The Magazine


Mar 17, 1997, Vol. 2, No. 26 • By BRIT HUME
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Some have argued that D'Amato, with his reputation as a fierce partisan with his own ethical baggage, was simply the wrong man for the job. But D'Amato actually behaved with considerable restraint, much more so than some Democrats. Remember Henry Gonzalez, then the chairman of the House banking committee, and his wild goose chase after the so-called Iraq-gate scandal? The premise of that case, that the Bush administration funneled cash to Saddam Hussein through federal agriculture credits, turned out to be false. The whole probe was a farce, but it still got better press than D'Amato's investigation.

At the moment, the press is driving the Clinton fund-raising scandal, providing both the disclosures and the coverage of the tortured explanations. It is not going well for the White House, especially after Al Gore's unconvincingly pedantic defense of his one-man telethon. "Not a good news conference," said ABC's Cokie Roberts. "A sorry performance," said the Washington Post's Mary McGrory. Even Post cartoonist Herblock, normally as reliable a friend as the Democrats have, depicted Gore on the phone in his office, balancing himself on the edge of a telephone credit card, and later in the week, drowning in a pool of his own legalisms.

What should Republicans be saying and doing in this atmosphere? Maybe nothing. Senate majority leader Trent Lott last week pushed a cleverly crafted "compromise" funding plan for Thompson's investigation through the Senate Rules Committee in hopes of breaking a partisan deadlock that had threatened to block the entire inquiry. He proposed spending $ 4.35 million through December 31 to investigate "all illegal activities" in the 1996 campaign. The phrase "all illegal activities" was designed to keep the focus on the Clinton campaign while appearing to allow an inquiry into all abuses, including those in congressional races. "I just don't believe," said Lott, " that the Democrats want to be in a position of trying to . . . block this or filibuster this."

In fact, that might be the best thing that could happen to the Republicans. Two days after Newt Gingrich piped up that this scandal was in total "much bigger" than Watergate, the Atlanta Constitution reported that six years ago, Gingrich solicited wealthy donors to his political action committee with promises of access to him and the opportunity to influence policy. Is this the D'Amato effect working its negative magic again? Maybe, maybe not, but it's an example of why Republicans on Capitol Hill would be wise to look before they leap into this fray. The White House can't possibly win a fight with the news media. But it does pretty well when it goes up against the Republican Congress.

Contributing editor Brit Hume is Washington managing editor of the Fox News Channel.