"We not only have a pardon problem," said Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., during the House hearing on the pardon of Marc Rich. "We have a revolving door problem."
We sure do.
Let's start with Jack Quinn, who went from representing the president as White House counsel to representing a rich fugitive named Marc Rich who was seeking a presidential pardon.
Revolving the other way was Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who, as Rich's lawyer, "educated" Quinn about the case, then moved on to the White House to serve as Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Also revolving was David Bossie who, as chief investigator for Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., made a career out of investigating the Clintons but was then hired by Quinn to help prep him for his appearance in front of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee headed by -- you guessed it -- Bossie's former boss, Dan Burton.
Working alongside Bossie are two other conservative Republicans -- and longtime fellow Clinton-bashers -- Joe diGenova and his wife Victoria Toensing. It feels like I'm hallucinating every time I see diGenova on TV defending Quinn and, in effect, Clinton and his pardon. It takes weeks of gut-wrenching tribal councils before the two tribes on "Survivor" merge into a single team. In Washington, it just takes a client with an unlimited bank account. And you don't have to eat cow brains to win immunity -- just be able to hire the people who know the right people.
So round and round we go. Next stop: Leonard Garment, Richard Nixon's White House counsel. Garment, too, was hired by Rich. He, too, defended Clinton's pardon as "the right thing," adding that his billionaire client, living in luxurious exile in Switzerland for the last 18 years, had "suffered enough." It turns out that while you may not be able to buy common sense for yourself, you can apparently buy other people's. And the Rich Liberation Front has been on a buying spree.
The hearings proved that America is two nations not just when it comes to poverty, health insurance, education, housing and -- as we discovered this election -- voting but also when it comes to breaking the law and getting away with it. Try stealing a few hundred bucks from a 7-Eleven; odds are you won't be represented by Jack Quinn, Scooter Libby or Leonard Garment, and the place you'll be going won't have a cozy fireplace and freshly groomed powder trails.
As the seething Elijah Cummings, the African-American congressman from Maryland, put it during the hearings: "The little guys that I represent ... they really have a problem with that because they sit here and they say, 'Wait a minute, I'm sitting in jail for 20 years ... I may have done one-millionth of what was allegedly done here, but I'm sitting in jail. And I didn't have the money to go off somewhere else ... I didn't have the money to hire the big-time lawyers."
Indeed, the e-mails zipping back and forth among Rich's big-time lawyers were truly a pardon-seeker's A-list. In one, they float the idea of asking King Juan Carlos of Spain to intercede. In another, the question is which contributors are "close enough to lean on Schumer." In a third, we are "advised that HRC shall feel more at ease if she's joined by her elder senator from New York." In another still, we learn that "DR called from Aspen. Her friend B got a call today from POTUS ... he wants to do it and is doing all possible to turn around the WH counsels." Apparently the pope isn't wired yet.
It's hard to find anyone not on retainer who isn't disgusted by what the hearings revealed. In addition to the classic one-two corruption punch of the Revolving Door and the Quid Pro Quo, the hearings offered a fine example of that Beltway favorite, the Mutual Back Scratch. Eric Holder, the deputy attorney general who had declared himself "neutral, leaning toward favorable" about the pardon, testified that he had had conversations just before the election with Quinn, Gore's one-time chief of staff, about how he might help Holder in his quest to become Gore's attorney general.
If you watched the hearing with the "mute" button on, you might have felt caught in a time warp -- with Dan Burton and Bob Barr going for Clinton's throat and Henry Waxman and Elijah Cummings defending him. But with the volume turned up, you realized with a startle that they were all on the same side. And that this isn't just about a flawed Clinton White House. It's about a flawed political system. It was, after all, Cheney's chief of staff who had Mary Matalin return reporters' calls to say that "we're looking forward, not back." Gosh, I don't remember Matalin saying that when Monica was in the news.
So once again the American public is being asked to rubberneck at yet another wreck piled up at the intersection of money and influence -- then quietly and quickly move on.
But, if you, or the president, will pardon me for asking, for how long?