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Giving Good Faith a Bad Name

Tuesday, October 7, 1997; Page A16


AND NOW the White House has found and turned over to congressional investigators videotapes of some of the coffees the president gave for campaign contributors last year. There may be tapes of as many as 150 such events. The investigators asked for them months ago; only now are they being disinterred.

White House officials are shocked that anyone would accuse them of foot-dragging. They of course are as aware as anyone that the Senate committee's writ runs out Dec. 31 and is unlikely to be renewed. That's 86 days and counting. But delay? The discovery of the tapes was the result of a "good faith effort" by the White House staff to comply with congressional requests, said Lanny Davis, the attorney whose job it is to lay the daily gloss on such matters. "We've said we would conduct ongoing searches for new material, and that's what happened here."

It's enough to give good faith a bad name. The attitude of this White House toward the truth whenever it is in trouble is the same. Don't tell it, or tell only as much of it as you absolutely must, or as helps. They fired some travel office officials in the first term – wanted the jobs – and then tried to get the FBI to sign off on a press release suggesting the firings had been a result of suspected wrongdoing. It's still not clear who may have taken what, and at whose orders, out of the office of deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster after he committed suicide and while police were still investigating in 1993. Whitewater prosecutors want some of Mrs. Clinton's billing records having to do with her work at the Rose law firm before coming to Washington; they can't be found, then miraculously turn up one day in a box on a table in the White House.

Webster Hubbell is driven to resign as associate attorney general and before being sent to jail is being pressed by prosecutors to tell what he may know regarding the looting of a savings-and-loan at the heart of the Whitewater affair. Lucrative jobs are found for him, which prosecutors think may have been to keep him quiet. First the White House says no one there, including the president, even knew about the jobs; then it turns out that, yes, they knew, but "the key thing" is that with regard to the main job neither the president nor his top aides had any "knowledge of Mr. Hubbell's retention . . . prior to [his] being retained."

As to the campaign stuff, their first reaction to the name John Huang was to suggest they'd never heard of him. That was before it turned out he had visited the White House some 78 times in 15 months. Vice President Gore first said he thought the purpose of the fund-raiser he attended at a Buddhist temple in California in 1996 was "community outreach." When his recollection was refreshed by documents to the contrary, he authorized an aide to say he had known the event was "finance-related" and should have said the purpose was "political outreach." Lately another aide has said the purpose was "donor maintenance." Who thinks of these things?

A principal line of defense when fund-raising issues arise is to say the Democratic National Committee did it, as if the DNC had not been a clear extension of the White House during the campaign. The DNC's former chairman can't remember having made calls to the CIA in behalf of a large campaign contributor pushing a Central Asian oil pipeline project, despite fairly compelling testimony that in fact he did. There's more, but that's enough. Call it stonewalling. The story on the videos is that they had consulted the relevant database but punched in the wrong key words and come up empty-handed. Didn't find out about them for sure until last week, when someone had the bright idea of checking under the heading, "coffees." Someone then reportedly had the even brighter idea of trying "DNC fund-raiser," and got "150 hits."

They keep asking indignantly, even a little petulantly, over there why they're not believed as they keep putting out their successive versions of the story. Can anyone really believe they don't know the answer? Can anyone believe this is on the up and up?

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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