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Monday, March 13, 2000

Clinton should cancel
his visit to Pakistan

Bullet The issue: A key lawyer for the deposed prime minister of Pakistan has been killed by gunmen.
Bullet Our view: The president should not visit Pakistan when the military government has not been absolved of responsibility.

PRESIDENT Clinton should reconsider his trip to Pakistan this month in the wake of the killing of a key lawyer for the deposed prime minister, Nawaz Sharif. Although the current government condemned the murder, it cannot be easily absolved of responsibility.

A visit by Clinton at this time could be misinterpreted as condoning the crime. This would be very unfortunate.

The attorney, Iqbal Raad, was one of three men gunned down in his office in Karachi. The attack came three days before closing arguments in the hijacking trial of the former prime minister.

Pakistan's military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, called the attack an "act of terrorism." Sharif was ousted in a coup in October after he tried to dismiss Musharraf as army chief. At the time, Musharraf was returning to the country by plane. The plane, with 200 people on board, landed after the army seized control.

Sharif and several aides were charged with hijacking, terrorism, attempted murder and kidnapping for endangering the lives of those aboard the plane. All the charges carry the death penalty or life in prison.

The head of the legal team defending Sharif said the killings terrified the lawyers. A spokesman for Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League, said the army-led government should be held accountable for the murder. He said it was the government's responsibility to provide security for the lawyers.

Sharif's wife said,"I have given up hope. If such a prominent lawyer involved in a high-profile case like this can be killed, why will anyone want to take our case? She said Raad had received threatening telephone calls and letters telling him to give up Sharif's case.

Sharif and Musharraf had clashed on a number of policy isues, particularly on Sharif's handling of a recent conflict in the disputed border region of Kashmir. Yielding to pressure from Clinton, Sharif had ordered Musharraf to withdraw his troops from the area. The military considered Sharif's action a betrayal.

In Washington, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said President Clinton has no plans to cancel his scheduled visit to Pakistan this month.

"Obviously we condemn this kind of horrific act of violence, and call upon them to investigate fully this assassination," Lockhart said. "We believe the former prime minister deserves a free, open and transparent trial so that he and the rest of the world can see that justice is being done."

Under the circumstances -- the killing of a lawyer defending a prominent opponent of the military ruler, whom he had deposed -- a statement deploring the incident isn't enough. Clinton should cancel the Pakistan leg of his trip to South Asia.

Fund-raising probe

Bullet The issue: A former official criticized the Justice Department for evasive tactics on the question of an independent investigation of President Clinton and Vice President Gore's campaign fund-raising efforts.
Bullet Our view: Disclosure of the critical memo will provide ammunition for the Republicans in the presidential election campaign.

IN what could provide the ammunition for the opening shot in the general election campaign, a memo accusing Justice Department officials of engaging in legal "contortions" to avoid an independent investigation of President Clinton and Vice President Gore has been reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Attorney General Janet Reno rejected repeated requests to appoint an independent counsel to investigate Clinton-Gore fund-raising issues. The memo, written in 1998 by Charles LaBella, former chief of the Justice Department's campaign fund-raising task force, said Justice officials used "gamesmanship" and legal "contortions" to avoid an independent inquiry. FBI Director Louis Freeh, in a 1997 memo, also said he favored an independent investigation but was turned down as well.

Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, subpoenaed the LaBella memo. Its conclusion that an independent counsel was needed has long been known, but not the strong words used to make the point.

Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., whose Governmental Affairs Committee investigated campaign fund-raising, said, "We knew Justice was doing everything they could" to prevent an independent counsel investigation, but "we did not know until now the extent to which they went to keep a lid on it."

The report said the independent probe was needed to look at campaign finance tactics "conjured up by sophisticated political operatives to circumvent" election finance laws during the 1996 Clinton re-election campaign.

It accused top Justice Department officials of using "intellectually dishonest" double standards by endorsing independent counsels to investigate cabinet-level officials while opposing them for Clinton, Gore, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and former White House aide Harold Ickes.

Republicans responded to the report by renewing allegations of a coverup. Gov. George W. Bush, Gore's almost certain opponent in the general election campaign, said the memo raised "troubling questions" as to whether Gore misled federal investigators when he said he did not recall certain fund-raising discussions.

Gore has been linked to campaign fund-raising abuses, including a famous incident at a Buddhist temple outside Los Angeles, but never charged with a crime. One of his fund-raisers was recently convicted of violations related to that incident.

It seems certain that the Republicans will make use of that conviction and the LaBella memo in the run-up to the November election -- as they should.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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