President Bush, in a TV interview, demands that Gov. Bill Clinton "level" about the trip he made to Moscow nearly 23 years ago. As it was intended to do, this innuendo immediately puts two suspicions into circulation. The first is that the Democratic candidate for President has not been honest about what he did when he visited Moscow as a student in 1969. The second is that therefore Clinton must be trying to hide something, perhaps something unsavory, even--here imaginations are invited to run wild--something seditious.
What is the basis for this spectacular insinuation? Apparently there is none. "I don't have the facts," Bush said on the Larry King show. Neither does Bush's friend, Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), who was the first to try to wring some political profit out of the sleazy speculation that Clinton may have met with Soviet secret agents during his Moscow trip. Dornan admits he has no evidence to support this notion, lamely noting that the KGB routinely took an interest in all tourists to the Soviet Union and so it must follow that Clinton could have knowingly or otherwise met with a KGB agent. Given its source, this tortured line of reasoning--along with the sinister inference it is meant to produce--was at first largely ignored. But now the source is no longer a highly partisan congressman known for his loose mouth. Now the President of the United States has chosen to echo, and so more widely disseminate, an innuendo that suggests a questioning of his opponent's patriotism.
The known facts are that Clinton, as a student, spent a week in Moscow during a tour of Europe at the end of 1969. He was one of more than 40,000 Americans to visit the Soviet Union that year, when a Moscow hotel room and a meal could be had for under $20 a day.
Did the KGB pay attention to visitors? Of course, as it had done and would continue to do for decades. Did Clinton meet with anyone from the KGB? "As far as I know I didn't," he says. But of course, secret police are secretive, so no visitor could be sure who was or wasn't with the KGB.
Offering not an iota of evidence to support the suspicion he has tried to raise, the President seeks to put on Clinton the burden of disproving an allegation that Bush has not had the courage to raise explicitly. Does Bush know of anything that would call Clinton's loyalty into question? "I don't have the facts," he says. If a President with full access to U.S. intelligence files doesn't have the facts, then it's a very good bet there are no facts to be had. Bush's latest roll of the political dice is not just patently desperate but deplorably sordid.