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Jewish World Review /August 7, 1998 / 15 Menachem-Av, 5758

Larry Elder

Larry Elder

How much
mea culpa?

EARLY ON, CLINTON STRATEGISTS adopted a simple and effective anti-scandal strategy: the "4 D's" -- delay, deny, distort, demean.

But on the recent post-Monica-Lewinsky-immunity-deal Sunday morning talkshows, pundits floated the latest how-Clinton-will-save-his-tail strategy: the "mea culpa."

A young Richard Nixon successfully employed the strategy when a scandal endangered his inclusion on the Eisenhower-Nixon ticket. The "Checkers" speech (named after his dog) saved him.

More recently, Senator Ted Kennedy tried the same strategy following Chappaquiddick. In a televised speech, he called his actions "indefensible," and kept his job.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry added a twist. Authorities caught the married Barry on videotape smoking crack, trying to get a woman in bed, and calling her a "bitch" once the cops burst in. Playing the "race card," Barry's defense team got a receptive D.C. jury to acquit him of all but the least serious charge. Hizzoner did a little rehab, and recaptured the mayor's job, telling voters that only a petty person refuses to forgive. Especially since The Man targets black leaders, blah, blah, blah.

So Clinton is not without role models. But, Houston, we've got a problem.

What, exactly, does the President say? What's that? The truth?!

Merriam-Webster and President Clinton differ on the definition. Clinton defines truth as "that which they can nail you on." Which brings us to the problem. Clinton does not know what Ken Starr knows.

Clinton has no idea about the quality, nature, and severity of the independent counsel's evidence. So how much "truth" should he admit?

Suppose he "comes clean" to the grand jury and to the public about the deposition perjury, in which he denied sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. That still leaves the issues of subornation of perjury, witness-tampering, and obstruction of justice.

Let's assume the President denies those allegations. Suppose the independent counsel has substantial and convincing evidence linking Clinton or one of his aides to the "talking points" Monica Lewinsky presented to Linda Tripp. Or has evidence linking Clinton or his aides to the retrieval of the gifts Monica Lewinsky returned to Betty Currie? Or has evidence of attempts to "hush" Monica Lewinsky via job offers arranged through Clinton pals like Vernon Jordan? Or has evidence that the White House attempted to intimidate, among others, Kathleen Willey (who says Clinton groped her) and Linda Tripp (who taped Monica Lewinsky).

And, remember, the scope of the independent counsel investigation reaches beyond the Monica Lewinsky-related scandals. What about the 900 missing FBI files? Watergate figure Chuck Colson went to jail, among other things, for possessing one such file. What about Travelgate? Whitewater? What about contracts allegedly funneled to former Associate Attorney General Webb Hubbell to induce a convenient Whitewater memory lapse?

Clinton simply does not know what Starr knows. Clinton cannot predict the public reaction to the impending House Judiciary Ken Starr report. Even with persuasive evidence of perjury, subornation of perjury, witness-tampering and obstruction of justice, the public may still yawn. But who can predict? What if the Dow tanks, and the GDP goes soft? Will the hey-leave-the-guy-alone-'cause-the-economy's-doing-great crowd start to stir? Perhaps Nancy Reagan can provide one of her astrologers.

Minefields abound. For months commentators dismissed the alleged semen-stained dress as fiction. Now it's back. And, during the Paula Jones deposition, questions about Monica Lewinsky, then an unknown ex-intern, blindsided President Clinton.

Does Clinton assume the worst, and admit the worst? Oh, please. Have you paid attention to the last six-and-a-half years? Remember the 4 D's -- delay, deny, distort, demean. Besides, if Clinton admits "everything," he admits to serious felonies, impeachable offenses. Better to admit nothing, until and unless the polls crater.

Flashback. The candidate goes on "60 Minutes" and denies an affair with Gennifer Flowers. The now-President, during a deposition in the Paula Jones case, admits a "one-time" sexual encounter with Flowers. The President denies that he would ever ask anyone to lie. But, on Gennifer Flowers answering machine, Clinton says if everybody is "on record denying (the affair)," they can't prove anything.

The latest word from the Clinton camp -- maintain course. The President intends to keep denying. That's Clintonesque. The President hopes the American people agree to a type of jury nullification. "You're lying. We know you're lying. And you know that we know you're lying. Sure it smells, but it ain't impeachable."

So expect the Ken Starr attacks to continue. Partisan witchhunt! And, Monica Lewinsky's unstable. Linda Tripp? A conniving, manipulative, backstabbing "friend." And, failing that, there's the Jesse Jackson juke.

According to "Nation" magazine, Reverend Jackson once said, "When the Bible says Jesus went about doing good, he didn't say being good. He said doing good." And, as to the Clinton "sex scandal," Jackson said, "There are 10 commandments. This is just one of the ten." Hey, whatever works. Right?


7/24/98: ATM Al?
7/24/98: Advising the advisors
7/17/98: Camille Cosby's carelessness
7/9/98: Moses mugged
7/2/98: Al Campanis -- forever a racist?
6/25/98: And you thought "coke" was worse than smokes
6/19/98: Is Jasper ‘America'?
6/12/98: Guess who's not coming to dinner
6/5/98: What now, NOW?
5/29/98:What's next, ‘burger busters'?
5/21/98: 'Stuff' happens
5/18/98: This just in
5/11/98: Stepping up
4/30/98: Who's faking whom?
4/16/98:To spank or not to spank

©1998, Laurence A. Elder