By Howard Kurtz
From the American Spectator to the British tabloids, from Vince Foster conspiracy theorists to television evangelist Jerry Falwell, the Clintons have been under siege by their conservative critics and a phalanx of ideological allies in the press.
The virulence of their animosity toward the Clintons is suggested by radio host G. Gordon Liddy's disclosure that he used pictures of the president and first lady for target practice. The conservative Spectator has depicted Hillary Clinton as a broomstick-riding witch. Other critics have denounced the first couple as immoral and corrupt and predicted their eventual indictment.
At times, the charges have grown so wild that mainstream conservatives have tried to distance themselves from the most extreme accusers. Some of the allegations, such as the Foster-was-murdered scenario and the supposed presidential scheme to sell Arlington National Cemetery grave sites to donors, have been widely discredited.
But the high decibel level of these Clinton detractors does not necessarily mean they're working in tandem as part of an orchestrated "conspiracy." Nor does it provide an explanation for every charge against the White House, from Whitewater to campaign fund-raising abuses, that has been investigated by prosecutors and the press.
The case involving Monica Lewinsky includes several people who are considered hostile to President Clinton. It brings together the long-running Whitewater investigation of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, who was called "politically motivated" by Hillary Clinton on NBC's "Today," and the bitter sexual harassment suit by Paula Jones.
But the Lewinsky matter also differs from many of the past episodes in important respects. The news that Starr is investigating allegations that Clinton had a sexual relationship with the former White House intern and lied under oath about it was broken by mainstream news organizations -- The Washington Post, ABC, Los Angeles Times and Newsweek -- not by the conservative press.
"Blaming a conspiracy seems to be in American politics the last refuge of the intellectually lazy or timorous," said R. Emmett Tyrrell, editor of the conservative American Spectator and author of "The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton." "Instead of calling me names, let Bill Clinton and the first lady go out and disprove what I've said and what the [Arkansas] troopers have said."
The White House drew some ridicule last year for compiling a 332-page report about an alleged "conspiracy commerce" of news stories making their way from ideological or fringe publications to talk radio to the mainstream media. Indeed, there are numerous examples of such a pattern, although the White House backed off from calling it a "conspiracy."
William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, has criticized what he calls an ideological "attack machine" against Clinton. But he says it was not a factor in the Lewinsky case. Kristol, a former Bush White House staff member, and Internet gossip columnist Matt Drudge, a self-described conservative, were the first to publicly mention the allegations. But several major news organizations were pursuing the story before Drudge and Kristol went public.
Still, the role of four key players in the Lewinsky case has fueled the administration's view that partisans and opponents are helping to orchestrate the allegations:
Linda Tripp, the Pentagon aide who secretly taped conversations in which Lewinsky alleged an affair with Clinton, grew angry working in the Clinton White House. She was also said to be furious with Robert S. Bennett, the president's lawyer, for saying she was "not to be believed" after Tripp told Newsweek that another former White House aide, Kathleen Willey, appeared to have had a sexual encounter with Clinton.
Tripp, who began work in the Bush White House, had considered writing a book about Foster, the White House lawyer who committed suicide in 1993, and she tried to sell it to the conservative Regnery publishing house. Tripp is also a friend of Gary Aldrich, the former FBI agent whose book "Unlimited Access" (published by Regnery) accused Clinton of sneaking out for late-night hotel trysts and ridiculed the conduct of his aides. Aldrich has said that Tripp was "shocked" by the atmosphere of the Clinton White House.
Tripp has hired attorney James Moody, who has done work for several conservative groups, including the Landmark Legal Foundation, which has been a harsh critic of Clinton.
Moody said yesterday: "I can say categorically that I have no connection at all to the Paula Jones case and am in no way part of a 'right-wing conspiracy.' These are just McCarthyist tactics. This is just like the old blacklist days when they wanted to know the name of your friends."
Lucianne Goldberg, Tripp's book agent and the woman who suggested that Tripp tape Lewinsky, said she is "glad" that Clinton got "caught" and that she would consider herself a "hero" if he is forced from office.
Goldberg has represented a woman who tried to sell a fictionalized account of an alleged romantic relationship with Clinton, as well as the Arkansas troopers who wanted to write a book about their womanizing charges against Clinton.
Paula Jones and her attorneys, whose case is being financed by the conservative Rutherford Institute, are locked in a bitter battle with Clinton. By asking him at his deposition this month whether he had had sex with Lewinsky (as well as other women), the attorneys elicited the denial that is now a key issue in Starr's probe. Jones first unveiled her charges in 1994 at a conservative political conference.
Starr is seen by the White House as a partisan Republican who latched on to the sexual allegations after his three-year, $30-million Whitewater investigation failed to produce charges against the Clintons. Before he became independent counsel in 1994, Starr was hired by a conservative women's group to write a legal brief opposing Clinton's claim of immunity in the Jones case.
In her interview on the "Today" show, the first lady named Starr and the two Republican senators from North Carolina, Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth. In 1994, shortly before a federal three-judge panel appointed Starr, one of the judges had lunch with Helms and Faircloth. Faircloth had been pushing for removal of the previous special counsel.
Hillary Clinton also named Falwell, who has promoted $40 videotapes on television that charge the president was once "hooked on cocaine" and link him to the mysterious deaths of several Arkansans. The video says, without proof, that the first lady had a sexual relationship with Foster.
One of the earliest and harshest Clinton critics was Tyrrell's American Spectator, which in 1993 reported that some Arkansas troopers had arranged liaisons with women. Tyrrell has also written a column titled "Is Clinton on Coke?"
The Spectator has received more than $2 million since 1990 from foundations controlled by conservative financier Richard Mellon Scaife. But he recently cut off the Spectator for publishing an article criticizing those who do not accept the finding of two prosecutors that Foster committed suicide.
Scaife owns the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which has published numerous articles questioning Foster's death and the death of Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown. Scaife also helps fund such conservative groups as Accuracy in Media, the Heritage Foundation, GOPAC and the Western Journalism Center, which markets a videotape called "Unanswered -- The Death of Vincent Foster."
Another prominent Clinton critic is Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of London's Sunday Telegraph, whose charges have been picked up by such conservative media outlets as the Washington Times, New York Post and Wall Street Journal editorial page. Evans-Pritchard has written of alleged affairs involving the president and has said that Whitewater "will lead to criminal indictments and bring down the whole administration."
In his new book, "The Secret Life of Bill Clinton," Evans-Pritchard writes about Jerry Parks, who did security work for the 1992 Clinton campaign before he was slain. Evans-Pritchard says Parks's son is "accusing the president of the United States of using a death squad to eliminate enemies," and concludes that Parks's death is "somehow intertwined with the death of Vincent Foster."
Staff writer Rene Sanchez contributed to this report.
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