Cheney watch

A shadow presidency emerges? Drudge's blurry video scoop. And: more hearings on pardon mess.

Published February 26, 2001 12:13PM (EST)

When then-presidential candidate George Bush chose Dick Cheney as his veep, there were rumors that he would become the real White House power. Well, Cheney hasn't staged a palace coup, but he does have his troops in place for congressional battles. Cheney's congressional office is another step in what many administration critics see as a parallel power structure for the vice president. The veep has his own GOP celebrity advisor, former CNN talking head Mary Matalin, and also has a closer connection to key Bush Cabinet officers -- Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld -- than the president has.

Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, reported on Monday that Cheney is setting up his own congressional affairs office. While it is normal for a vice president to have his own informal congressional operation, the formality of Cheney's arrangement is unprecedented, as it will mirror the staffing of the White House's legislative office, and will even have its own office space on the House side of the Capitol.

"I think it's quite unusual," said Stephen Hess, senior fellow of governmental studies at the Brookings Institution. Hess believes that Cheney's more hands-on approach to relations with the Congress represents a major change from the last administration, and that Clinton's vice president, Al Gore, would never have been able to pull off such a move. "Senators are very prickly about somebody from the executive branch having a foot in their camp," Hess said. "The fact that Cheney can do this shows that he's still got a lot of friends in Congress. Al Gore was not a particularly clubable guy."

But Hess believes that there's no reason to accuse Cheney of overstepping his bounds. "The important thing to remember is that Cheney works for the president's team," Hess said. "He's not an unguided missile." Cheney's spokeswoman, Juleanna Glover Weiss, dismissed the notion that the vice president's new link to Congress demonstrates a parallel power structure, insisting that the office would serve as "a second pair of eyes" in Congress for the White House. "The vice president hasn't done anything that the president hasn't wanted him to do," she said. -- Alicia Montgomery [2:30 p.m. PST, Feb. 26, 2001]

Clinton-video conspiracy doesn't track
With the Republican Congress prepared to restart hearings into former President Bill Clinton's last minute pardons, net gossip Matt Drudge Monday went with a dramatic news flash: "CLINTON CAUGHT ON TAPE: MCAULIFFE'S PRIVATE VIDEOS MAY HOLD PARDON INSIGHTS; HANDY-CAM CAPTURED LAST DAYS."

But a DNC official claims the footage wouldn't deliver quite the punch that Drudge would expect. "In addition to the shots of Clinton, there's compelling footage of the McAuliffe children's birthday parties, school assemblies and a family vacation," said the source. The official insisted that McAuliffe used most of the videotape in question to make home movies, and there wasn't any actual presidential material on the tape at all, strictly speaking.

"This is a video about citizen Clinton, not President Clinton," he said, declaring that the camera started rolling after Clinton left the White House on Inauguration Day, and that, consequently, there would be nothing on the tape about presidential pardons. -- Alicia Montgomery [2 p.m. PST, Feb. 26, 2001]

Republican leaders in the House and Senate are exploring ways to combine their investigations as more questions are raised about former President Clinton's last-minute pardons. Though Clinton himself remains the primary target, much of the political burden could be borne by his wife.

One reason is that federal prosecutor Mary Jo White has pledged to probe whether one set of controversial clemency grants was a quid pro quo for support of the Senate campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. Four Hasidic Jewish men from the tightknit community in New York's Rockland County received clemency from the former president after having been convicted of defrauding the government to the tune of $30 million. Their home village of New Square delivered more than 99 percent of its approximately 1,400 votes to the former first lady.

Hillary Clinton may also endure further scrutiny because her brother, Hugh Rodham -- who received, and later returned, $400,000 after two of his clients got clemency -- is now reported to have lobbied the former president for clemency on behalf of at least two other clients. Nora Lum and her husband, Eugene Kung Ho Lum, were convicted of making illegal campaign contributions to Democrats. But the latest revelations about Rodham's pardon-lobbying activities could actually scuttle influence-peddling charges; the Lums were not pardoned.

No matter what becomes of Rodham, Sen. Clinton could be blamed for part of the mess by her constituents. A poll conducted by Zogby found that 58 percent of New Yorkers don't believe their senator's claims that she had no knowledge of her brother's activities.
-- Alicia Montgomery [5:45 a.m. PST, Feb. 26, 2001]

By Salon Staff

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