|US Elections: Democracy at work or the final meltdown ?|
Back then, Bill Clinton countered that smear by accusing the elder President Bush of stooping to tactics reminiscent of Sen. Joe McCarthy, the infamous Red-baiter from the 1950s. But today’s Democrats apparently feel little shame in whipping up an anti-Russian hysteria and then using it to discredit Trump and other Americans who won’t join this latest “group think.”As the 1992 campaign entered its final weeks, Bush – a much more ruthless political operative than his elder-statesman image of today would suggest – unleashed his subordinates to dig up whatever dirt they could to impugn Bill Clinton’s loyalty to his country.
Some of Bush’s political appointees rifled through Clinton’s passport file looking for an apocryphal letter from his student days in which Clinton supposedly sought to renounce his citizenship. They also looked for derogatory information about his student trips to the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia.
The assault on Clinton’s patriotism moved into high gear on the night of Sept. 30, 1992, when Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Tamposi – under pressure from the White House – ordered three aides to pore through Clinton’s passport files at the National Archives in Suitland, Maryland.
Though no letter renouncing his citizenship was found, Tamposi still injected the suspicions into the campaign by citing a small tear in the corner of Clinton’s passport application as evidence that someone might have tampered with the file, presumably to remove the supposed letter. She fashioned that speculation into a criminal referral to the FBI.
Within hours, someone from the Bush camp leaked word about the confidential FBI investigation to reporters at Newsweek magazine. The Newsweek story about the tampering investigation hit the newsstands on Oct. 4, 1992. The article suggested that a Clinton backer might have removed incriminating material from Clinton’s passport file, precisely the spin that the Bush people wanted.
Immediately, President George H.W. Bush took to the offensive, using the press frenzy over the criminal referral to attack Clinton’s patriotism on a variety of fronts, including his student trip to the Soviet Union in 1970.
Bush allies put out another suspicion, that Clinton might have been a KGB “agent of influence.” Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times headlined that allegation on Oct. 5, 1992, a story that attracted President Bush’s personal interest.
“Now there are stories that Clinton … may have gone to Moscow as [a] guest of the KGB,” Bush wrote in his diary that day.
With his patriotism challenged, Clinton saw his once-formidable lead shrink. Panic spread through the Clinton campaign. Indeed, the suspicions about Bill Clinton’s patriotism might have doomed his election, except that Spencer Oliver, then chief counsel on the Democratic-controlled House International Affairs Committee, suspected a dirty trick.
“I said you can’t go into someone’s passport file,” Oliver told me in a later interview. “That’s a violation of the law, only in pursuit of a criminal indictment or something. But without his permission, you can’t examine his passport file. It’s a violation of the Privacy Act.”
After consulting with House committee chairman Dante Fascell, D-Florida, and a colleague on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Oliver dispatched a couple of investigators to the Archives warehouse in Suitland. The brief congressional check discovered that State Department political appointees had gone to the Archives at night to search through Clinton’s records and those of his mother.
Oliver’s assistants also found that the administration’s tampering allegation rested on a very weak premise, the slight tear in the passport application. The circumstances of the late-night search soon found their way into an article in The Washington Post, causing embarrassment to the Bush campaign.
Yet still sensing that the loyalty theme could hurt Clinton, President Bush kept stoking the fire. On CNN’s “Larry King Live” on Oct. 7, 1992, Bush suggested anew that there was something sinister about a possible Clinton friend allegedly tampering with Clinton’s passport file.
“Why in the world would anybody want to tamper with his files, you know, to support the man?” Bush wondered before a national TV audience. “I mean, I don’t understand that. What would exonerate him – put it that way – in the files?” The next day, in his diary, Bush ruminated suspiciously about Clinton’s Moscow trip: “All kinds of rumors as to who his hosts were in Russia, something he can’t remember anything about.”
But the GOP attack on Clinton’s loyalty prompted some Democrats to liken Bush to Sen. Joe McCarthy, who built a political career in the early days of the Cold War challenging people’s loyalties without offering proof.
On Oct. 9, the FBI further complicated Bush’s strategy by rejecting the criminal referral. The FBI concluded that there was no evidence that anyone had removed anything from Clinton’s passport file.
At that point, Bush began backpedaling: “If he’s told all there is to tell on Moscow, fine,” Bush said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “I’m not suggesting that there’s anything unpatriotic about that. A lot of people went to Moscow, and so that’s the end of that one.”
As her campaign sinks into its own anti-Russian mud pile of guilt-by-association, Hillary Clinton and her supporters may ask themselves how far are they prepared to go – and whether their ambitions have overwhelmed any “sense of decency.”
The writer of this report
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).