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In the Interest of Justice

The Senate's presiding officer in the impeachment trial, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, could turn out to be the trial's big surprise. Hovering in the background, this icon of the conservative movement adds nuance to the drama played out across the solemn Senate chamber. Rehnquist has been attacked on the left as an unscrupulous judge who, as head of the administrative Judicial Conference, ignored evidence of alleged misconduct by various federal judges under his supervision— judges whom critics claim ought to have been impeached. When Rehnquist was nominated for Chief Justice in 1986, Joe Conason wrote in the Observer: "He testified that he had known little about Army spying on antiwar protesters during his years at Justice, although documents were found providing that he had helped to plan the illegal surveillance program. He later cast the deciding vote in a 1972 lawsuit concerning those military abuses when he clearly should have recused himself."

On the right, there are raised eyebrows about Rehnquist's hesitation to impeach a president. Noting that the chief justice was "privately surprised and disappointed" when the House impeached Clinton, Frank Murray in the Washington Times quotes a 1992 interview in which the chief justice declared, "It just really significantly impairs— if it doesn't cripple— a president to be the subject of an impeachment trial."

A clue to the chief justice's thinking on impeachment may lie in a remark made more than 30 years ago. "In 1964," Murray writes, "as the lawyer hired to prosecute a double impeachment case before the Arizona Senate, [Rehnquist] called any impeachment trial a referendum of sorts on the issue of what sort of conduct have the people . . . a right to expect from their high public officials."


Don't Hack Iraq!
Digital Warfare

A group of hackers plotting an assault on computer networks owned by Iraq backed down in the face of protests from an international alliance of "computer security groups," Wired News reported last week. According to the digital news source, a member of the seven-year-old crew Legions of the Underground (LoU), called for a one-week cracking campaign against Iraq. "Iraq has treated human rights issues as poorly as China has," the hacker told the group at a meeting on Internet Relay Chat. "We need to carry out what the government won't, and can't, do." He added, "We are ready to commence, and take [part] in electronic warfare if requested." LoU gained notoriety for hacking Chinese government Web sites, as well as breaking into Time Warner Cable's network.

News of the proposed attack stirred controversy across the Net: "Why pick on Iraq?" wrote Skyshadow, a contributor to Slashdot.Org, a technology Web site. "I mean really; hearing the Press Secretary explain off hitting Iraq and starving their poor with sanctions with 'they've shown they're willing to use weapons of mass destruction' is a bit ironic coming from the only country to ever use nukes on people."

"It's tragic that one of the most promising and beneficial technologies of the 20th century is being turned into yet another weapon of destruction," commented Dr. Ed, another contributor.

But late last week a group of hackers, including well-known crews 2600 and the Cult of the Dead Cow, and others such as the Chaos Computer Club, condemned LoU, declaring in a statement: "[W]e strongly oppose any attempt to use the power of hacking to threaten or destroy the information infrastructure of any country, for any reason." Legions of the Underground now denies it ever intended to "take any actions against the systems, networks or computers in China or Iraq which may damage or hinder in any way their operations," according to a statement the crew made on the Hacker News Network.

Iraq doesn't have an Internet infrastructure and has no public presence online, save for a government home page based in New York. And Iraq supposedly has not received computers or computer equipment since the Gulf war. According to Wired News, the hackers were apparently targeting an older, nonpublic network inside Iraqi borders that runs on a vintage protocol called X.25.


The China Syndrome
More Trouble for Clinton

The United States's secret diplomacy with China could come back to haunt Clinton, although his is merely the last in a line of administrations with covert ties to Beijing. A House committee found that over the last two decades China obtained— sometimes by theft— sensitive U.S. military technology, including designs of nuclear weapons. According to the New York Times, "the most explosive part of the report may be evidence of a pattern that China stole nuclear-weapons design technology from American nuclear laboratories." Christopher Cox, the conservative California Republican who chaired the House Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People's Republic of China, said the classified report concluded "national security harm did occur." He said China made "serious, sustained" efforts during the administrations of Reagan, Bush, and Clinton to acquire secret military technologies.  

The extent of the U.S.'s secret diplomacy with China is just beginning to come to light. It was revealed Sunday that while Nixon was president his top foreign policy advisor, Henry Kissinger tried to develop a wedge between China and Russia by offering the Chinese details of Soviet plans to amass a deadly nuclear arsenal aimed at its supposed ally. "I would steer clear of the word alliance, but there was collusion and cooperation against a common target," James Lilley, a former U.S. ambassador to China who was appointed the CIA's first station chief in Beijing in July 1973, told the Washington Post.

Although the House report is classified, government officials familiar with its contents said its findings agreed with departments of State and Defense assessments that information shared with Chinese scientists by two American companies has improved that nation's ability to launch satellites and long-range ballistic missiles. The two companies are Hughes Electronic Corp., a subsidiary of General Motors, and Loral Space & Communications.

Last year the Senate Government Affairs Committee investigated accusations that China gave covert political contributions in an effort to influence the 1996 elections. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, who chairs the committee, said the group might hold additional hearings on the report's findings.

Judicial Watch, a conservative public interest law firm, claims the Clinton administration's Commerce Department, under the late Ron Brown, solicited camapaign funds from U.S. business concerns in exchange for the invitation to participate in trade missions to China and elsewhere. Last year the firm filed a stockholder's derivative suit against Loral, charging that its CEO, Bernard L. Schwartz, breached his fiduciary duties by "unlawfully making contributions to the DNC [Democratic National Committee] and other entities affiliated with the Democrats and the Democratic Party in exchange for favorable treatment from the Clinton administration."

A spokesman for Loral denounced Judicial Watch, saying: "This organization has an obvious political agenda and its lawsuit has absolutely no merit."


Lords of the Flies
Senators Strut

American politics reached its nadir last week when, after arguing all day about how to conduct a trial, senators raced across town to get down on Larry King Live— which has become an after-hours club for these self-congratulatory buffoons who make up America's version of the House of Lords. One look at Minnesota's chirping Paul Wellstone or Massachusetts's pretentious John Kerry— not to mention Kay Bailey Hutchison, back from her supporting cameo role on Walker, Texas Ranger— makes one long for the hurly-burly of the House.

The Senate is a rich man's club. (It costs more than $4 million to win election to the Senate, according to Common Cause). Forty percent of the Senate are millionaires. Nine percent are women and zero percent are African Americans. For the most part they are a spineless bunch. Although the Senate is sometimes thought to have muted the more wild-eyed schemes of the House right-wingers, it has done nothing to solve the nation's underlying social-welfare malaise. It has shown absolutely no leadership on health care. Its members currently are sitting on their hands while someone else decides the fate of the Social Security system. They have been unable to make the slightest dent on campaign finance reform. They sit placidly and watch while industry grows ever more concentrated, re-creating the old trusts of the turn-of-the-century robber barons.

In spite of all this, the senators are slapping each other on the back for having come up with a way to try the president for pulling his pants down and lying about it. But their brief moment of glory will soon fade as Kenneth Starr retakes center stage.

This is Starr's game. Last week's indictment of Kathleen Willey's former friend Julie Hiatt Steele, on obstruction of justice charges, was a clear shot across the bow of the Senate: no matter what its members decide to do with the president, Starr isn't finished with him or his associates. Starr's prosecutors are preparing to go to trial against Susan McDougal for criminal contempt and obstruction of justice, and Webster Hubbell for false statements to federal regulators and Congress. He has not ruled out the possibility of indicting Clinton, while he is president, for perjury and obstruction of justice. The prospect of indictment will dog the president into retirement. And there is always speculation in Washington that Starr may indict Betty Currie or Vernon Jordan or both. So no matter what the rich old fogies in the Senate decide to do, Clinton will be on the hot seat for a long time to come.


Patriarch Hastert  

An avuncular good-guy ex­wrestling coach, the new House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been celebrated as a reasonable man who will stop partisan bickering. But this supposedly low-key conservative has an agenda of his own, especially when it comes to women. Last week the feminist Center for Advancement of Public Policy reported Hastert has voted against providing social welfare services to poor women and increases in the minimum wage, and opposed more money for the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition program. He opposes Title IX, the law prohibiting sex discrimination in education programs, including sports. "Three years ago [Hastert] sent an anti­Title IX letter with 136 Congressional signatures to the U.S. Department of Education," according to the Center. "And last July he voted against preserving gender equity in vocational education programs."

Research assistance: Ioanna Veleanu


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