Armey Stands By Harsh Criticism Of Clinton
White House hits back with a tried-and-true strategy
By Wolf Blitzer/CNN
WASHINGTON (April 7) -- House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) says he stands by his toughest comments to date about President Bill Clinton.
"I believe he's a shameless person," Armey told high school students outside Dallas on Monday.
"If it were me that had documented personal conduct along the lines of the president's, I would be so filled with shame that I would resign," Armey said. "This president won't do that. His basic credo in life is, 'I will do whatever I can get away with.'"
Armey elaborated on Tuesday: "I do think that it is important to emphasize with young people that they do have consequences to their behavior, they would accept the consequences to their behavior and we should hold the president of the United States to the same standards as we would hold to ourselves, or to coaches or to teachers or to heads of corporations."
In Kansas City, Mo., the president shrugged off a reporter's question, saying only that he hopes Armey "has a nice day."
But back at the White House, his aides launched a swift counter-attack.
Presidential counselor Paul Begala said, "Well, like they say in Texas, if goofy ideas ever get to $40 a barrel, I want the drilling rights to Dick Armey's head. He just comes up with these goofy notions and it is just a partisan attempt, I think, from the right-wing Republicans to form an alliance with Ken Starr in a very partisan investigation and try to use it for their partisan advantage."
Look carefully at Begala's words because they underscore a fundamental White House strategy: link any Republican attack to Independent Counsel Starr.
Clinton's aides are trying to pre-emptively trash Starr's expected report to Congress that could lead to impeachment proceedings.
That strategy worked last year in undermining Sen. Fred Thompson's Governmental Affairs Committee report on Democratic party fund-raising abuses.
"Every time we see a Republican leader in Congress hit the president, or an approach by the independent counsel indicating more hardball with the White House, we're going to see the White House hit back, hit back quickly and hit back hard, and at least up until now, it hasn't backfired on them all," said American Enterprise Institute political analyst Norm Ornstein.
But there may be an important difference this time. Little new information emerged from Thompson's report; most of it had been released during the public hearings or leaked to the news media. Starr's report will be based on secret grand jury testimony that may or may not remain secret.