Bush heads south of the border

The president heads to Mexico to meet with Fox; a congressional committee plans to slam Clinton aides with subpoenas, but holds back on Rich.

Published February 16, 2001 1:58PM (EST)

President Bush's first foreign trip -- to Mexico to visit Vicente Fox, that country's president and a close Bush ally -- will be on familiar turf. As governor of Texas, Bush developed a good working relationship with Fox, and the trip is expected to net little but renewed good feelings between the two men.

It's déjà vu all over again for Clinton scandal watchers. A congressional committee headed by longtime Bill Clinton foe Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., plans to issue a slew of subpoenas to the former president's aides in an investigation of his pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich.

During his tenure as head of the House Committee on Government Reform, Burton has conducted dozens of such probes into Clinton's behavior in office, with most of them turning up empty. He's hoping that this time will be different. Former White House chief of staff John Podesta, advisor Bruce Lindsey and counsel Beth Nolan will go before Burton's panel on March 1 to explain their roles in Clinton's last-minute act of mercy.

Conspicuously absent from the list is Denise Rich, Marc Rich's ex-wife, who has been a prolific donor to Democratic causes, including the Clinton presidential library, to which she reportedly gave $450,000. Burton and the other investigators want to find out just what role Rich's money played in the pardon of her former spouse.

Denise Rich is not being called as a witness for Burton's panel in deference to an ongoing criminal probe by the Justice Department. She has already asserted her Fifth Amendment rights to avoid an appearance before the committee. A grant of congressional immunity would compel her to testify, but it would complicate a federal prosecutor's job were Rich to testify to anything incriminating before the committee.
-- Alicia Montgomery [6:45 a.m. PST, Feb. 16, 2001]

"Al Gore Wins the Election!" That's the triumphant declaration in an e-mail sent to political reporters Thursday by Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Jenny Backus.

As the Miami Herald continues its audit of Florida's undervotes, and a prestigious media consortium examines the state's overvotes and undervotes, the DNC is keeping track of results from other media recounts across the state. And the news is good for Gore.

According to the certified Florida results, Bush won the state by 527 votes. But Backus says recounts by the Orlando Sentinel, the Palm Beach Post and the Chicago Tribune Co. collectively show Gore picking up 1,617 votes, giving him a "winning" margin of 1,080 votes.

Last week, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Gore would have gained more than 200 extra votes if Orange County had conducted a hand recount of all its ballots that machines could not read. An earlier investigation of overvotes in Lake County showed a 300-vote pickup for Gore.

The Chicago Tribune examined more than 15,000 undervotes and overvotes in the 15 counties with the highest rate of rejected ballots, and found a net gain of 366 votes for Gore among the uncounted ballots.

An examination of so-called dimpled ballots in Palm Beach County by the Palm Beach Post had Gore picking up 682 additional votes if those ballots had been counted as votes. The Palm Beach County election commissioner refused to count the dimpled chads, however.

Meanwhile, representatives from the Miami Herald, which once promised on its Web site to release its results around Inauguration Day, now say they are unsure when they'll be finished.

"We have been figuring on a number of weeks from now," said Scott Univer, general counsel for accounting firm BDO Seidman, which is conducting the recount -- they call it an "audit" -- for the Herald. "I think the process has hit a snag. There was a lawsuit in one of the counties [that] led to the county election officials counting the ballots."

The lawsuit Univer referred to is in Duval County, which uses the punch-card balloting system and where there are roughly 5,000 undervotes. The Herald has sued to get those ballots released.

But the DNC isn't waiting for those results. "The numbers don't lie: Al Gore carried Florida and won the 2000 election," new DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe said in the statement. "It's too bad that Bush was so afraid of counting the votes that the press had to do it. Bush should keep these numbers in mind as he pushes his radical right-wing agenda."

Meanwhile, the Washington Times blasted the media's recount process in a report earlier this week. "Things are still loony in the land of chads. At least one of those people recounting the Florida ballots was drunk, the Republican Party of Florida claims. According to several witnesses, temporary workers hired by media groups reviewing ballots for a third or even fourth time 'routinely violated their own analysis standards, and in at least one case, have conducted their review while intoxicated.'"

Conservatives also point to another Herald investigation in 25 Florida counties that revealed more than 2,000 illegal ballots were cast by people who signed affirmations swearing they were eligible to vote, but were not.
-- Anthony York [4:15 p.m. PST, Feb. 15, 2001]

Buchanan Brigade is back

After a winter break, Pat Buchanan's Internet crusader Linda Muller is back on the job. In the first real criticism of the Bush administration to come from the Buchanan right, Muller and her Internet Brigade are focused on the issue of free trade on the eve of Bush's visit to Mexico.

Muller is now spamming her e-mail subscribers with assorted news stories critical of NAFTA. She even sent along a press release from Public Citizen, the public interest group founded by Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. During the presidential campaign, Buchanan and Nader staked out some common ground in their opposition to free trade. Still, the irony is difficult to miss, seeing Public Citizen's name attached to a Muller e-mail, which she signs off with her signature "for the cause, Linda."

Much more typical was one Brigade member's note attached to an article on NAFTA by Business Week's Paul Magnusson. In inimitable Brigade style, one member said of Magnusson, "The author would appear to be either a lobbyist for Mexican President Vicente Fox or else someone who has been at the 'tequila' much too long."
-- Anthony York [1:45 p.m. PST, Feb. 15, 2001]

By Salon Staff

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