinners on and off the White House staff were unable to blunt the decision by Attorney General Janet Reno to seriously consider appointing a special prosecutor after Senate testimony by Buddhist nuns, who said campaign money was laundered through their Los Angeles temple. Only those on the receiving end of possible indictments and their defenders claim this fundraiser was something other.
But not even chief White House apologist Lanny Davis, and repeated assertions by the president and vice president that everything they did was "legal and appropriate," may prevail in a credibility battle with Buddhist nuns, who admitted shredding documents, indicating they had a better sense of the legal and moral problem than the vice president.
Another sign that this administration's luck may be about to expire was the firing of The New Republic's editor, Michael Kelly. The magazine's owner Martin Peretz, a close friend of Mr. Gore, found Mr. Kelly's editorials too critical. Surely this is censorship. Imagine the outcry from the media if an editor or reporter had been fired for being too harsh on Ronald Reagan.
But the shooting of the messenger-in this case Mr. Kelly-ensures that others will rise to take his place. In fact, Mr. Kelly may turn up in another venue where his martyrdom will get his opinions even more attention. The credibility of The New Republic has been damaged. Instead of an independent, truth-seeking journal, the magazine has become another tool of obfuscation for the Clinton-Gore White House.
Viewers fortunate enough to have access to cable channels carrying the Senate hearings saw Mr. Gore's former deputy chief of staff, David Strauss, try to persuade the committee that the more than fourscore fundraising calls his boss made from the vice president's office were not what they clearly appear to be.
If Miss Reno names a special counsel to look into Mr. Gore's attempts to reach out from his office and put the campaign-contribution touch on donors, his presidential chances in 2000 will be significantly diminished. Anyone who positions himself as "Mr. Clean" begins to look mighty dirty when he acquires a single stain.
The attorney general has painted herself into a corner. She first said she was not naming an independent counsel because there was no evidence to suggest that the vice president had raised any hard money (that is, money that goes directly to political candidates, as opposed to soft money, funds directed to parties and political action committees). But last week's front-page story in The Washington Post about soft money raised by Mr. Gore transferred to hard-money accounts strips away Miss Reno's last line of defense. If she refuses to name an independent counsel now, she will be seen by many to be obstructing justice.
There are too many polluted streams running beneath this administration for the broadcast networks, most people's main source of news, to continue their virtual cover-up and distortion of the Clinton-Gore legal and ethical problems. Instead of "the most ethical administration in history," this bunch has become the sleaziest. We've just reached the pinnacle of this administration's pile of ethical garbage, built on a stinking foundation laid by Mike Espy, Hazel O'Leary, Ron Brown, and others.
Al Gore is the weak link. If the vice president-the political Siamese twin of the president-stumbles, watch for the entire White House of cards to finally come crashing down with him.
c 1997, Los Angeles Times Syndicate