Update: Although he did cut in with some good questions, Stephanopoulos basically presided over a Clinton pep rally. None of the personal issues were raised and Clinton completely controlled the choreography. George was left sitting in his chair while Hillary paraded around the dais. It would be interesting to know what kind of deal ABC made to get counter-programming to Obama's appearance on NBC. Not surprisingly, Russert pounded on Rev. Wright.
Original Post: When he questions Hillary Clinton tomorrow on This Week, George Stephanopoulos could re-level the Democratic playing field somewhat from its present extreme tilt. Stephanopoulos helped create the imbalance when he questioned Barack Obama about his relationship with William Ayers and several other silly things at the ABC debate two weeks ago.
While Clinton and Saturday Night Live were cultivating the meme that the press was going easy on Obama, the truth is that Clinton was being afforded a wide zone of deference, almost regal deference. She may have gotten the first question in more debates, but they were not questions about her past associations or the secretive, vindictive culture in which she thrives.
How ironic then that Hillary was ready to pile on with details when Stephanopoulos, prompted by Sean Hannity, asked Obama about Ayers. Clinton jumped in with details about Ayers' activities, complete with the apparently erroneous implication that he caused deaths, and Obama's having served on a board with Ayers. Clinton was also tut-tuted about Rev. Wright ("You get to choose your pastor") and the San Francisco fundraiser comments ("I can see why people would be taken aback and offended").
Not only did she never join Obama in objecting to the cheap line of questioning, she enjoyed it and helped justify it with her usual claim that the GOP would be asking the same questions in the fall. And, surprise surprise, we learn that hatchet man Sidney Blumenfeld has been bombarding opinion makers with scummy e-mails about Obama, drawing on the same far-right sources that Clinton and Blumenfeld so derided during Monicagate, Travelgate, Whitewater, Paula Jones . . . but I am getting ahead of myself.
So why are we not hearing reporters ask the questions that the Republicans would be asking about Clinton in the fall. Clinton herself has acknowledged that it is a fertile field and almost wears the unanswered questions about her past as a badge of honor. The fact is that they have never been answered and the press has abetted the myth that they have been.
1. The Marc Rich pardon
As the end of the Clinton administration, the same administration for which Clinton is taking credit, Bill Clinton pardoned a fugitive financier named Marc Rich. According to Time magazine, "in 1983, Rich was indicted in federal court of evading more than $48 million in taxes. He was also charged with 51 counts of tax fraud and with running illegal oil deals with Iran during the hostage crisis." At least equivalent to Ayers on the lack of patriotism scale IMHO.
No plausible reason for the pardon was ever given, but, as Time reported, "Rich's socialite ex-wife has donated an estimated $1 million to Democratic causes, including $70,000 to Hillary Clinton's successful Senate campaign and $450,000 to the Clinton presidential library fund." When called before Congress, Denise Rich took the Fifth Amendment. The Clinton Library refuses to release its donor list.
On January 13, 2008, Tim Russert raised Rich on Meet the Press, but moved on after this interchange
SEN. CLINTON: No. I didn't know anything about that.
MR. RUSSERT: No one talked to you whatsoever?
SEN. CLINTON: No. No. Unh-unh.
MR. RUSSERT: His ex-wife gave $109,000 to your campaign.
SEN. CLINTON: Well, no one talked to me about it, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Nobody?
SEN. CLINTON: Nobody.
The pardons were after Monica, when Bill was presumably telling Hillary what was going on. In a sidelight, Hillary's brothers were accepting money to lobby for pardons. And Hillary did not know?
Come on George, ask for details about how this could happen. You of all people, know enough about the workings of the White House to be a knowledgeable inquisitor.
2. Clinton's past associations
As both Carl Bernstein and Tom Hayden have pointed out, Obama's cordial relationship with Professor Ayers pales in comparison with Clinton's far left associations. Don't get me wrong, I think that is fine, but Clinton should be asked to explain why her work in a Communist law firm, defending Bobby Seale and portraying police as pigs is irrelevant while Obama's relationship with his neighbor is worth exploring.
This was the controversy that inspired William Safire to write about the "sad realization that our First Lady--a woman of undoubted talents who was a role model for many in her generation--is a congenital liar." It also apparently contributed to the suicide death of Hillary's former law partner Vince Foster.
Shortly after Bill Clinton took office, seven employees of the White House Travel Office, which arranged travel for the press, were fired amidst hints of misconduct, and replaced by an agency run by Clinton friends and relatives from Arkansas. Also, an air charter company run by Clinton Hollywood friend Harry Thomason was said to be looking to replace the incumbent Airline of the Americas.
Over a series of investigations and trials, it developed that Hillary, who at first denied a significant role, had been very involved. Famously, a memo from White House director of administration David Watkins apparently to White House Chief of Staff Mack McLarty surfaced two years into the investigation that identified Hillary as the motivating force behind the firings, and said "we both know that there would be hell to pay" if "we failed to take swift and decisive action in conformity with the First Lady's wishes." The trial of the former travel office head ended in a quick acquittal.
Along the way, Hillary's statements evolved, although she characteristically could not remember key details, the Clinton administration went to the Supreme Court to block access to Vince Foster's notes and Bill Clinton claimed executive privilege to avoid revealing further documents to a House Committee.
George, this one is easy. You were the de facto press Secretary at the time.
This one is difficult for everyone. Personally difficult for Hillary, but also politically difficult for those of us who stood by the Clintons during the misguided impeachment and trial and saw the final four years of opportunity go down the drain. Until he testified to a Grand Jury and gave his churlish speech to the nation on August 17, 1998, Bill Clinton had denied all of the nine sexual encounters between 1995 and 1997 alleged by Monica Lewinsky. Hillary has said that until Bill told her the truth on August 16th, she had believed his denials. If so, she was the only person (other than maybe spinmeister Lanny Davis) who did.
Let's give her a pass about not being aware of the philandering, but why did she believe Bill until the end? What does this say about her ability to tell fact from fiction? Can we trust her to know when a world leader is bluffing?
The GOP is going to bring this up. So should you George. Are you taking notes?
Follow Stephen Kaus on Twitter: www.twitter.com/stephenkaus