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Clinton Team’s ‘Secret Police’ Widen Their Web

William Bradley has advised Gary Hart, Jerry Brown, Kathleen Brown and Tom Hayden. E-mail: bill@brad.com

“Primary Colors” is upon us, a $100-million cinematic wet blanket with as obvious a political agenda as any film Hollywood has ever produced. Joe Klein, author of the bitingly sardonic novel on which the movie is based, acknowledges the film is clearly softer on the Clintons--excuse me, the Stantons--than his original conception.

It’s no surprise that the president’s press boosters have seized on “Primary Colors” as the pop culture rationale and apologia for Bill Clinton, all making the point that Clintonism, warts and all, is as good as it gets. Forget the road not taken. But what director Mike Nichols, a Clinton friend, calls the movie’s defining moral dilemma is an utterly fraudulent conceit.

The setup is in keeping with the movie’s message that Clinton’s corruptions are more casual than profound. The candidate’s old friend and chief covert operative, played as a lovable lunatic by Kathy Bates, focuses only on controlling information about his womanizing. She practically stumbles onto evidence of his chief opponent’s past cocaine addiction and dalliance with homosexuality. Frightfully depressed by the Bill and Hillary characters’ amusingly immediate decision to use the material to smear the other candidate--their only question is which newspaper to use--she kills herself. This shocks them into doing the right thing, which is to tell the opponent of the damaging information available on him, allowing him to gracefully withdraw.

Unfortunately for the moviemakers, not to mention America, this is not at all how the Clintons operate. For the Clintons have used private investigators, secretly, for purposes well beyond the previously acknowledged suppression of “bimbo eruptions.” Indeed, the chief strategist of Clinton’s 1996 campaign, Dick Morris, declares: “There’s a kind of secret police going on here that goes back to the 1992 Democratic primary campaign that’s simply revolting. It is absolutely chilling.”

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No other Democrat in my memory has made such extensive use of investigative firms, in part because of the expense, in part because so many Democrats disdain the cult of intelligence. And yet the Clinton team has been at it throughout this decade and possibly longer, easily predating today’s arguably self-defensive efforts against the “vast right-wing conspiracy.”

A principal figure in this secret operation is Terry Lenzner, one of the most powerful and dreaded private investigators in the world. His distortions, detailed by Vanity Fair in 1996, were used to smear tobacco whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand. Contrary to White House claims, Lenzner’s work for Clinton--which includes the at-first-denied investigation of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr--did not begin in 1994 with the Whitewater case.

In reality, Lenzner’s work for Clinton goes back at least to 1991. During then-Gov. Clinton’s campaign for the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination, Lenzner investigated then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo (Clinton’s most feared potential rival), former California Gov. Jerry Brown (his most troublesome actual rival) and others, according to sources in the Clinton campaign and others involved with Lenzner investigative activities.

Chief 1992 Clinton campaign strategist James Carville disclaims knowledge of Lenzner’s work. But national campaign chairman Mickey Kantor, then a Los Angeles lawyer and now coordinator of Clinton’s scandal suppression team, says he is a Lenzner friend of 30 years standing.

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According to a Clinton source, all of Kantor’s communications with Clinton during the 1992 campaign were covered by attorney-client privilege, an unusual arrangement for a top campaign official. This privilege, of course, provides a useful shield for today’s “plumbing” work, preventing Starr from calling Kantor before a Washington grand jury.

Who has paid for the operation remains unclear. But what is clear is that now it extends into the government. Raymond Kelly, a former partner of Lenzner, is undersecretary of the treasury for enforcement. In that capacity, Kelly oversees a raft of federal security operations, including the Secret Service. He has opposed allowing agents to testify before the grand jury in the current investigation and pushed for the White House plan to give the Secret Service a major role in counterterrorism, moving beyond its executive protection function to partly supplant the FBI.

These are the makings of a good movie; just not the one that’s in theaters now. Too bad it’s not fiction.


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