Were Clinton and Denise Rich more than friends?

There's absolutely no evidence, but Clinton haters are peddling the rumor anyway. Plus: Anti-gay slurs and a big Bob Jones endorsement in the South Carolina Senate race.

Published February 23, 2001 12:07PM (EST)

Denise Rich is a woman. Bill Clinton is, well, Bill Clinton. Does that mean that they had an affair?

Of course not. But that won't keep the pundits from having a little fun with the idea. Talk radio deity Don Imus got a laugh out of it -- and a laugh out of Larry King -- on CNN's Larry King Live Thursday night. While Republican investigators have concentrated on the $450,000 Rich, ex-wife of fugitive financier Marc Rich, donated to Clinton's presidential library fund, Imus was speculating about what other methods of persuasion she may have used to get the president to pardon her former spouse.

"According to fairly reliable sources, she made 100 visits to the White House," Imus said, adding that one of those sources, professional ex-Clinton buddy Dick Morris, had offered even juicer details. "He and others say that every time she was at the White House, Senator Clinton was someplace else. So what was she doing there?" the I-man asked, answering himself, "Well, come on, you know. Maybe [Clinton] was -- maybe he fell in love." That got King laughing. "Maybe he did it for love, you know," Imus repeated.

Morris has been pushing the "100 visits" line during appearances on the Fox News cable network, leaving it to others to let their imaginations fill in the blanks. Take a look at the exchange between him and Hannity & Colmes co-hosts, Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes on Feb. 20. Morris is questioning whether Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., or the former president took art from the White House that was actually federal property.

Morris: Let's distinguish between the matching his and hers scandal. This is a her scandal, not a his scandal. He would barely recognize artwork if he tripped over it. This is her scandal. And right now, by the way, they're each mad at each other because she's mad at him, probably, because of Denise Rich ...

Hannity: Right.

Morris: ... and he's mad at her ...

Hannity: A hundred times at the White House in a year, Dick!

Morris: ... because of the artwork.

Colmes: All right, we're going to take a break.

Hannity: It was a platonic relationship!

Morris had previously hinted about Rich's White House stays on Fox, dropping them into a chat on "The Edge with Paula Zahn" on Feb. 8. He referred to Rich as "a woman who spent 100 nights at the White House over the last 365 days." Driving home the point, Morris further said, "She was there an average of two nights a week. That's more than I stay in hotels."

The frequency of Rich's White House visits has formed the basis of a lot of finger- and tongue-wagging at the ex-president. During a conversation about Clinton's New York office woes, Fred Dicker, state editor and columnist for the New York Post, suggested that Rich, a New Yorker, might be ready to return Clinton's hospitality. "I bet he'll always be welcome at Denise Rich's," he joked on Zahn's Valentine's Day show.

Rich's supposed weekly sleepovers factored into the ethics lecture given on Zahn's show that same day by former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. "The amazing thing is that a president of the United States, in the last days of his office, would stoop to this kind of behavior," said Gingrich, who, after being bounced out of his office in 1998 for overplaying the impeachment hand and losing Republican congressional seats in midterm elections, was outed for having kept a Capitol Hill staffer, who is now his wife, as a long-term mistress. "As I understand it, she was in the White House on a weekly basis. They clearly knew each other," he said.

They did know each other, but did Rich really spend 100 nights at the White House? Not according to Fox's main man, Bill O'Reilly, on the Feb. 20 edition of his show, "The O'Reilly Factor." "Our reporting indicates that number is too high," he said.

But O'Reilly has indulged in some speculation about Rich and Clinton himself, commenting on his Feb. 19 show that "you have what looks to be a personal relationship between Denise Rich and Bill Clinton." The next day, some of his viewers called him on the carpet for it. "Hey, Bill, you hit rock bottom with your Denise Rich-Bill Clinton segment. There's no proof," e-mailed Samuel Gagliardi of Baden, Pa.

O'Reilly had a reply at the ready. "Well, that's what investigations are for, Mr. Gagliardi."
-- Alicia Montgomery [3:15 p.m. PST, Feb. 23, 2001]

Lindsey's light loafers

"This guy is a little too light in the loafers to fill Strom Thurmond's shoes," stated a press release written by South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian. The statement came after Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., announced his intention on Wednesday to run for the soon-to-be-empty seat of retiring Senate fossil Thurmond, R-S.C.

"Light in the loafers" is a well-known anti-gay slur, but Harpootlian insists that that's not how he meant it. He says that, where he comes from, people understand that there was nothing sexual about the remark. "It's just confusing to reporters in Yankee land," Harpootlian says.

He declares that he made his comment in response to Bob Jones III, president of Bob Jones University, who quickly endorsed Graham's run. "The Rev. Dr. Bob Jones called Graham a heavyweight who could fill Strom Thurmond's shoes," Harpootlian explains. Consequently, Harpootlian felt that labeling Graham as "light in the loafers" was a perfectly appropriate response "in the battle of the shoe barbs."

Considering some of the things Harpootlian has said in the past about political opponents, Graham got off easy. In 1999, Harpootlian referred to Republicans in the South Carolina Legislature as "those son of a bitches." He later apologized for his "distracting" language, but slipped again, calling those same GOP lawmakers "bastards."

As for Bob Jones University, there's little worry that Graham will pay any political price for accepting its namesake president's endorsement. During the Republican primary, then-candidate George W. Bush got into trouble for visiting the school, which had once forbidden interracial dating and has referred to the Catholic and Mormon churches as cults.

While he emphasizes that Jones personally endorsed Graham, and that the school itself was politically neutral, school spokesman Jonathan Pait insists that a good word from Jones is not a bad deal in a South Carolina race. "The people in this state know the real Bob Jones University," he said. "Not the one Salon [and other national media] writes about."

Kevin Bishop, Graham's press secretary, said that the congressman's official response to Jones' endorsement speaks for itself. "I am honored to have the support of people like Dr. Jones. They believe in conservative government," Graham said.
-- Alicia Montgomery [3:45 p.m. PST, Feb. 23, 2001]

By Salon Staff

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