Al Gore would like to be alone. Well, not entirely alone. He would not like to be alone from the people. He would like to be one with the people. He would like to go to Kmart with the people, or Wal-Mart, or wherever it is that the people go when they are not in focus groups. But Gore would like to be a little bit alone. He would like to be alone from Bill Clinton.
With every poll in the country showing that voters are sick and mortally tired of the shabby, sordid ways of Clinton and his crowd, Gore is suddenly part of the crowd no more. Once, Gore was proud to say that he and the president enjoyed the closest of friendships. Now, he just can't find the time; The Post reports that president and vice president haven't had lunch since Aug. 10. Clinton? Clinton? No, the name's not familiar.
But Gore has a problem. The Clinton crowd is his crowd too. The world of access-peddling and demi-bribery and anything-for-a-buck that is Clinton's Washington is also Gore's Washington.
Gore's campaign manager is Tony Coelho, much admired in Washington as one of the great innovators of the modern money game. As chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Coelho pioneered the aggressive approach to Democratic fund-raising that was to find its ultimate expression in a White House where happy donors dreamed of federal sugarplums in Lincoln's bed.
By the standard of Clinton-Gore Washington, Tony Coelho is a perfectly ethical man. This standard was once brilliantly articulated by Gore himself. It is the standard of "no controlling legal authority": If it ain't a provable crime, it's okay.
The standard was recently on display in a little matter involving Coelho. In 1996 Coelho was appointed U.S. commissioner general for the 1998 World's Fair in Portugal. In this capacity of public trust, the State Department's inspector general found, Coelho made the government liable for a $300,000 personal loan, a loan that was not repaid until after its embarrassing disclosure, and treated himself, at government expense, to an $18,000-per-month apartment and a chauffeur-driven Mercedes. Coelho and his staff also misused $210,000 worth of donated airline tickets and upgrade passes, hired Coelho's niece as a $2,500-per-month assistant to his deputy and hired two stepsons of the U.S. ambassador to Portugal for $2,700 and $3,200 a month.
Coelho's principal function as commissioner was to raise funds to build the U.S. pavilion at the fair. He raised the funds all right--from unknowing taxpayers. Coelho worked out backroom deals with Secretary of the Navy John Dalton and with the National Institute of Environmental Health Services. These two agencies ponied up $6.5 million, 82 percent of the pavilion's total cost. As the inspector general noted, federal law prohibited using government funds for the pavilion unless "expressly authorized and appropriated."
Big deal, said Coelho's lawyer, nobody had recommended criminal prosecution. No controlling legal authority here; the Gore standard was met. "He is staying," Gore said of Coelho, dismissing the affair as "inside baseball" of no interest to voters.
Then there is Terry McAuliffe, who is a great fund-raiser and a great friend of the Clintons (sorry, that was redundant). Recently, McAuliffe hosted a $200,000 fund-raiser for the Gore campaign, with Coelho as the star attraction. This might have been embarrassing, if anyone around Clinton and Gore were capable of embarrassment, in that McAuliffe has been implicated in one of the nastier of the Clinton-Gore fund-raising scandals.
In 1996 Teamsters president Ron Carey, a darling of the Democrats, was facing a tough reelection campaign, and he needed cash. A scheme was hatched: Carey's lieutenants would loot the Teamsters treasury for cash to give to the Democratic Party and liberal interest groups; the recipients would kick back lesser sums to the Carey campaign. All in all, $885,000 in union dues was illegally diverted. Five persons have already pleaded guilty to federal charges and, last week, William Hamilton, the former political director of the Teamsters, was convicted on six counts. Facing a possible 30 years in prison, Hamilton now has a strong incentive to tell prosecutors who outside the Teamsters was in on the scheme.
McAuliffe has not been named as a target in the investigation. But in Hamilton's trial, former Democratic National Committee finance director Richard Sullivan testified that McAuliffe repeatedly told him that "if we could get a $50,000 contribution for the Carey campaign, he knew we could get $500,000 . . . from the Teamsters."
Oh, dear, there might be a controlling legal authority on this one. Well, not to worry, Mr. Vice President. You can always pretend you don't know the fellow.
Michael Kelly is the editor in chief of National Journal.