Will the Real President Please Stand Up?
Or, to put the question another way, can Democrats live with any
type of oversight they do not control?
The last time I appeared on these pages, I spoke of the President's
obligations under Article II of the U.S. Constitution, specifically
his duty to "take care that the Laws be faithfully executed."
Now comes news that White House Counsel Charles F.C. Ruff has failed
more than once to provide information requested by the Committee
on Government Reform and Oversight of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Apparently, a log of documents for which the White House intends
to claim privilege was first requested by the Committee on April
23. Several deadlines were agreed but not kept by Mr. Ruff. One
more time the Committee, trying to bend over backwards, postponed
Mr. Ruff's appearance until tomorrow the 21st.
But delay by the White House is only one half of the picture. The
other half is the full-court press brought to bear on the Committee's
chairman, Dan Burton of Indiana, a solid, sober, no-nonsense man
from the heartland. He will need it all if he is to survive the
onslaught of insinuations, accusations, "suddenly located"
memos, and "revelations" finding their way to the press.
Supposedly, he treated a lobbyist for Pakistan harshly, although
the government of Pakistan knows nothing about it. Supposedly, he
supported Mobutu of Zaire, but what he actually said on national
TV was that Mobutu "raped his country six ways from sundown."
He also played golf in a tournament sponsored by AT&T - an act
surely demanding the full attention and scrutiny of the entire Washington
So let us get serious for a moment. The trouble with Mr. Burton
is that he just might go all the way to find out the details of
Webster Hubbell's sudden windfall, described by The Washington Post
as "extravagant pay for mock employment." Mr. Burton just
might hold proper hearings to trace the flow of money from Communist
China to "Clinton'Gore '96" and the DNC. Mr. Burton just
might succeed in satisfying The People's curiosity about the command
post which allocated seats on Air Force One, afternoons of coffee,
and nights in the Lincoln Bedroom.
Mr. Burton must prepare for more "spontaneous" discoveries
about his past. Yet neither he nor other Republicans need be on
the defensive. Rather, it is time to put matters in perspective.
The Republican record on honesty in government was established once
and for all when Mr. Howard Baker, then Senator Baker, posed the
much-quoted question about Watergate: "What did the President
know, and when did he know it?" Until such time that a Democrat
of similar integrity comes forward, the score remains Republicans
1 - Democrats 0. That Mr. Burton is made of the same cloth as Mr.
Baker is born out by the fact that he demanded documents from the
Republican National Committee in the same manner as he did from
the Democratic National Committee.
But, saint or sinner, Mr. Burton is not the issue. The issue is
the President. No amount of mud sprayed in the direction of Mr.
Burton will wash off the layers of dirt building up on the walls
of the Executive Mansion. In truth, Mr. Ruff is doing the President
a disservice because every delay fuels more speculation about his
This is unfortunate because most Americans, I believe, hope the
President is at worst a blatant opportunist but not guilty of actual
crimes. Surprising as it may be, even staunch Conservative Republicans
would just as soon see Mr. Clinton absolved than the institution
of the Presidency hurt. That, incidentally, is the main reason why
the matter of foreign money in return for which foreign policy decisions
might have been made must be cleared up. And here, one hopes even
staunch Liberal Democrats would draw the line.
The constitutional prerogative for a speedy, complete and conclusive
investigation rests with Congress. The constitutional responsibility
for a speedy, complete and conclusive investigation rests with the
President - so says Article II. While it would be unreasonable to
hold Mr. Clinton responsible if a drunken driver in Nevada breaks
the law and is not prosecuted, those who work directly under him
are his responsibility, and his alone. If Mr. Ruff delays his response
to Congress, the President must relieve him of his duties and give
his successor an ultimatum. The Constitution mandates nothing less.
Meanwhile, it is Mr. Burton who gets smeared, and Mr. Ruff who takes
the beating. Mr. Burton, it seems, is guilty only of taking his
duties as chairman more seriously than is currently convenient.
Mr. Ruff, I presume, is an Officer of the Court, and Mr. Burton
has taken an oath of office. But neither has any specific constitutional
obligation in the matter.
The President does.