The Consortium

If Bob Dole's campaign ever blips out of flat-line status, the revived Whitewater scandal could become a serious threat to President Clinton's re-election. The fraud convictions of Jim and Susan McDougal and Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker have breathed new life into the sordid affair.

Though the Clintons might not be legally liable for McDougal's fraudulent bank practices, the McDougal-Clinton Whitewater real-estate partnership did span Bill Clinton's years as governor and ended only after Clinton was elected President in 1992. It was McDougal's money that kept the ill-fated development project afloat.

The Republicans have made clear, too, that "character" will be the campaign's defining issue, with Whitewater and the lurid Paula Jones sex allegations the two principal cases in point. The GOP has already churned out an attack ad against Clinton's clumsy handling of Paula Jones's lawsuit.

The Democrats can argue, of course, that Whitewater is just a very successful "oppo" -- the political exploitation of some minor indiscretion in a politician's past. They can claim that the Whitewater case is trivial compared to scandals that implicated Presidents Reagan and Bush. Both claims, of course, have merit.

It's also true that Bob Dole helped cover up Republican wrongdoing from his post as Senate GOP leader. Dole battled Iran-contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh, who was investigating fraud, arms trafficking and obstruction of justice by the Reagan-Bush administrations.

In 1993, Dole even boasted to a conservative conference that he had taken to the Senate floor "countless" times to hector Walsh for offenses, such as flying first class on commercial airlines. Dole announced, too, that he had investigated the "political leanings" of Walsh's staff.

Democratic Blunders

But the Democrats have only themselves to blame. They did nothing to defend Walsh's Iran-contra investigation when it was under GOP attack. Indeed, the Democrats failed to hold the Republicans accountable from start to finish. As former CIA director Robert Gates wrote in his recent memoirs, From the Shadows, congressional inquiries into the early days of Iran-contra were only "halfhearted." (See The Consortium, June 10)

By letting the Republicans off the hook again and again -- from Iran-contra to Iraqgate, from the El Mozote massacre to contra drug smuggling, from October Surprise to Neil Bush's Silverado S&L -- the Democrats may have thought they were buying bipartisan peace.

But it was a bad deal. The Democrats are now learning the painful lesson that the Republicans simply pocketed those concessions -- or, worse, turned them to the GOP's advantage by asserting that the cover-ups actually proved Reagan-Bush innocence.

Bill Clinton cannot expect similar mercy from the Republicans.

Robert Parry, Editor of The Consortium

(c) Copyright 1996 -- Please Do Not Re-Post

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