Impeachment, Stupid

Republicans Reeling From Backlash

Impeachment could be turning into the best thing that ever happened to Bill Clinton. Not only is there scant possibility of throwing him out of office, he has transformed the Senate's silly show trial into a kickass political campaign to put the Democrats back in charge of Congress. And by pushing a program of targeted tax cuts and Social Security privatization more Republican than Republicans, Clinton steals their thunder.

The longer the lunacy lasts, the better it looks. The president's ratings remain highly favorable, with more than half of poll respondents wanting the charges dismissed. Republicans are now running scared in 19 Senate contests. In addition, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting the districts of key House managers. James Rogan's Southern California district, where polls show him losing ground, heads the list. Other targets: Bob Barr, Georgia's original impeachment nut, and the unctuous Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas. Liberal outfits like People for the American Way are suddenly wallowing in campaign dough.

Even GOP hardliners have turned soft and squishy in the face of public disdain. Rick Santorum, the pit bull from Pennsylvania, who faces a tough reelection bid next year, talks compassion for the president on TV. Richard Shelby, the converted Republican from Alabama, breaks with the GOP on the question of calling witnesses, giving rise to speculation that he may cross back over to the Democratic side.

"The Republican base is petering out on impeachment," consultant Ed Gillespie, who advises GOP Senate leaders, told AP. "Increasingly, they just want peace with honor."

Gillespie's remarks are borne out by a recent Chicago Tribune poll, which shows Henry Hyde's rock-solid Republican constituency in suburban DuPage County, Illinois, telling the portly patriarch to knock it off.

Shelving presidential ambitions, a recharged Dick Gephardt eyes the Speakership of a recaptured House. Democrats are already divvying up key leadership slots.


Bubba's Bad Blood
Canadian Suit Revives Arkansas Scandal

However, even as the impeachment folly continued to backfire on the Republicans last week, new Clinton storm clouds were gathering— in, of all places, Canada.

On Thursday, a group of about 1000 Canadian hemophiliacs filed a $660 million class-action suit in Toronto alleging they had received tainted blood sold to Canada by the Arkansas prison system while Clinton was governor. Now the group says it plans to ask for a full investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.

Michael McCarthy, 39, a nurse who is a hemophiliac and a leader of the group, alleged that members contracted AIDS and/or hepatitis C from 1980 to 1985 from plasma containing a clotting factor that was traced to blood taken from prisoners in Arkansas. "We feel that there are people who should be held accountable in our tragedy," McCarthy said. "The American parties must be brought to justice."

McCarthy appealed to Clinton, who was governor of Arkansas in the early 1980s and oversaw the state prisons when the blood program was in operation. If the president knows anything about the blood program, McCarthy said, he should "come forward and find justice for people who have lost their lives and are sick." McCarthy maintained there is evidence that Arkansas prison blood products found their way to Europe and Japan, and in at least one instance were sent back to the U.S.

According to one source, plaintiffs are drawing up new U.S. suits that will seek to name Clinton, members of his administration while he was governor, and officials at the Department of Corrections in both Arkansas and Louisiana, as well as various companies. The group reportedly plans to hold a press conference in Washington this month, and is seeking access to papers dealing with the program when Clinton was governor, which are alleged to have been taken from the governor's mansion in Little Rock.

Under the Arkansas program, the state contracted with a now defunct company called Health Management Associates to provide medical care for prisoners. As part of its operation, the company was permitted to collect blood at $7 a unit from convicts. This was among the blood, some of it allegedly HIV-tainted, that entered the Canadian supply. The president of Health Management was Leonard Dunn, a close friend of Clinton's, chair of his gubernatorial reelection finance committee, and a Clinton appointee to the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission.

The Canadian inquiry was spurred on in part by Michael Galster, a medical practitioner who worked in the Arkansas prison system. Last year, Galster published a novel in Canada called Blood Trail, under the pseudonym Michael Sullivan, which graphically portrays the prison blood project and its alleged effects. McCarthy said Galster supplied evidence that helped the Canadian plaintiffs, described unsafe conditions in the Arkansas prisons at the time, and provided police records.

According to the Ottawa Citizen, which broke the blood story late last year (see Mondo Washington, November 17, 1998), internal Arkansas State Police documents detail investigations into charges that Health Management provided inadequate treatment to prisoners along with rumors that Clinton appointees to the prison board demanded a kickback in return for renewing HMA's $3 million health-care contract in 1985.


Slick Willey
Senate Stymied, Starr Gropes On

Meanwhile, Clinton's attorneys have so far successfully blocked the Senate from delving into the explosive case of Kathleen Willey, whom the president allegedly groped in a White House corridor. Keeping the wraps on this case even after Starr's perjury indictment of her friend, Julie Hyatt Steele, who contradicted her charges, is considered a victory.

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