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Saturday, June 24, 2000

Reports could hurt
Gore and Mrs. Clinton

Bullet The issue: Vice President Al Gore and Mrs. Clinton are the subject of reports regarding their activities in the Clinton administration.
Bullet Our view: The reports could damage their election campaigns.

Two of President Clinton's closest associates, Vice President Al Gore and wife Hillary, are feeling renewed heat from Clinton administration scandals as they pursue their elective ambitions. In both cases, the developments could hurt their campaigns.

The vice president's problem is a recommendation to appoint a special counsel to investigate whether Gore told the truth in answering questions about his role in Democratic fund-raising in the 1996 campaign.

The recommendation to appoint a special counsel came from Robert Conrad, supervising attorney for the Justice Department's campaign finance task force. It was made weeks ago after he questioned Gore on April 18 about the much-publicized fund-raising event Gore attended at a Buddhist temple, as well as other topics.

Attorney General Janet Reno, who has rejected two previous recommendations by members of her staff to appoint special counsels to investigate Gore's fund-raising activities, said she has yet to make a decision on this recommendation. She was unhappy that word of the recommendation had leaked out and commented, "If we let people think that because they leak something they can pressure us into decisions, that just won't work. We've got to do this as objectively and carefully as possible."

Certainly appointment of a special counsel would be an embarrassment for Gore and probably damage his campaign, even if the counsel ultimately cleared him. However, a decision by Reno against such an appointment wouldn't be particularly helpful either in view of her record of rejecting two previous recommendations. There is a perception, accurate or not, that Reno is letting political considerations influence her decisions.

This is a no-win situation for Gore. It is a highly unwelcome distraction from his efforts to rejuvenate his campaign and overtake Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who leads in the polls.

Meanwhile Mrs. Clinton, running for a Senate seat from New York, has been cleared by Independent Counsel Robert Ray of perjury related to the White House travel office firings. But Ray didn't give her a clean bill of health. His statement made it clear that he didn't believe her denials of involvement.

Ray explained that he didn't have enough evidence to convince a jury that Mrs. Clinton's statements were knowingly false. But he said there was substantial evidence that she had a role in the firings. Ray found that she discussed the travel office employees with key White House officials and her concerns influenced the decision to fire them.

The fact that Mrs. Clinton has been technically cleared means that she has been spared the possibility of criminal prosecution. But the independent counsel is certainly not vouching for her credibility. These are damaging statements that could be used by her opponent in the Senate race, Rep. Rick Lazio.

Both Gore and Mrs. Clinton are trying to promote their ideas to improve the country, but their involvement in the tangled affairs of the Clinton White House is coming back to haunt them.

Crisis in Fiji ending

Bullet The issue: Fiji's political crisis is ending with the release of the former prime minister and members of the cabinet and agreement on a new government.
Bullet Our view: The coup is a disaster for democracy in Fiji.

UNLESS something goes awry -- which is a real possibility -- the five-week crisis in Fiji is ending with the conclusion of an agreement between a rebel group and military commanders, followed by the expected release of the former prime minister and 30 other political hostages.

The prospect that the crisis will end without further bloodshed is of course welcome. But the outcome is a setback for democracy. Although the terms of the agreement were not known at this writing, all indications were that the elected government, led by Fiji's first prime minister of Indian descent, would not be restored to power. Any other solution should be condemned.

The rebel leader, an unsuccessful businessman named George Speight, and his gunmen have held Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and members of the cabinet hostage for 36 days inside Suva's parliamentary complex in the name of indigenous Fijians.

They forced Chaudhry's resignation and that of Fiji's president, the widely respected Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, and demanded the formation of a new government controlled by native Fijians. There has long been friction between the Fijians, who are mostly Melanesian, and the descendants of the Indians who were imported by Britain a century ago to work the sugar plantations.

A coup led by an army colonel 12 years ago overthrew a government formed by a Fijian-Indian coalition. Last year, following a constitutional amendment restoring the Indians' political rights, another Fijian-Indian coalition was elected, this time headed by an Indian.

But some Fijians still refuse to accept political rights for Indians. Thus Speight was able to pull off this outrage. The predominantly Fijian military declared martial law on May 29 but has been unwilling to move against the rebels and rescue the hostages.

Instead it has been negotiating with Speight, which gives him undeserved credibility. The military has said it wanted to retain power for another three months to maintain law and order, then establish an interim civilian government to prepare for fresh elections within two years.

However, the likelihood is that the Indian community will be relegated to second-class citizenship with limited political rights and the rebels will go scot free. The international community should denounce this outcome and demand a restoration of the elected government.

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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