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Clinton's tangled Webb

National | To roll or not to roll; for the president's jailhouse buddies, that is the question

Issue: "Charity begins at home," May 16, 1998

The indictment of former Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell, his wife, and two others on charges they conspired to avoid paying nearly $900,000 in income taxes, interest, and penalties raises a very serious question. What is it about Bill and Hillary Clinton that causes so many people to suffer so many indignities, personal humiliation, and even jail time? Other than hush money, what qualities do the Clintons have that encourages people to pay such a high financial and personal price to evade independent counsel Kenneth Starr?

The answer is power. Liberal Democrats know that if Bill Clinton goes down, so does their party and what's left of their agenda. So, while not many seem to admire the president, they realize he's all that's standing between themselves and political oblivion.

How close to disaster the Clintons are is evident from transcripts of phone conversations between Mr. Hubbell and his wife, Suzanna, when Mr. Hubbell was in federal prison last year on other tax-evasion charges. The unseen third party in these conversations is Marsha Scott, a White House aide Mrs. Hubbell is keeping informed about how Mr. Hubbell is doing. In the published excerpts, Mr. Hubbell tells his wife that while he fraudulently overbilled clients at the Rose Law firm, "so does every lawyer in the country." Mrs. Hubbell replies, "That's an area where Hillary would be vulnerable."

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Mrs. Hubbell says Marsha Scott has told her: "You are not going to get any public support if you open Hillary up to this...." Mr. Hubbell says he is determined not to do that, and then Mrs. Hubbell says, "Yes. Then I get all this back from Marsha, who is ratcheting it up and making it sound like if Webb goes ahead and sues the firm, then any support I have at the White House is gone. I'm hearing the squeeze play." Mr. Hubbell replies, "So, I need to roll over one more time...." Hubbell's attorney, John Nields, says the fact that the tapes were edited makes them suspect, but given the games the Clinton administration has played with information, Mr. Nields is creating a smoke screen.

Does the "roll over" Mr. Hubbell thinks he must perform include sending his wife to jail, too? Would both of them pay that high a price to protect Bill and Hillary Clinton? What could they possibly offer him to "roll over again," and probably for a longer stretch as a second offender if he is convicted?

In another recorded conversation between Mssrs. Hubbell and Nields, Mr. Nields hints that after the 1996 election "there is some chance [the White House] will make a move that moots everything." Mr. Nields appears to be referring to the possibility of a presidential pardon. He says that's why Webb and Suzy Hubbell must ante up to the IRS because he wants a record of "complete and unvarnished forthrightness at every step of the way."

Which is precisely what is lacking every step of the way throughout the history of this administration and extending back to Mr. Clinton's time as governor of Arkansas.

At his most recent news conference, the president said the independent counsel's investigation and Republican attacks are driven by people who still can't accept his election or his policies. He's partially right (though the law should apply to everyone) because the perception of his critics is that he won both elections by deceit and by breaking campaign finance and possibly other laws. An office attained and held illegitimately is illegitimate, and that is what accounts for the level of personal opposition.

In a laughable response to one question, the president told reporters, "All these people that have been working hard on this for seven years now, they can affect my reputation; they can do nothing for good or ill to affect my character."

Character and reputation are mostly inseparable. Reputation is defined as "overall quality or character as seen or judged by people in general." Polls show that while Mr. Clinton's job approval ratings remain in the 60 percent range, an equal number of people doubt his character and morals. So, in a sense, he's right. His critics can't do much about his character because they perceive that his reputation, which flows from character, is a terrible one.

© 1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Cal Thomas
Cal Thomas

Cal, whose syndicated column appears on WORLD's website and in more than 500 newspapers, is a frequent contributor to WORLD's radio news magazine The World and Everything in It. Follow Cal on Twitter @CalThomas.

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