Democrats have been tripping over each other in the mad dash to distance themselves from former President Clinton and his pardon of Marc Rich. And before one news cycle has passed, they've already begun to wail about Hugh Rodham's influence in two more pardons. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, Representatives Barney Frank and Henry Waxman, Senators Joe Lieberman, Chuck Schumer, Russell Feingold and Paul Wellstone, and former Clinton Commerce Secretary Bill Daley have all taken the time to blast Clinton. In doing so, they've run right into the welcoming arms of Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton, who is milking his investigation of the pardons for all he can. In fact, Burton just announced he intends to subpoena three advisers of former President Clinton to testify, indicating that he has no intention of stepping aside just because a federal prosecutor has taken up the case.
Sure, Democrats are trying to be open-minded. But an open mind is apparently not the same thing as a mind with a long memory. It's true that Clinton's pardons were at least as slimy as previous presidents'. But if Democrats are going to spend their time discussing the situation -- rather than, say, President Bush's regressive tax cut -- they could at least tell the truth about Burton: He is a Clinton-loathing lunatic who has long used the power of his investigative committee to hound his nemesis -- often on trumped-up charges, and always on the government's dollar (or rather, millions of them). During the Clinton presidency, Burton used his investigations to block Clinton from achieving his legislative priorities. Now he's using the Rich hearings to put Democrats on the defensive while President Bush pushes his.
Burton is once again staging his self-righteous act, accusing Clinton of doing a favor for a big contributor. Burton knows of what he speaks. He has done plenty of favors for contributors, according to an exhaustive investigation by The Hill and other publications in 1997 and 1998. Clinton did a favor for Rich, an alleged tax cheat and a fugitive. Burton has done favors for reputed terrorists, human rights violators, and a despot.
For example, Burton asked the State Department to give former Zairian dictator Mobutu Sese Seko a visa to visit the United States after receiving thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and honoraria from Mobutu's Washington lobbyist. In fact, Burton gave back $500 in campaign contributions from the lobbyist in 1997 after The Hill revealed that the contributor had exceeded the legal limit in the 1990 election cycle. Around the time of the contributions, Burton also made statements on the floor of the House of Representatives praising Mobutu. Mobutu's corrupt and dictatorial rule impoverished Zaire. While president, Mobutu amassed enormous personal wealth at the nation's expense.
Zaire was not Burton's only overseas interest. He also took thousands of dollars in legal contributions from people with business interests in Turkey. Afterwards, he made a statement on the floor of the House of Representatives he had cribbed from a Turkish government official. The statement defended Turkey against well-documented charges that its government committed serious human rights violations against the Kurds.
In 1996, Burton made another floor statement that almost exactly echoed materials that Turkey's lobbying firm gave to members of Congress, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Burton calls himself a defender of international human rights. Nevertheless, after receiving contributions from Turkey's allies, he defended the country's government on numerous occasions -- despite the fact that the United Nations, State Department and numerous human rights groups have made serious allegations against Turkey's government.
Indicating another tie to those accused of violating human rights, Burton participated in programs put on by the conservative International Freedom Foundation. Later investigations revealed that South Africa's apartheid government funded the Foundation in order to increase support for apartheid overseas, and discredit Nelson Mandela's African National Congress. At least two Burton contributors worked in the Foundation's Washington office, according to The Los Angeles Times. Consistent with his work with the Foundation, Burton opposed sanctions against South Africa's apartheid government and openly criticized the African National Congress.
In another case, Burton intervened with the Department of Education for a campaign contributor who owns a medical school in the Caribbean, according to Roll Call. Soon after doing the favor, Burton asked his contributor whether his daughter could apply to an affiliated veterinary program.
Just like Clinton, Burton and his staff have denied that there are any connections between campaign contributions and his efforts on behalf of contributors' causes. His office did not return several calls for comment on this article.
The Marc Rich hearings are not the first time that Burton has opened himself to charges of hypocrisy. He has long bombastically accused others of offenses he himself has allegedly committed. For example, Burton accused Clinton of taking money from seedy characters, including an arms dealer and a felon. Burton also took the maximum $1,000 contribution from Richard Babayan, an "Iranian swindler, felon, arms dealer and one-time coup plotter," according to The Hill.
Burton lustily investigated allegations that Al Gore took contributions from a Buddhist Temple. He took more than $600 in illegal contributions from Sikh Temples, returning the money only after The Hill reported on them.
Burton has run into other kinds of trouble as well. For example, the FBI investigated charges that Burton demanded that a lobbyist for Pakistan raise $5,000 for his campaign or be barred from Burton's office. (Burton admitted meeting with the lobbyist, but denied shaking him down.) In addition, The Hill reports that Burton paid his criminal defense lawyer $25,000 out of his campaign -- rather than personal -- funds. Also according to The Hill, Burton took an allegedly illegal contribution from a group founded by five organizations that the State Department identified as Sikh terrorist groups. Burton advocated the group's cause -- an autonomous Sikh homeland in India.
Burton has no power over Bill Clinton or his authority to pardon anyone he wanted. And Burton's record suggests that hatred, rather than sincere moral outrage, motivates him. Democrats would be wise to call for Congress to leave the investigation to the federal prosecutor. With George Bush offering new right-wing proposals every day, Democrats have more important things to do than join with a hypocrite to slam on an ex-president.