Hillary Clinton’s campaign is signaling that a second Clinton presidency will follow the look-to-the-future, don’t-worry-about-accountability approach toward Republican wrongdoing that marked Bill Clinton’s years in office.
That was the significance of former President Clinton’s remarkable Dec. 17 comment that his wife’s first act in the White House would be to send Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush on an around-the-world mission to repair America’s damaged image.
“The first thing she intends to do is to send me and former President Bush and a number of other people around the world to tell them that America is open for business and cooperation again,” said Bill Clinton, who has accompanied the senior Bush on international humanitarian missions over the past several years.
What was perhaps most stunning about the remark was its assumption that Americans would be impressed that the country’s two dominant political dynasties would team up in early 2009 to tidy up some of the mess created by the headstrong son of the senior dynasty, the Bush Family.
The Bushes and the Clintons – who have held pieces of the nation’s executive power for more than a quarter century dating back to George H.W. Bush’s election as Vice President in 1980 – essentially would be keeping matters within the board rooms of the Washington Establishment.
In responding to Bill Clinton’s remark, George H.W. Bush issued a statement making clear he would not join in any slap at his son’s foreign policy. That also means Hillary Clinton’s “first thing” is unthinkable if her new administration were trying to exact any accountability from George W. Bush for his wrongdoing.
So, to get the senior Bush’s cooperation on the worldwide tour, there would have to be an implicit understanding that the second Clinton administration wouldn’t investigate the younger Bush’s crimes – from authorizing torture, ordering warrantless wiretaps, exposing CIA officer Valerie Plame’s identity, waging war under false pretenses and other abuses of executive powers.
If Hillary Clinton does get elected, you can expect to hear lots of talk about “leaving that one for the historians” or about the danger of increased partisanship if the Democrats were viewed as trying “get even” by exposing Bush’s offenses.
The wise heads of Washington surely would nod in approval at this “bipartisanship” of a Democratic administration deciding not to get bogged down in “refighting the battles” of the second Bush administration.
The First Clinton-Bush Deal
That’s exactly what happened in 1993 when Bill Clinton entered the White House after defeating George H.W. Bush.
Clinton and other senior Democrats shut down or wrapped up four investigations that implicated senior Republicans, including Bush, in constitutional abuses of power and criminal wrongdoing during the Reagan-Bush years.
The Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages case was still alive, with special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh furious over new evidence that President George H.W. Bush may have obstructed justice by withholding his own notes from investigators and then ducking an interview that Walsh had put off until after the 1992 elections.
Bush also had sabotaged the investigation by pardoning six Iran-Contra defendants on Christmas Eve 1992, possibly the first presidential pardon ever issued to protect the same President from criminal liability.
In late 1992, Congress also was investigating Bush’s alleged role in secretly aiding Iraq’s Saddam Hussein during and after Hussein’s eight-year-long war with Iran.
Representative Henry Gonzalez, a Democrat from Texas who had served three decades in Congress, had exposed intricate financial schemes that the Reagan-Bush administrations employed to assist Hussein. There also were allegations of indirect U.S. military aid through third countries, including the supply of dangerous chemicals to Iraq.
Lesser known investigations were examining two other sets of alleged wrongdoing: the so-called October Surprise issue (allegations that Bush and other Republicans interfered with Jimmy Carter’s hostage negotiations with Iran during the 1980 campaign) and the Passportgate affair (evidence that Bush operatives improperly searched Clinton’s passport file in 1992, looking for dirt that could be used to discredit his patriotism and secure reelection for Bush).