While the Soviet Union was disintegrating in the 1990s, in 1992 American voters went to the polls and elected Bill Clinton President over George H.W. Bush. Although most analysts lauded Bush’s almost immediate recognition of the independent Baltic states, it was domestic policy and the Clinton campaign’s famous dictum- “It’s the economy, stupid-” that determined the outcome. Despite the promise of a peace dividend as a result of the end of the Cold War, a recession coupled with Bush going back on his “Read my lips…no new taxes” pledge doomed his chances.
Despite relative international peace and domestic economic growth, the Clinton administration was beset with scandals. Although they festered in his first administration, his 1996 opponents- Republican Bob Dole and independent Ross Perot- failed to seize on the scandals and make them campaign issues. When they did, it was late in the campaign and the issues raised were largely ignored by Clinton’s media allies. There was plenty of ammunition to be used.
The Agriculture Department Secretary may have profited from his tenure in that position. He was forced to resign amid allegations of taking illegal gifts from Tyson Foods and, according to a federal grand jury, received gifts from Sun Diamond Growers for political favors. The Commerce Secretary, Ron Brown, was being investigated for taking bribes and falsifying financial disclosure forms before he was killed in a plane crash in Bosnia. Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary’s junkets were a joke in the department. Allegations of illegal campaign contributions from the Indonesian government were also proffered. FEMA, the INS and the IRS were also accused by some in the media. The IRS, in particular, according to the Wall Street Journal, targeted conservative outlets like the Heritage Foundation and Western Journalism Center.
Of course, the biggest scandal was Whitewater which developed during the 1992 campaign. It centered on Bill and Hillary Clinton’s financial contributions to a real estate entity called Whitewater Development Corporation during Bill’s time as an Arkansas state official. Their public statements at the time and mishandling of documents which later mysteriously appeared came under scrutiny.
Not long after his Inauguration, seven members of the White House Travel Office were fired. Clinton said they were terminated due to ethical and financial shortcomings although the real reason was likely to make room for Clinton associates. Tasked with dealing with the mounting ethical questions surrounding the Clintons, close friend and associate Vince Foster apparently committed suicide in 1993. After his death, the White House sealed his safe before the FBI could access the documents.
Then in 1994, Paula Jones accused Bill Clinton of sexual improprieties in a hotel room years earlier. Although Clinton fought the charges, Jones had other women come forward, most notably revelations by Gennifer Flowers and White House intern Monica Lewinsky. In a civil deposition, Clinton swore that he never had “sexual relations” with Lewinsky but months later in front of a federal grand jury he did admit to sexual relations and later went on television to apologize to the American public. This eventually led to the impeachment proceedings against him. Finally, in 1996 investigators looking at another issue discovered that FBI files on former employees and Republican members of Congress were being held in the White House in violation of the Private Records Act. Again, no wrongdoing was determined by the investigators.
Clinton also engaged in a series of questionable pardons. For example, in 1999 he granted pardons to 16 FALN terrorists. FALN is a Marxist group advocating for the independence of Puerto Rico. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, they were responsible for 160 bomb attacks mainly in DC, New York and Chicago. They managed to kill 16 people, including the Chilean ambassador to the United States, and injured another 80 people. In its aftermath, it was discovered that the terrorists themselves had not requested clemency, sought a pardon, or showed any contrition. Instead, it appeared as if Jamie Gorelick’s successor, Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder was the biggest advocate for leniency.
In the final days of his presidency, Clinton granted another controversial pardon in the name of Marc Rich. He was a fugitive oil broker who bought oil from Iran during an embargo, then hid the proceeds in a series of fraudulent offshore holding companies. He fled to Switzerland wanted on indictments for fraud, tax evasion, racketeering, and wire fraud- 51 charges in all. His wife, Denise, had donated over $1.5 million to the Clintons over the years including $1.2 million to the DNC, $45,000 to Hillary’s 2000 Senate campaign and $450,000 to the Clinton library in Arkansas.
He also pardoned Linda Evans and Susan Rosenberg, two members of the radical Weather Underground, who robbed a Brinks armored car in Nyack, New York killing three security guards. Rosenberg had sought the assistance of New York Congressman Jerold Nadler who then petitioned Clinton to pardon at least Rosenberg. Hardly a candidate for a pardon, Clinton nevertheless pardoned both Rosenberg and Evans. This was generally considered a payback to Nadler for his staunch support of Clinton while on the House Judiciary Committee.
In 1996, a campaign finance scandal erupted involving an attempt by China to influence politics in the United States. Chinese officials developed a set of proposals to promote their interests and improve their image among Americans. The so-called “China Plan” was prompted when Congress successfully lobbied Clinton to grant a visa to Lee Teng-hui, the president of Taiwan. The Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, had previously reassured Chinese officials that granting a visa would have been inconsistent with official US policy, but when Clinton gave into Congress, it convinced the Communist Chinese to switch tactics and target Congress. The plan called for direct lobbying of US officials.
During the impeachment proceedings, Yah-Lin Trie, an immigrant living in Arkansas, had donated $450,000 to Clinton’s legal defense fund which was eventually returned. Johnny Chung, a California businessman, made over 40 visits to the White House after making over $336,000 in donations to the DNC. Chung also had ties to Chinese intelligence agencies. Four other Chinese nationals, some with ties to Chinese intelligence, had donated over $1.25 million to either the DNC or Clinton’s campaigns which gained them over 100 White House visits.
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