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Most Artful of Dodgers: Bill Clinton

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Kenneth L. Khachigian is a veteran political strategist and former White House speech writer who practices law in Orange County. His column appears here every other week

“Deep Blue” may have vanquished the world’s best chess player, but the vaunted IBM computer has not yet met its real match: William Jefferson Clinton. This mere machine is incapable of Clinton’s slick forward calculations--mapping out intricate maneuvers to evade the political and legal scandals whose advancing maw is still many months away from consuming him.

It’s a wonder to behold.

It might not appear to the naked eye--but Bubba-Man knows what’s coming down. Congress, the legal system and a good portion of America has Clinton in their cross hairs. And the talk is no longer speculative, it’s dead-on accusatory. Embarrassing hearings, criminal charges among the first family’s associates and, ultimately, impeachment hearings. All are on the chief executive’s radar screen.

Writing in the liberal New Republic magazine’s “TRB From Washington” column, Michael Kelly has been lobbing the most damaging grenades into the presidential bunker. Last week, Kelly made a compelling and tightly argued case that Clinton accepted a bribe from one of the soft money donors who found easy access to (pick one): Map Room coffees, the Lincoln Bedroom or Air Force One.

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Clinton, with his fine-tuned survival instincts, knows better than anyone that the winter of his discontent is not seasonal. It will drag through the rest of his term of office.

This impending crackup of the Clinton machine is what accounts for the extraordinary lengths to which the White House has gone to buy time for the Arkansas Houdini. Veteran Washington commentator Fred Barnes has documented Clinton’s “ceaseless campaign of stonewalling”--unprecedented stonewalling that has now become “a defining characteristic of Clinton’s presidency.”

Not only has Clinton stalled subpoena requests, he has raised frivolous claims of executive privilege, attorney-client privilege and work product privilege. He digs in his heels at every turn. He refuses to urge individuals with potentially damning information--like Webster Hubbell and Susan McDougal--to testify freely. So each is emboldened to refuse cooperation.

And up on Capitol Hill--orchestrated by the White House and the Senate Democratic leadership--fiercely partisan Democrats have thrown repeated barriers in the path of critical investigations. The latest: blocking the grant of limited immunity for 18 potential witnesses--mostly monks and nuns implicated in the Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple/Al Gore fund-raiser--who could finger the masterminds behind this illegal money-laundering scheme.

The Democrats are marching lock step so far. Why? Because this parade of illegal horribles is headed right over an electoral cliff--threatening to take the liberals and their agenda along with the president. With the heat on the Democratic National Committee’s soft money fund-raising for Clinton-Gore, it doesn’t take Mensa members to assay the consequences for Democrats in the 1998 election cycle. It certainly explains why lefties like U.S. Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) crowd the talk shows to hotly beat the bongos for Bill, Hillary and Albert the Apparent.

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But now to the main point--one that seems to have eluded Republican leaders in recent legislative struggles. Clinton is using conservatives in general and the Republican Congress in particular to rally his political base to defend against the anticipated legal and political onslaught.

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A week ago, an analyst in this newspaper raised the issue of why Clinton “has given greater emphasis recently to conventional liberal arguments on race.” The answer lies not in the stars, but in the operative word, “liberal.”

Our president is circling the wagons. He is activating his core ideological supporters. Thus his attacks on Prop. 209; his aggressive adjustments to welfare reform legislation on behalf of noncitizens; his threats to veto Republican tax cut proposals; and, most obviously, his recent veto of the disaster relief bill to kill provisions that would prevent another government shutdown.

Clinton wants a government shutdown. He wants to be able to orchestrate a massive distraction so he can discredit his adversaries and deflect attention away from his troubles. He will stimulate class warfare over tax cuts, exacerbate racial divisions and eschew his centrist electoral strategies in favor of drawing sharp political battle lines to save his skin.

Just watch this most artful of dodgers as the next few months unfold. Clinton’s playing his opening gambit. “Deep Blue,” eat your heart out.

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