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Jewish World Review August 1, 2000 /29 Tamuz, 5760

Paul Greenberg

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Consumer Reports

Bubba to investigator: 'But It was only a million dollars' -- IF BILL CLINTON is at his best trying to pull peace out of a summit, he is at his, well, most clintonesque when he's answering questions he'd really rather not answer. And sure enough, doesn't.

That's scarcely news by now. Indeed, it's an old story --- and seems even older.

But the transcript of his latest interrogation -- released by the White House before Congress could -- contains one little (paste) gem of Clintoniana that's worth holding up to the light and shaking your head over. Maybe one day the Clinton Library will put all these together in a glass cage, like at Topkapi Palace, and have an exhibition of Great Gimcrack Testimony From Our President. Until then, this little jewel merits a display of its own.

The straight man this time was played by Robert J. Conrad Jr., the latest investigator from the Justice Department to recommend that an independent counsel be appointed to look into the Clinton-Gore administration and campaign finance scandal. He's also the latest to be ignored by Janet Reno. (Our attorney general would make Inspector Clouseau look like a crack sleuth.)

Mr. Conrad was asking the president about a ride he took in a limo with the Indonesian money man, James T. Riady, and specifically whether he had a "recollection about James Riady pledging $1 million to your campaign?''

Picture it, Gentle Reader. If you had taken a limo ride with an Indonesian gentleman -- or anybody else -- who offered you a million bucks, would you remember it?

Not so William Jefferson Clinton. Space does not permit a complete rendition of all the ways he said he doesn't remember it, but at the same time doesn't deny it, and would believe it if the gentleman said so, and much more along those wavering lines.

"Ah ... Well ..."
Naturally the president couldn't remember Mr. Riady's also telling him he was going to throw a hundred thou Webb Hubbell's way at a time when Mr. Hubbell was talking to the independent counsel, but not overmuch. A president who can forget a million shouldn't have any problem forgetting only a fraction of that.

The tenor of the president's answers, or rather responses, will be all too familiar to those who tried to follow his testimony in Susan Webber Wright's court, or to the grand jury, before not just throwing in the towel and but being glad to.

Watching words being drawn and quartered is no fun. Only a few of us may still be able to work up an interest in Bill Clinton's tergiverations at this very late date, and we're not easily differentiated from masochists.

Let it be noted that the president has not lost his uncertain touch in these matters. Poor Mr. Conrad might have been trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. Did the president remember being offered the million bucks? "I don't. I don't. ... I'm surprised I don't remember it. I can't remember any specific thing ... if he said a million, I'm surprised I don't remember. But all I can tell you is what I remember. But it wouldn't have surprised me that they could have given that much money. That wouldn't surprise me. But I -- if he did say it, it surprises me that I don't remember because it's the sort of thing you'd remember. ...''

Yes, it is. At least it's the sort of thing the rest of us would remember. But one is not surprised to learn that Bill Clinton doesn't. Our president's photographic memory is never so impressive as when he's remembering what not to remember. And being, golly gee whiz, surprised that he doesn't remember it. (I picture him occasionally biting that lower lip in earnest, boylike sincerity throughout this latest interrogation.)

There would seem to be two, perfectly normal and credible answers to Robert Conrad's simple question, Were you offered a million dollars in a limo ride on August 14th, 1992 (1) Yes, I was. (2) No, I wasn't. The answer that is not credible, at least to normal people, even in these NASDAQ-inflated times, is: (3) I can't remember.

Naturally that's the answer Our President gave. Like so much of what he's said under oath, it isn't easy to believe -- unless you're Janet Reno or a Democratic member of the U.S. Senate. How could anybody forget whether he was offered a cool million one memorable day?

Ah well, Dale Bumpers could explain it. He's had experience.

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©2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate