For Whom the LaBella Tolls

On the GOP Front Line

There can be little doubt that the Republican Party was handed a major opening for a devastating attack on Al Gore with the revelation last week of a top Justice Department memo — the so-called LaBella Report — long kept secret by Janet Reno, which recommended that an independent counsel launch an inquiry into Clinton-Gore finance practices in the 1996 campaign. The Los Angeles Times said it had obtained a copy of the memo. Whether George W. Bush will pursue the opening in the general campaign is an open question. So far, he has not hesitated to opt for gutter politics. The opportunity is there, and the temptation surely will grow as independent counsel Robert W. Ray releases his reports on Bill and Hillary Clinton. Ray is said to be considering whether to indict the president when he leaves office.

The Times noted that the LaBella Report directly raises the issue of Hillary’s role in possibly underhanded and conceivably illegal campaign financing. “Among those getting special treatment, the report said, were President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and former White House aide Harold Ickes. It is the first indication that the task force was considering Mrs. Clinton’s conduct in the fund-raising scandal.”

The memo — named for former campaign-finance task force supervisor Charles LaBella, who was appointed by Reno — accuses “senior Justice officials of engaging in ‘gamesmanship’ and legal ‘contortions’ to avoid an independent inquiry into Clinton-Gore campaign fund-raising abuses.” According to the Times, it states that Reno’s top advisers engaged in ” ‘intellectually dishonest’ double standards — endorsing independent counsels to investigate Cabinet-level administration officials while opposing them for similar or stronger cases involving senior White House figures.” LaBella reportedly doesn’t spell out specific criminal offenses, but instead talks about “a pattern of conduct worthy of investigation” by independent counsel.

According to the Times, “The report said that one of the common themes among various cases under review… was ‘the calculated use of access’ to the White House and high-level officials, ‘including the president and vice-president.'”

Justice Department officials called the memo “outrageous.”

Another Clinton Mess


LaBella wasn’t the only Clinton scandal to hit the media last week. According to the Washington Times, newly obtained information shows that the White House threatened to have five employees of Northrop Grumman — a company working under contract for the Executive Office of the president — jailed after they found and reported a glitch in a computer system that prevented the discovery of more than 100,000 messages involving campaign finance abuses, Monica Lewinsky, ‘Chinagate,” and “Filegate.” Citing attorneys and other sources, the Times claimed that former White House official Laura Crabtree told employees at a June 15, 1998, meeting that the matter was “extremely sensitive” and warned them not to say anything publicly without explicit authorization. She allegedly said the consequences would be a “jail cell.”

The Times said the new revelations tended to confirm accusations made last month by Sheryl L. Hall, chief of White House computer operations. Hall told the paper that administration officials covered up the fact that e-mails from August 1996 to November 1998 had not been surrendered as required by law, adding that at least 4000 of the messages related to Lewinsky. Others involved receipt of secret FBI files, information about the selection of corporate executives for overseas trade trips, and e-mails concerning 1996 campaign finance activities.

The glitch was first discovered by the Northrop Grumman employees when they traced a programming error in one of the servers back to August 1996. The error involved e-mails to and from 464 White House computer users. The problem was remedied in November 1998.

The e-mails had been sought under subpoena by a federal grand jury and by congressional committees. Northrop Grumman has referred inquiries to the White House. Crabtree, who now works at the Labor Department, has been unavailable for comment. White House spokesman James Kennedy said the administration had made “a good faith effort to respond in a timely fashion to all requests for information sought under subpoena.”

The case raises the question of why sensitive e-mails were kept secret at a time when the independent counsel was investigating the activities of the White House. And it raises the question of whether workers for a private company should be entrusted with confidential White Houses memoranda.

Last week, the House committee on government reform asked the White House counsel for a meeting to discuss the e-mails. More to the point, independent counsel Ray’s office said over the weekend it was “aware” of the allegations involved and would take “appropriate steps.”

World Bank, IMF Protests Set in D.C.

Seattle East

The same groups that brought the WTO to its knees in Seattle last summer are organizing similar protests at the annual meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund scheduled in Washington, D.C., over 10 days: from April 8 through April 17. Marches, guerrilla theater, teach-ins, rallies, concerts, and nonviolent civil disobedience are planned.

The protests against the new institutions of the global economy such as the WTO are nothing compared to the long-simmering anger over the high-handed tactics of the World Bank and IMF. Both are strongly influenced — if not outright controlled — by the U.S. Treasury. Both have earned the enmity of the developing world with their “structural adjustment” policies, which demand that poor countries adopt austerity regimens in exchange for loans. Structural adjustments often lead to a sharp decline in social-welfare programs and emphasis on the export of raw commodities at bargain-basement prices to compete in depressed world commodity markets. Both the Bank and the Fund exist in a privileged environment in Washington. They are allowed to bring in third-world domestic help at pitifully low wages (indeed employees of both have been accused of enslaving maids and other servants).

Although most people know little about the Fund or the Bank, a coalition of liberal and conservative House members has begun to protest the rubber-stamp appropriations through which the U.S. pumps billions of dollars a year into both institutions. As one condition for passing the appropriations in 1998, Congress set up a bipartisan commission to look into their operations. That report, issued last week, ought to provide plenty of fodder for demonstrators next month.

Issued by an 11-member panel — the International Financial Institution Advisory Commission — the report unanimously called for the cancellation of the poorest countries’ debts. It was belated vindication for those who have long argued that impoverished countries can’t possibly pay their accumulated debts. In sub-Saharan Africa, many nations spend more on debt service than for health care and education. In addition to debt forgiveness, the majority of the commission called for downsizing the Bank and the Fund.

The FBI’s Secret Medical Project

Black Budget

Hiding in President Clinton’s new budget are certain unnoticed items that could launch entirely new directions of government activity costing billions. Unearthed by Congressional Quarterly, the first is a proposal to give the FBI $5 million to collect and analyze DNA samples from federal prisoners, a measure that opens the door — without any statutory authority — to unprecedented intrusions of privacy in the field of medicine and ethics. A program that starts with prisoners can morph into one that samples the DNA of everyone with a driver’s license and eventually of everyone with a Social Security number. Genetic information of this sort could be used to deny people medical help — based on genetic history and likelihood of long-term survival.

Another measure would get NASA into the phone business. It would provide the much-criticized space agency $20 million to study effects of the sun on earth. The agency is concerned that solar eruptions could disrupt the power grid as well as cell-phone traffic. The proposal would begin the process of moving NASA into areas of pure research and involve it in power and power operations.

Cardinal Fingers Veggie Beast

Bologna’s Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, whose views often reflect the thinking of the pope and who is believed to be in line to replace him, has announced that the Antichrist is alive on earth. According to Biffi, the Beast masquerades behind a “fascinating personality,” espousing vegetarianism, pacifism, human rights, and environmentalism.

Additional reporting: Kate Cortesi