Recently, Salon's editors asked me to write a short piece – not my regular column -- on the latest development in the scandals surrounding Al Gore and his participation in illegal fund-raising activities. Believing that Gore may have lied about the scandals in sworn testimony, a Justice Department official was recommending that a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate. Because I was busy with other projects (and other subjects), I turned down the request three times. But the editors had already asked Joe Conason for one of his oh-so-predictable Clinton-Gore exculpation pieces, and thought Salon readers should get another view. This seemed to me an admirable objective, and the morning after Conason's article was posted, I arose at 6 AM and tossed off a few hundred words to oblige them.
It wasn't a particularly a difficult task. Two previous officials at Clinton Justice had already recommended the appointment of a special prosecutor based on Gore's evasive responses to Department inquiries. Moreover, it was pretty obvious to anyone who took the time to read the newly released transcripts that the Vice President had lied under oath. Here is an opinion from the left: "A look at Al Gore's just-released interview with the Justice Department's campaign-finance task force director not only makes the Vice President look like a barefaced liar but also makes you wonder why Janet Reno has not prosecuted him and why this man is the certain nominee of the Democratic Party. (James Ridgeway, "How Can the Democrats Go With Him?" Village Voice, July 12, 2000).
In my short article for Salon, I focused on the Buddhist Temple fund-raiser where Gore sat at the head table between two Chinese Communist agents, Ted Sieong and Maria Hsia. Between them, this pair was responsible for providing several million dollars in illegal contributions to the Clinton-Gore campaign coffers. Maria Hsia has since been convicted on five felony counts and Sieong – a Los Angeles-based businessman connected to a Macao prostitution ring -- has fled the country to avoid prosecution.
Perhaps my Salon article would have been less inflammatory to Conason, if it had not focused on the flamboyant Buddhist Temple affair, but on the "White House coffees" -- fund-raisers that were illegally held in government buildings. At these gatherings, the President and Vice President met with campaign fat cats, at $50,000 a head. The Justice Department had obtained a note, written by Gore, in which he observed: "So we can raise the money – BUT ONLY IF – the President and I actually do the events, the calls, the coffees, etc." (emphasis in original) Gore himself hosted 22 of these coffees and co-hosted another 8 with the President. But when asked by Justice Department investigator Robert Conrad what went on, Gore pretended not to know much about them.
Conrad: And how did the events, the calls, and the coffees, factor into that ability to raise more money?
Gore: Well, this was not prepared by me. This was prepared by, apparently by Ron Klain. But, among the activities that were intended to help raise the funds were telephone calls to potential donors to ask if they could contribute to the DNC. And the coffees were in a somewhat different category, and I don't – that was not an activity I – I may have attended one.
One? A few days later, Gore's attorney Jim Neal sent a "clarifying" letter to Justice explaining that the coffees that Gore hosted were held in the Old Executive Office Building and he thought that the questions would only pertain to coffees in the White House, so Gore had not reviewed the records before testifying. But 8 of the coffees were co-hosted by Gore in the White House. Moreover, the Executive Office Building – in which the Vice President's own staff is housed, is part of the White House compound. Besides, it's a government building, and fund-raising on its premises is illegal.
These and other incriminating details made no impression on Joe Conason. In his Salon piece, he dismissed it all as "a tired rerun of an old flap" -- further machinations of the right-wing conspirators against the Clinton-Gore Administration. Conason even titled his piece "A Republican Hatchet Job," because Conrad was formerly a federal prosecutor in North Carolina and had once contributed $250 to a Jesse Helms campaign. "Without fresh proof of wrongdoing," wrote Conason, ignoring the fresh proof in the previously unreleased transcript, "there is no more reason today than there was two years ago to believe that Vice President Gore raised funds illegally during the 1996 campaign – or that he lied about the controversy later."
To understand the violence of Conason's attack when my rebuttal appeared, I should mention that I referred to Joe as a columnist "well known for his unflagging loyalty to every Clinton claim." Even more culpable was an introductory sentence in which I called the Clinton Administration "the most criminal, the most corrupt, the most cynical administration in American history." This was red flag time for Conason, who apparently regards any criticism of the Clinton Administration as a personal affront.
Of course I do not have "proof" for the assertion that Conason built a whole new column around – viz., that the Clinton Administration is the most criminal, etc. on record. Though many Clinton officials have been convicted, many more (including the culprit-in- chief) have obviously not. Nonetheless, I believe the key charges in the scandals surrounding the Clinton Administration – including the Whitewater crookery, the abusive use of military force for domestic political agendas and the collusion with Chinese agents which led to the loss of America's nuclear secrets and missile technologies – will be shown over time to be as firmly based in fact as the deposition of Monica Lewinsky. (Let us not forget, moreover, that if it weren't for the preserved dress with its stain, people like Joe Conason would still be righteously insisting that she and not he was the liar.))
The basis for my belief in Clinton's guilt on charges he has denied is the reckless determination that he and his closest associates have shown in their attempts to obstruct justice, and the amazing energy they have been willing to put into these efforts. The Lewinsky affair should have convinced even the most reluctant observer that this President is a criminal who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. He will perform Byzantine exercises in prevarication before the world; he will drag his family through unimaginable torments on a global stage; he will paralyze the United States government for months on end; he will destroy the reputations of his political (and unpolitical) opponents – especially vulnerable women he has wooed and abandoned; he will abuse his political intimates by involving them in humiliating lies; he will assault the innocence of the young, by forcing an issue which he knows (but no one else does) will project his private mess onto the morning television shows; he will risk the electoral destruction of his own party (by not stepping down); he will mortgage the future of his party and his country by soliciting illegal campaign monies from foreign dictatorships and lobbing missiles into nations with whom America was otherwise at peace.
Of course, if you can delude yourself into thinking that Clinton did all this to avoid embarrassment about sex, you will be able to dismiss a lot of the evidence of sociopathic dysfunction. But to the rest of us, the impeachment scandal was ultimately and obviously not about sex. It was about power. And Bill Clinton's desire for power – his willingness to betray trusts and commit crimes to preserve and extend his power -- far exceeds that of any President on record, including the only modern President forced to resign, Richard Nixon.
Richard Nixon did resign, and that's the operative fact. Although he could have fought the outcome (and was advised by friends to do so), he voluntarily gave up his power to avoid consequences to family, party and country that were unacceptable to him. In other words, in the end, there were considerations – family, party, country – that he considered more important, greater than himself. That is what ultimately redeems him.
What is so frightening about Bill Clinton, on the other hand – what has led people like myself to believe that the main charges and suspicions against him are true -- is that he does not have such concerns, and has shown that he is willing to do anything to cover his tracks. In life, one is often forced to make judgments on the basis of behavior. For many of us, for example, even though O.J. Simpson was acquitted, he was obviously guilty. So are Bill and Hillary Clinton. So is Al Gore.
These are my opinions, forthrightly expressed in the Salon piece. They elicited the following response from Conason: "Urging the hyperbolic Salon columnist David Horowitz to calm down and cite facts instead of spewing insults seems as pointless as asking a dog not to defecate on the sidewalk. In either instance, the result is always and predictably the same: Somebody has to clean up a stinking pile."
Because verbal abuse is so habitual to Conason, my initial thought was to ignore the attack. When Salon's editors asked me if I wanted to reply outside my normal column space, I took a pass. After all, if I responded to Conason's smears, he would retort (as he has in the past in these very pages) that I "can't take it" and I should just "get over it." In the background, The Nation's Scott Sherman and a chorus of others would accuse me of pursuing "vendettas" against leftists for replying in kind. Every Clinton critic is, of course, a "Clinton-hater." In fact, it's really just a version of the Clinton attack mode. Commit an offense and then accuse the victim when he attempts to defend himself. Abuse your opponent and then call him a whiner – or worse -- if he complains about the abuse. Insult anyone and if they respond, call them a "spewer of insults."
But of course this is more than a Clinton or a Conason style. It is a trope of the broader left – though, to be fair, not all leftists are culpable and few are as adept or dependent on abuse as Conason himself. It is remarkable, in fact, how consistent the reflexes of this tradition have been over time. Half a century ago, the formula for discrediting an opponent would be to affix to them the label "fascist" or "lackey of the ruling class." That way, no decent person would consider the merits of what they had to say. Today the new terms of choice are "racist" and -- lackey of the ruling class (though "lackey" is pretty much passé and there are a variety of terms that are intended to make the same point). Thus, Conason's first attack on me in Salon two years ago, included the charge that I was a "hired propagandist" for wealthy donors. This, because my institutional base is an educational foundation that depends on contributions. My contributors are now more than 40,000 in number and support me with mainly $25 and $50 donations. No matter, I am a hireling of the rich. (Who does Joe think pays his salary at Salon and the New York Observer -- the homeless?)
I guess I really pushed Joe's button in my piece, because in his zeal to discredit me without addressing my arguments he not only showered me with scatological insults, but actually crossed the line of criminal libel (in a parenthesis no less).
(In case any readers aren't aware, the GOP also happens to be the party which Horowitz, through his various "non-partisan" tax-exempt fronts, serves as both a leading pamphleteer and a prodigious fundraiser, who organized $100,000 or more in contributions to George W. Bush.)
Well I thought everyone knew I was a Republican and a supporter of George Bush. I certainly haven't kept that any secret, writing articles in Salon about it. The way I read the syntax of this sentence, Conason has accused me of using a tax-exempt foundation to conduct partisan political activities and raise political campaign contributions for a federal candidate. These are not quite as serious as Al Gore's offenses – which Conason apparently can't be bothered with – but they are in the same category of breaking the law.
In fact, like many conservative foundations in the Clinton era, I have been thoroughly audited by the I.R.S. -- and given a clean bill of health. I did raise money for George Bush, but as an individual, which I am entitled to do under our still intact Constitution. Insofar as I have pursued any political agendas– for example in the publication of my War Room – I have done so through appropriate entities that are not tax-exempt. I am sure that when Kate Michelman or Patricia Ireland or Kweisi Mfume raise political monies, or pursue partisan activities they do so not through their "tax-exempt fronts" – NARAL, NOW and the NAACP -- but by utilizing appropriate alternatives as I do.
Of course, libel requires more than malice and falsehood (present in abundance in this case). To be actionable, it must also entail damages. Consequently, Joe can relax -- unless the I.R.S., inspired by his accusation, should come banging on my door, forcing me to hire expensive legal defense. In that case, Joe, expect a bill.