Archive for Thursday, February 15, 2001

Clinton continues to frustrate

February 15, 2001


The headlines were all about secret e-mails and suspicious campaign contributions.

But the most memorable moment of Thursday's congressional hearing on ex-President Clinton's pardon of billionaire/tax evasion suspect Marc Rich came when star witness Jack Quinn started arguing with members of the House Government Reform Committee about the definition of "fugitivity."

Didn't know "fugitivity" was a word, you say? It isn't a word, as far as I can tell, but that didn't seem to bother this roomful of lawyers and politicians in Washington. All they were worried about was figuring out what it meant.

Quinn, a former White House lawyer who pleaded Rich's case to Clinton, was trying to explain to the committee why he told the president that Rich was not a fugitive even though Rich fled the country in the 1980s, just before he was indicted on charges of tax evasion and other crimes. Quinn insisted that because Rich had the foresight to fly the coop before being indicted, he was not a fugitive, and his refusal to return to the United States to stand trial did not constitute fugitivity.

The prosecutors who brought the charges against Rich also testified at the hearing and said that Quinn was full of ... uh, baloney. They told the committee that Rich knew he was about to be indicted in one of the most spectacular tax ripoffs of all time $48 million and that he high-tailed it to Switzerland for one reason and one reason only: to avoid prosecution.

Most people might figure that a man who skips town one step ahead of the posse and remains on the lam for 17 years or so would surely qualify as a fugitive under the dictionary definition of "fugitivity" if there were a dictionary definition of "fugitivity."

But Quinn is, or was, a denizen of that weird, beyond-the-looking-glass world where people known as Clintonians speak a unique language called Clintonese.

In Clintonese, the definition of "is" is ... well, nobody knows. And the meaning of "alone" depends on what you mean by "alone."

In Clintonese, "intentionally misleading" means something entirely different from just plain "lying."

We won't even get into the Clintonian definitions of terms such as "sexual relations" and "inappropriate relationship."

So. It made perfect sense that an investigation of Clinton's decision-making in the matter of presidential pardons would end up where so many investigations of Clinton's conduct have ended up: in a preposterous word game that would be hilarious if it weren't so annoying.

Leave it to Clinton to convince himself that the fugitive he wants to pardon is not a fugitive because the fugitive's lawyer had made the case that fugitivity is not always what it appears to be.

Clinton's fans keep screaming for his critics to leave him alone, to stop investigating, to stop tearing their hair out over his myriad transgressions.

But Clinton leaves us no choice. He continues to insult the American people. He insists on trampling common sense and common decency.

The ex-president says he pardoned Rich on the merits of the case as described to him by Quinn not because Rich's ex-wife lobbied him for the pardon, and certainly not because the ex-wife is a major contributor to the Democratic Party.

Quinn must have dazzled Clinton with his explanation of "fugitivity," because there were no other apparent merits to Rich's case at least none that proved compelling to committee members during Thursday's hearing.

It figured that Republican committee members, led by chairman and tireless Clinton-baiter Dan Burton of Indiana, would scoff at Quinn's arguments.

"Everything about it seems sleazy," said Connecticut Rep. Christopher Shays.

But even Democratic members were appalled by the pardon.

Rep. Henry Waxman of California criticized it as "a bad precedent" and "an end run around the judicial process."

And we all know what "end run" means. It's a lot like "fugitivity."

Bill Thompson is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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