Traffic II: Hillary doesn’t

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 11, 2002

know husband’s business


Syndicated Columnist

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March 3, 2001 10 PM

Washington – The junior senator from New York reminds me of the drug dealer’s wife in "Traffic." She makes it her business not to know her husband’s.

A California cocaine smuggler wins a pardon from President Clinton by paying Hillary Clinton’s brother $200,000. To escape questioners, Clinton makes a post-midnight car run from Washington, D.C. to Chappaqua, N.Y. Left behind, Sen. Clinton says she knew nothing about the deal.

Four Hasidic men in New York get their sentences commuted after their leaders deliver the community’s vote for Hillary. The first lady knows nothing of the reciprocity. All she did, she says, was go to the White House meeting with the leaders.

A top contributor wins a pardon for her ex-husband, a fugitive financier high on the government’s Most Wanted list. Again, Hillary knows nothing.

Amid the rush of 11th-hour presidential pardons under way, she admits to innocently passing "envelopes" from pardon-seekers to the White House counsel’s office.

What convenience of mind! She only attended a "meeting," only heard "rumors," only passed "envelopes." Admitting the fact of her behavior, she denies its purpose. She admits what is provable, denies what is not.

The neatness of her confession makes Sen. Clinton the emblematic actor in this sordid piece. Her husband rakes in millions from a fugitive’s ex-wife. A chunk of that money goes to making Hillary a senator. She gets to live the dream while Bill does what he has to do to keep up the payments.

The arrangement is no problem for the crooks. If the president’s wife wants to pretend she’s above the sordid trade in pardons, that’s fine with them. If the president’s fundraising friends want to invoke the Fifth Amendment, that’s their business.

What’s important to the pardon-seekers is that the Clinton family can be " reached." The new Sen. Clinton’s electoral lifestyle depends on a regular flow of campaign cash. The job of the ex-president is to keep that flow of cash regular. To do that, he needs to keep his service to the wealthy and well-connected contributors just as regular.

That is what makes Clinton reachable by the likes of drug dealer Carlos Vignali, whose father is a fat-cat Democratic fundraiser the likes of Marc Rich, who has proven his ability to reach any politician.

The loser in this deal is the country. Before this, we laughed at poor little countries that drug dealers and international crooks could buy. We mocked the Third World capitals where a little money in the fingers of a certain family member would open doors or close eyes.

Thanks to Bill and Hillary Clinton, we have now forfeited that small national vanity. The next movie about international drug-dealing, perhaps called "Traffic II," may well feature not a Mexican police chief but an American president as the bag man.

Chris Matthews, chief of the San Francisco Examiner’s Washington Bureau, is host of "Hardball" on CNBC and MSNBC cable channels. The 1999 edition of "Hardball" was published by Touchstone Books.

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