WILLIAM SAFIRE 1997 New York Times News
Friday, January 2, 1998
"I DON'T think you can find any evidence,''
President Clinton told reporters last March, ``of the fact that
I had changed government policy solely because of a contribution.''
The careful qualifier solely was his intended
escape hatch; reasons other than a payoff always can be dredged
up. But in determining whether bribery took place, prosecutors
need prove only that a policy decision was made mainly be- cause
of a heavy donation to his re-election.
That's why Clinton's personal intercession
on the side of ``friendly'' Indian gambling casinos -- against
tribes seeking a competing casino that failed to contribute to
Democratic campaigns -- should lead to independent prosecution.
A lobbyist for the friendly Indians, who
also was a former Democratic National Committee treasurer, made
the pitch for his tribe against allowing competition directly
to the president.
Clinton promptly told his longtime Mr. Fixit,
Bruce Lindsey, to handle it. Lindsey immediately put the word
in to the man running the DNC from the White House, Harold Ickes.
Despite warnings about the consequences, Ickes in turn caused
heat to be put on Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.
Babbitt's top aides at Interior must have
been delighted to get the political direction from the White House.
These included lawyers who later cashed in by bringing the retainers
from Democrat-friendly Indians into a Washington law firm. Another
Babbitt aide, Heather Sibbison, assured Ickes's staff that the
competition would be blocked. A June 6, 1995, White House memo
reports that Sibbison said that although there was some local
resentment at the lobbying by the wealthier tribes against the
application, Interior was ``95 percent certain that the application
will be turned down.''
The fix was in at Interior's top. But just
two days later, on June 8, the Indian Gaming Management staff
told its director, George Skibine, exactly the opposite. ``If
strong local support is garnered only by filling the outstretched
hand to make local officials eager supporters, then IGRA [the
Indian Gaming Regulatory Act] fails to protect.'' Staff recommendation:
Approve the application of the poorer tribes to compete with the
A draft document just found by the Senate's
Thompson committee shows that recommendation strengthened by Skibine
for submission to political appointees above him. But apparently
it was quashed, and now he is supporting his bosses.
Committee Counsel Mike Matigan, in a letter
to The Wall Street Journal, notes that this bureaucrat's draft
memo was found to be ``urging the exact opposite of his final
decision.'' That decision was handled by one of the Babbitt assistants
who soon would represent the tribes now coining money with their
Clinton-guaranteed gambling monopoly. And what was the turnaround
of Interior's staff recommendation worth? Contributions of $230,000
to the DNC to help re-elect Clinton.
This circumstantial evidence was buttressed
by Paul Eckstein, a lifelong pal of Babbitt's, representing the
poorer tribes, who was witness to the corruption. This credible
eyewitness testified under oath that Babbitt told him that an
agitated Ickes had directed him to make the decision fast and
that the richer tribes had contributed a half-million dollars
to the Democrats.
Babbitt admits that he failed to tell the
truth to the Senate when first asked about his meeting with Eckstein
and has substituted another story that also rings with the clank
of falsity. If the case ever gets past Clinton's cover-up crew
at Janet Reno's ``Public Integrity'' section, a jury will decide
which man is to be believed.
Here we have a blatant example of the purchase
of government policy. A lobbyist got to Clinton, who gave the
assignment to Lindsey, who took it to Ickes, who leaned on Babbitt,
who was surrounded with top staff eyeing the lucrative revolving
The recommendation was changed not solely
but substantially because lobbyists outside, and appointees inside,
Interior later arranged for contributions to Clinton's re-election
by tribal casino monopolists.
If that closed circle is not credible evidence
of bribery of an administration, what is? Babbitt, one of the
few who did not financially profit in all this, is a person covered
by the Independent Counsel Act. When does the law get enforced?
All content © 1998 THE MIAMI HERALD