Published on Sunday, January 28, 2001 in the London Observer
Clintons Blow It As Sleaze Hogs Stage at Final Curtain
by Ed Vulliamy
A week is a long time in American politics, and the last week has seen the standing of the Clinton family plummet as even some of the former President's aides have expressed disgust at the manner of his departure from power.
Aides are reported to be 'livid' that the final curtain on the Clinton epoch was hallmarked not by an epic moment but by the kind of sleaze that marked the flip-side of the Presidency.
Hillary Clinton - now a Senator in New York - was reported to have gone to ground after Congress launched an investigation into last-minute White House pardons to her political donors and supporters.
The former President was also stewing in criticism of his undignified exit after his staff adopted a scorched earth policy leaving the White House.
Apart from President Bush and his supporters, few people were left unimpressed by Bill Clinton's defiant and cheeky departure from Washington last inaugural Saturday, and his speech in which he left the capital in a flagrant breach of protocol promising: 'I'm still around; I ain't going nowhere.'
One aide told yesterday's edition of the Washington Post that they were 'livid' at the way the exit was conducted. The first controversies broke over the pardons list of which, it emerges, even former Chief of Staff John Podesta was unaware.
The initial storm focused on Marc Rich, a fugitive financier who has been hiding in Switzerland since hitting the FBI's wanted list 17 years ago. He has 50 felony counts on his head, including a tax evasion worth $48 million and a charge of 'trading with the enemy' - Iran, during the hostage crisis.
Rich's wife, Denise, is a New York socialite and songwriter who has helped to raise more than $600,000 for the Clintons, and was a prominent donor to Hillary Clinton's senatorial campaign.
In the wake of the sudden pardon of her husband last Saturday, she said the break had come as a surprise. Then she changed her mind, and admitted that she had pleaded for his deliverance, and written a letter to the President.
The Clintons' embarrassment was compounded later in the week when Rudy Giuliani - mayor of New York and Hillary's one-time rival for the Senate seat - said that Rich had been 'willing to pay any amount of money' to him and the Justice Department to drop charges. Rich, said Giuliani, offered to donate 'an enormous amount of money' to his Board of Education. The mayor refused the offer.
A second scandal broke over four Hasidic Jews from the New Square district of New York, convicted of embezzling millions of federal dollars for a non-existent religious school.
Leaders of the community approached Mayor Giuliani on behalf of the quartet, while he was running for Senate, to try to canvas his sympathy and asking him to write a letter to the New York Attorney General Mary Jo White, once an employee of Giuliani's.
The approach was accompanied by an offer to host 'a big event' for the mayor. The mayor refused to meet them.
Weeks later, it emerged, the same community leaders made a similar approach to Hillary Clinton. Whatever the outcome, Clinton was given a heroine's welcome when she visited New Square on a campaign stop, and some 99 per cent of the vote turned out for the First Lady on election day; Mayor Giuliani has called for an investigation.
The vote was followed up by a meeting between Rock Square's Rabbi David Twersky and the President at the White House last 22 December, at which - the New York Post newspaper was told - the topic of clemency for the men was raised.
The scorched earth approach taken by departing Democrat officials as they left office last weekend has been seen as funny or pathetic, according to political opinions. George Bush's spokesman Ari Fleischer has been listing examples of pranks and minor vandalism, although he yesterday backed off a statement that an official 'cataloguing' was in process.
While Republican sources spoke of a systematic trashing of offices, President Bush said he was not himself concerned about 'a prank or two'.
Bush's chief of staff Andrew Card's office said that a photocopier cord and phone line had been cut, along with other 'isolated incidents', which reportedly included pornographic pictures left in photocopiers.
Meanwhile, however, it became clear that Al Gore seemed to have won the Presidential election. A review of spoiled 'overvotes' in Florida published yesterday by the Washington Post showed that the majority of confused or spoiled votes went to Gore.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001