Why didn't those White House videotapes turn up until months after they were subpoenaed by Congress? On ABC's This Week on Oct. 12, White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff put the blame on officials in the White House Communications Agency, "who pushed the wrong button or asked the wrong questions of the computer." But in sworn testimony a day and a half earlier, the head of the office responsible for videotaping executive mansion events, including President Clinton's DNC political coffees at the White House, said he never received a full copy of the four-page directive requesting the tapes. An hour after the ABC broadcast, White House scandal spokesman Lanny Davis offered this explanation: "We understand the military office, when it was producing copies of the directive, may have inadvertently neglected to photocopy the first two sheets of the directive, in which reference to materials relating to 'coffees' was expressly included." Journalists pored over the tapes after their release Oct. 14, prompting CNN Crossfire host Pat Buchanan to quip that it was like "watching America's Most Wanted." Viewers could see Johnny Chung, John Huang, Pauline Kanchanalak, and Charlie Trie, among a host of other characters who have fled the country rather than testify about their role in the fundraising controversy. Some of the most damaging moments of the tape come from a May 21, 1996, White House luncheon, in which President Clinton lauds donors for giving "soft money" to the Democratic National Committee for use in "this long-running, constant television campaign ... [that] has been central to the position I now enjoy in the polls." Advertisements purchased with money from the DNC's soft account, which is virtually unlimited and unregulated, are restricted to political party advertising, not candidate advertising. Mr. Clinton's admission that the ads were responsible for boosting his campaign bolster arguments that the president's campaign violated federal election laws.
The nation in brief
The plutonium is falling: A handful of protesters showed up at Cape Canaveral in the pre-dawn hours on Oct. 15 to oppose the start of the Cassini spacecraft's 2.2 billion mile journey to Saturn. Environmentalists claimed that the 72 pounds of radioactive plutonium on board to help fuel the craft on its 11-year journey could kill many on Earth if the rocket exploded during liftoff. Cassini safely exited Earth's atmosphere in 40 minutes, but opponents are now worried about 1999, when the craft will again pass within 500 miles of Earth, using the planet's gravity to help "slingshot" it toward Saturn. Dust to dust: The literary world lost an icon last week when 90-year-old James Michener, author of such sweeping sagas as Tales from the South Pacific and Centennial, died of renal failure. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author had asked to be removed from kidney dialysis machines. And folk singer John Denver died last week at age 53 when the experimental plane he was piloting crashed off the California coast.
The world in brief
Pauline's perils: Wearing face masks and bandanas for protection from the choking dust, residents of Acapulco and other coastal cities began digging out from under tons of rock and mud left in the wake of Hurricane Pauline, one of the most powerful storms ever to hit Mexico. Most of the 230 dead have been buried, but the living face months of hardship. Some 50,000 Mexicans were left homeless, and crowded shelters, like the rest of the hard-hit region, lack electricity and clean water. Tortilla factories have shut down for lack of clean water to mix with the cornmeal, leaving many poor people without a staple of their diet. Shocking aftershocks: Cleanup continued as well in central Italy, as strong aftershocks to an Aug. 26 earthquake continued to threaten the region's historical treasures. Assisi's 13th-century St. Francis Basilica was spared this time around, but residents in neighboring Foligno could only watch as the bell tower of their 500-year-old city hall groaned, tottered, and finally collapsed. Pragmatic communists: In Rome, 100 miles to the north, the Italian government narrowly avoided a similar collapse. Italian Communists, angered by Prime Minister Romano Prodi's plan to slash $3 billion from state pensions and health care, withdrew their support of Italy's first post-War leftist regime. Without Communist support, the center-left coalition could not maintain its majority in the lower house, and the prime minister offered his resignation. But Italian voters, eager to qualify for Europe's monetary union in 1999, reacted angrily to the Communist desertion, which threatened to send the economy into a tailspin. Communist leaders finally agreed to continue backing the Prodi government. In return, the prime minister promised to press for legislation shortening the work week from 40 hours to 35 by 2001.
Rebel soldiers loyal to former dictator Denis Sassou-Nguesso, aided by their Angolan allies, captured Brazzaville-the capital city of the Republic of Congo-on Oct. 15, ending a four-month civil war. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, fearful that violence would spread to other nations in the volatile region, asked the Security Council to send troops to nearby Gabon-the first step to establishing yet another UN peacekeeping force.
Nothing but net
Enjoying a light moment during one of his South American stops last week, President Clinton kicked around a soccer ball with former Brazilian superstar Pele. Then Mr. Clinton scored a goal past a goaltender who out of deference seemed to make no attempt to stop the shot. Back in Washington, congressional Republicans questioned whether Attorney General Janet Reno's probe into possible illegal fundraising by the president isn't, in effect, just as deferential and ineffective as that courteous Brazilian goalie. Ms. Reno found herself playing defense. "I follow the evidence. I follow the law," she said Oct. 12 on NBC's Meet the Press. "I don't follow innuendo. I don't follow shrill accusations." But the attorney general also stressed her investigation is serious and ongoing: "Nothing has been closed. No one has been exonerated." The next day, aboard Air Force One, Mr. Clinton gave reporters a half-hour session to ask questions about the fundraising controversy. He denied exerting any pressure on Ms. Reno to go easy on him: "I have gone out of my way to have no conversations with her about this, or, frankly, anything else, which I'm not sure is so good." Aides to the president had hoped the session for White House reporters would get fundraising questions out of their system before his meeting and press conference with the president of Brazil, Fernando Cardoso. It didn't work. One hour before that press conference on Oct. 14, a Justice Department official leaked word that Ms. Reno had decided to widen her fundraising probe of Mr. Clinton to a "preliminary investigation"-as she had done with Vice President Gore two weeks earlier-step two in the three-step process of naming an independent counsel. Also that day, White House aides in Washington were beginning to unload a 90-hour videotape archive of presidential fundraising appearances. Five of the eight questions posed by members of the White House press corps dealt with fundraising issues. "And as has happened to Clinton so often during foreign trips," reported USA Today's Bill Nichols, "the other head of state looked on with wonder as Clinton's ears reddened, his eyes flashed, and he strained mightily to keep from totally losing his temper." Americans, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released last week, are starting to lose their patience with the pace of the fundraising probe. Six in 10 surveyed thought Ms. Reno should name an independent counsel to take over the probe of the president's fundraising activities; by the same margin, the poll showed the public believes the Clinton administration is "dragging its feet most of the time" in failing to produce material evidence. Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee on Oct. 15 tried to capitalize on public opinion in an attempt to pressure the attorney general to move more quickly toward naming an independent counsel. In the early stages of her 7-1/2 hour appearance before the House committee, a spirited Ms. Reno scoffed at the GOP pressure. "I don't think the American people want polls involved; otherwise you would have written a statute that said, 'When 51 percent of the American people think there should be an independent counsel ... we'll have one.' And I don't think that's what you want, Mr. Chairman." However, in her opening statement, Ms. Reno made an announcement sure to keep presidential aides awake at night: that the attorney general would close no aspect of her investigation without first getting the approval of FBI director Louis Freeh, who is widely believed to be an advocate for an independent counsel. "Director Freeh and I will jointly approve any investigation's close-out before it is closed out," she told the congressmen.
Washington in brief
Pass the pork: Not wanting to provoke members of Congress wavering over his requested "fast-track" trade treaty authority, President Clinton on Oct. 14 wielded his line-item veto power sparingly. After a first round of cuts two weeks ago from the defense appropriations bill, Mr. Clinton cut out 13 more projects worth a total of $144 million, but spared projects in Georgia and Mississippi, home states of the Republican leaders of the House and Senate. No decision: The Supreme Court decided on Oct. 14 not to decide the constitutionality of Oregon's voter-passed law that gives doctors the power to kill terminally ill patients who request hasty death instead of pain control. Although that clears the way for the death-by-physicians act to take effect, it probably will not until after Oregonians return to the polls to consider a referendum to repeal the measure. Lower courts had held that the lawsuit blocking the doctor suicide law was brought by parties who lacked "standing" to sue. By refusing the appeal, the justices, without comment, agreed. Rosty on the run: He lost 451 days of freedom, his seat in Congress, and 60 pounds, but when former House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dan Rostenkowski left federal custody last week there was one thing he hadn't lost: his $104,000 annual congressional pension, which he collected while in jail serving time on a fraud conviction. Mr. Rostenkowski exited through the back door of Chicago's Salvation Army Freedom Center halfway house minutes after midnight Oct. 15, brushed past reporters without a word, hustled down a dark alley into a waiting car, and was driven home.
China's gender gap
Chinese population-control experts, meeting in Beijing, denied forcing women to have abortions but defended families who choose to kill female babies in order to stay within family-size limits. "People know killing baby girls is somehow wrong," said one official from an impoverished rural area, "but they don't see it as murder." Western critics say forced abortion is still a fact in rural provinces, but add that a bigger problem is voluntary sex-selection abortions. A Harvard researcher found that among children born in the late 1980s, there are 123 men for every 100 women. She warned that 20 years from now, almost a quarter of young Chinese men will be unable to find wives, leading to increased crime, prostitution, and divorce. In advance of President Jiang Zemin's imminent meeting with Bill Clinton, Chinese officials tried to diffuse another point of contention: religious persecution. Responding to charges by the State Department, the Chinese government last week issued a report denying a crackdown on house churches. It insisted that Christians are free to worship as they see fit, but that some groups are using the cloak of religion to "create heresies, deceive the masses, refuse to obey the state's laws and decrees and incite people to overthrow the government." Apparently, Bishop Su Zhimin, a leader of the underground Catholic Church, was one of those "heretics." After 17 months in hiding, the 65-year-old bishop was arrested Oct. 8 about 200 miles south of Beijing. Mr. Su became a symbol of religious persecution in China after he was jailed in 1994 for meeting with Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) to discuss the issue.
Tobacco's smoking gun?
A Kansas judge has ordered tobacco companies to turn over eight boxes of highly sensitive documents that opponents hope will contain a "smoking gun" to prove the companies willfully addicted smokers to their products. Liggett Group Inc., the renegade tobacco company that first agreed to settle with state attorneys general over healthcare costs, offered the documents months ago. But rival companies had cooperated in preparing the materials and claimed that Liggett could not turn them over to prosecutors unilaterally. Meanwhile, 60,000 flight attendants who were party to a $5 billion class action suit against cigarette makers agreed to settle out of court for $349 million. The plaintiffs charged that years of breathing secondhand smoke aboard the airlines had damaged their health. Tobacco companies, without admitting guilt, agreed to pour $300 million into a foundation that will research the early detection and treatment of tobacco-related illness.