New York Post on Clinton gift story: Oops

Paper tries to clean up Dick Morris' mess. Plus: Bush goes marching in.

By Salon Staff

Published February 12, 2001 12:26PM (EST)

On Sunday, the New York Post splashed Dick Morris' column on its cover, trumpeting yet another turn in the Clintons' gift caper. Morris, the former advisor to Bill and Hillary Clinton who in recent years has become a knee-jerk critic, reported that Hillary had failed to disclose thousands of dollars worth of gifts she received as first lady.

Based on what he assured readers was a "careful analysis" of the Clintons' disclosure forms, Morris cataloged scores of gifts the first lady had received (or so he thought) but never owned up to. "The choice is simple," wrote the Fox News commentator. "Either you believe that Hillary did not receive any personal gifts or you believe that she did but isn't telling."

If life were only so simple. For while Morris often enjoyed access at the highest levels of the White House, it seems he never took the time to learn about more mundane matters, such as gift-giving procedures for first families. If he had -- or if he had bothered to check with Sen. Clinton's office -- Morris would have realized that just because he was able to find an old newspaper clipping that mentioned a gift given to Hillary but was unable to find it listed on any Clinton gift disclosure forms, it doesn't mean anything was out of the ordinary.

First families, particularly those of two-term presidents, receive hundreds of thousands of gifts. But only those gifts that are officially accepted -- and are worth more than $250 -- need be disclosed. The rest are either returned to the giver or sent to the National Archives. Additionally, any gifts given to the president and his family during the transition period before the inauguration do not have to be disclosed.

Turns out every single gift Morris held up in his story as an example of Hillary skirting ethics laws fell into those three easily understood categories. Those "five beautiful dresses publicly reported to have been given to Hillary by the king of Morocco on the occasion of his state visit" that were never disclosed? Four were returned and the other was given to the National Archives.

The Post had to send out two reporters to clean up the mess for Mondays paper; they dutifully quoted Hillary Clinton's spokesman, who explained the simple gift-giving guidelines. The paper offered up no response from Morris. -- Eric Boehlert [1:15 p.m., Feb. 12, 2001]

President Bush takes off his tax cutter's hat and slips into military fatigues as the White House launches armed services week on its policy calendar. Bush will visit military bases in Georgia, Virginia and West Virginia this week, arguing for a military pay raise and improved housing for troops in an effort to raise morale.

What the military won't be getting -- at least not right away -- is a major money bump. Bush has forestalled making a final judgment on an overall increase in defense spending, pending a top-to-bottom review of the armed services. In an odd turnabout, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., is planning to hold a press conference on Monday afternoon to criticize Bush's budget proposal for underfunding crucial military priorities.

In another sign that the bipartisan honeymoon has run its course, Republican members of Congress are reviewing their options for dealing with former President Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich. One of those options, according to Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., is impeachment. Specter told Fox News on Sunday that research he has done on the topic convinces him that Clinton can still be impeached, even though he has left office. Bush and Republican leaders in both houses of Congress have been cool to the escalating anti-Clinton actions.
-- Alicia Montgomery [5:30 a.m. PST, Feb. 12, 2001]

Salon Staff

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