Controversy dogs Clinton outside White House
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It's been more than three weeks since Bill Clinton left the White House but the former president continues to be a lightning rod, incensing his critics and even exasperating some supporters with his actions.
Controversy has dogged Clinton from the campaign trail to the Oval Office, and it kept on his heels as he became a private citizen again on January 20. Some of the last-minute pardons he gave to 140 people, especially to billionaire financier Marc Rich, fueled criticism from Republicans and a few Democrats.
Two congressional committees are investigating that pardon and on Monday Attorney General John Ashcroft did not rule out the Justice Department stepping into the fray.
Clinton's initial selection for office space in midtown Manhattan was blasted by GOP lawmakers as too expensive. In the face of that criticism, the former president is now considering moving to less pricey digs in Harlem.
Finally, the president's exit with thousands of dollars worth of gifts also was criticized, especially after some donors said the gifts were donations to the White House itself -- not to the former first couple. The Clintons have denied any impropriety, but have returned some of the gifts.
'A bad smell'
Even Clinton's maiden post-White House speech stirred the waters. Some investors with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, which paid him to speak at its Florida conference last week, objected to Clinton's presence. Philip Purcell, the investment company's chairman and CEO, later apologized, citing Clinton's "personal behavior as president."
The string of incidents has appeared to reinvigorate Clinton's critics. "Any one individual thing that this president did on the way out would have been fine," said Scott Reed, a GOP strategist. "When you string them all together -- the speech, the deal, the pardons, the leaving with the furniture -- it casts a bad smell."
The New York Times excoriated Clinton in a Sunday editorial, describing him as a man "who seemed to make a redoubled effort in the last moments of his presidency to plunge further and further beneath the already low expectations of his cynical critics and most world-weary friends."
But former White House spokesman Joe Lockhart, appearing on CNN's "Inside Politics," defended Clinton, suggesting Republicans were piling on.
"We can argue about the Rich pardon, but all this other stuff is just mean-spirited politics," Lockhart said.
In fact, Rich's pardon has been met with little in the way of a public defense by Democrats. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, was blunt in her assessment of Clinton's use of that executive privilege in the Rich case.
"Based on the facts as they've come out, I'm sorry to say I really believe he did make a major mistake," she said Sunday.
Impeachment and immunity
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, raised the possibility of re-impeaching Clinton, an idea that met with little support, even among fellow Republicans.
Clinton was impeached in 1998 on charges related to his affair with one-time White House intern Monica Lewinsky, but the Senate acquitted him.
Dan Burton, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, has begun the process of attempting to immunize Denise Rich against prosecution, forcing her to testify about her role in securing a pardon for her former husband.
Denise Rich refused to testify last week, citing her Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination.
The House panel also asked the State Department whether Marc Rich remained a U.S. citizen during his 17-year run from the law.
Non-U.S. citizens are barred from making political contributions in the United States. Thus, if the government determines that Rich legally renounced his citizenship, any money he or his representatives donated to Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton or other Democrats could be judged illegal. Mrs. Clinton was elected a U.S. senator from New York last year.
Same old tone in Washington
Lockhart on Monday called on President Bush to tell his GOP followers to tone down the Clinton criticism.
"They have squandered the idea of changing the culture here in Washington," Lockhart said. "And I think President Bush, if he really wanted to back up his words with some actions, he would bring the Republican leaders down and tell them to cut it out."
But Reed, the GOP strategist, said Clinton had only himself to blame.
"Some of it may be unfair, but this is all Bill Clinton's making," Reed said. "He did this to himself. He's a very smart politician. He knows when you go in, everybody watches you and when you got out, everybody watches you, and it's like in the last week of this guy's presidency, they weren't thinking about how they are going to be viewed."
Hillary Clinton has also been in the firing line. Dick Morris, once a Clinton confidant and political adviser, wrote an op-ed article in Sunday's New York Post saying the former first lady had not reported many gifts she had received.
Sen. Clinton denounced the story as false and said she had followed all rules about accepting and reporting gifts.
Clinton considering Harlem office space
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