The Clinton-Gore administration's delight that the Independent Counsel Office, after four years of investigation, gave high White House officials a clean bill of health in the "Filegate" scandal didn't last long. Within a few days two major embarrassments hit the president and vice president.
First, the Justice Department named a special task force to investigate whether the White House obstructed justice when it failed to give up e-mails related to 1996 campaign fund-raising allegations, including Gore's use of White House phones and a Buddhist temple to solicit contributions.
Second, Clinton was hit with federal Judge Royce Lamberth's finding that the president committed a criminal violation of the Privacy Act when he released personal letters to discredit Kathleen Willey's 60 Minutes charges that he made unwanted sexual advances on her in the Oval Office.
Worse, says Lamberth, Clinton knew he was breaking the law, but did it anyhow. The administration's spin was that releasing the letters was the only way the president had of protecting himself. That does not justify law-breaking by the nation's highest elected official. Several members of the Nixon administration went to jail for doing the kind of thing Clinton did.
As for Gore, he doesn't seem worried about Justice's sudden interest in his 1996 campaign activities. He claims he didn't know whether he used e-mails, an unusual statement for someone who is a self-proclaimed Internet-savvy vice president, who has even bragged about how often he communicates via e-mail.
But why should Gore not fear the Justice Department? The answer is, Attorney General Janet Reno doesn't get into the act until one of her bosses looks like they really might have done something wrong.
In this case she was prompted by six Northtrup-Grumman employees working under White House contract. They told Congress they were ordered not to tell anyone about missing subpoenaed e-mails. They further testified the orders were backed up with threats.
When Reno took over the criminal probe, she effectively stifled further congressional inquiry. You're not likely to hear about this investigation again anytime soon; Justice has indicated the task force won't complete its work until after the November elections.
This is yet another example of the administration using the Justice Department, not for justice, but to cover up its misdeeds.
Apparently, the vice president is right. There is no controlling legal authority. And that raises the question of what sense it makes to pass more campaign finance laws when the existing ones aren't being enforced.
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