Reading Bill’s Mind (Safire, Not Clinton)

INSIDE AN ESSAYIST’S BRAINPAN- That was some column I wrote about

Bill Clinton and Pardongate the other day. Sure, my gimmick of “reading”

someone’s innermost thoughts (usually Bill or Hill) is getting slightly stale.

But I can make the guy “think” anything about himself-and when I publish his

bogus mental musings, they take on a certain patina of reality just because

they’re printed in The Times . It’s incrimination without


What continues to amaze me is that nobody up on 43rd Street ever

complains. I’m an industry unto myself; I guess they don’t dare.

I hate to admit this, but we’ll never know why Clinton pardoned Marc

Rich. Implying bribery is simple when you leave out most of the facts; proving

it will probably be impossible. So the White House is getting nervous. “It’s a

dead end,” a Bush aide whispered to reporters the other day, sending the

President’s message to Dan Burton: Shut down that stupid Congressional


Well, I can’t blame them for worrying. This could become an

albatross like Whitewater, Filegate, etc. How many columns did I write about

those dead-end cases, warning that Ken Starr would bring down the Clinton White

House with a series of stunning indictments? Come to think of it, how many

times did I type the phrase “stunning indictments”? I won’t make that mistake

again for a while.

Thankfully, nobody holds pundits responsible for making outlandish

accusations. If anybody did, I might have to return the Pulitzer I won after

pouring tar over innocent Bert Lance back in the Carter days. I made a lot of

noise about crooked conduct involving the finances of the Carters’ peanut farm.

I charged cover-ups at Justice then, too. None of which, alas, proved true.

Ruined their reputations for a while and helped elect Ronald Reagan, though.

Memories are mercifully dim in this business.

Still, I understand why the

Bushies are jumpy. Democrats are muttering about Poppy’s pardons and

commutations, and there’s no denying he left behind an unopened can of worms. The Times lifted the lid slightly the other day, tardily

reporting about that Pakistani heroin smuggler the elder Bush sprang in January

1993. Nobody has had the poor taste to ask, but I can almost hear him trying to

explain it in that awful off-English of his. Ugh.

“Can of worms.” Terrific phrase

for an “On Language” column. Wait a second … isn’t that what Nixon said on the

Watergate tapes about the Cuban exiles? I suppose we could revisit all that,

too, because of Jeb Bush’s lobbying for the parole of Orlando Bosch. The tricky

part is that Bosch was strongly suspected of blowing up a civilian airliner in

1976. And that’s the year when Bush Sr. served as director of Central


Just more creepy stuff we’re better off forgetting. Who needs

historical context at a time like this? Providing context requires intellectual

honesty-which implies moral consistency-and ultimately discourages political

hysteria. Talk about a slippery slope!

Where was I? Yeah, the Clinton

pardons. We’ll get him (and her) on something someday, even if this Marc Rich

probe doesn’t pan out. The exaggeration of outrage is holding up nicely so far.

Marc Rich is radioactive, and so are the Clintons. My old Nixon White House

crony Len Garment thinks his former client was railroaded, but even he’s

keeping his mouth shut for a change. What a relief that Len didn’t have to

testify about Rich before the Burton committee.

It was bad enough watching Lewis (Scooter) Libby tell Burton off the

other night. That was a clever stunt by the Democrats, hauling in the Vice

President’s chief of staff to defend a Clinton misdeed. At least nobody brought

up Halliburton Inc.’s office in Teheran, or what Dick Cheney knew about his

firm’s dubious dealings with the mullahs.

Not yet, anyway. There will be plenty of time to revisit that

situation if the Big Oil boys in the White House start leaning on my man Ariel


Worse yet was when all three White House witnesses recalled how Ehud

Barak helped change Clinton’s mind during that goodbye phone call with the

prime minister on Jan. 19. The Times

scarcely mentioned that testimony, while Barak himself is deploying leaks to

downplay his role. Not so easy when the papers are reporting that Barak’s

foreign minister asked King Juan Carlos to intervene with Clinton for Rich.

This job takes plenty of nerve sometimes. How many guys who flacked

for the most anti-Semitic President in modern times-as I did-would have the

chutzpah to smear Clinton as “blaming the Jews”?

Maybe I should call up Sharon to find out what’s behind Israel’s

Rich itch. (I have Arik’s home number, or did I mention that already?) Except I

don’t really want to know. Why bother reporting, when inventing is so amusing? Reading Bill’s Mind (Safire, Not Clinton)