The "I'm with Stupid" Excuse - Feb. 23, 2001
It is a tale of two pardons. First, The Los Angeles Times broke the story about Clinton's little act of mercy for drug kingpin, Carlos Vignali. Vignali was serving a 15-year prison sentence for his lead role as cocaine master in a Los Angeles to Minneapolis production. His sentence was commuted.
A Clinton spokesman explained that the pardon had nothing to do with the thousands of dollars that Vignali's father gave to the Democrats. The mainstream media reacted to this absurdity with their trademark nonchalance.
Next came Almon Glenn Braswell, the subject of questionable pardon number two, which was equally eclipsed by the uproar over Marc Rich. It turns out that at the time of this second rendering of absolution, Braswell was under investigation by federal prosecutors for his connection to a massive tax evasion and money-laundering scheme. The Clinton White House again claimed to have no knowledge of such particulars.
As with the Rich pardon, Braswell's application was made at the last moment and bypassed the conventional pathways that traverse through the Justice Department and the FBI. Now it seems that Bill Clinton's brother-in-law, Hugh Rodham, received nearly $400,000 for lobbying on behalf of Vignali and Braswell.
Money was paid to Hugh Rodham for legal work that he performed on the commutation request for Carlos Vignali. Rodham also received a "success fee" for helping to win the pardon of Almon Glenn Braswell.
The English language is under heavy reconstruction again. A success fee is nothing more than a contingency fee that, when used in lobbying activity, is unethical and perhaps even illegal. The sequence involved in these circumstances directed that a large payment be made, if and only if a pardon was successfully delivered. The average person might recognize this sort of arrangement by its more familiar name - bribery.
In an effort at damage control, Bill and Hillary tossed out a few trial balloons. Could they convince the public that they only became aware of Hugh Rodham's contingency fees from press inquiries, that neither of them had any knowledge of the payments, that they were deeply disturbed by the reports, that they requested that Hugh Rodham return the money? Maybe.
Hugh Rodham did return the money, and afterwards the Clintons' spokesperson released a statement that essentially said there was an appearance of impropriety that could not be ignored, so let's all ignore it because it's not really impropriety anyway.
If this were the case, then why give the money back? It appears as though the Clintons are trying out the "I'm with stupid" excuse, each claiming that the other was altogether ignorant of the facts.
Hugh Rodham's actions lead one to suspect otherwise. Reports indicate that $200,000 of the contingency fee was deposited in an offshore account. An offshore account is the type of instrument that, for instance, an international tax evader might use. When we parse the Clintons' statements, we find that they are only denying knowledge about the attorney's fees, not knowledge about the president's brother-in-law acting as a well-connected pardon-lawyer for hire. Conflict of interest might spring to mind if given a thought or two.
Additionally, we are to believe that Hillary was never all that close with her brother anyway, despite the fact that he stayed at the White House several times a week. And we are supposed to believe that Bruce Lindsay, Bill's supposed confidant, was, according to sources, aware of Hugh Rodham's involvement with the Vignali request but kept the details of the interconnections all to himself.
Then there is the issue of when the Clintons actually found out that they had another problem on their hands. A CNN reporter said that she caught wind of the story and contacted "Hillary's people." She was told that Hillary was unaware that her brother was the lawyer in these two cases. But this contact occurred days before Hillary was supposed to have any knowledge about the matter. People can be such sticklers when it comes to the time thing.
This latest truckload is one more insult to the public's intelligence. Former President Carter was right to use the word "disgrace" in characterizing the pardon controversy. We are beyond the point of national embarrassment. Let's hope that this time the stupid sign remains confined to the ex-first couple, and they fail at their final attempt to attach it to our nation's back.