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Columbus had an easier time discovering America than the Senate Finance Committee is having discovering the truth about the fund-raising tactics of the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign. The illusionist David Copperfield could learn something from this bunch.

After considering the failure to disclose the existence of scores, perhaps hundreds, of videotapes chronicling visits to the White House by fat-cat contributors, a New York Times editorial concluded the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign amounted to "the biggest political money scandal in a generation."

Even a few Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee are slowly being forced to confront the declining credibility of the White House.

Anyone who has had to deal with a dishonest person will recognize the rhetorical cover used by the crooked to avoid detection. Following the "discovery" of the videotapes, the president said the many months delay in responding to a subpoena for such evidence was "just an accident." After hearing that excuse, Chairman Fred Thompson said, "I think the defense of incompetence is wearing a little thin."

White House excuse-maker Lanny Davis said, "These oversights are clearly aberrations" and "this was inadvertent."

"An oversight" is what Alan Baron called it. He's a Democratic staff member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

Democratic National Committee attorney Peter Kadzin blamed "an accounting error" for millions of dollars of "soft money" skimmed off into "hard-money" accounts. DNC spokesperson Amy Weiss Tobe blamed a "computer default error" when it was revealed that the address of 44 donors was the same as the location of the DNC computer. DNC Chairman Roy Romer excused failure to produce documents that were subpoenaed months before until days after his Finance Director completed testimony. He called it "pure innocent oversight."

An unidentified DNC spokesman was asked about $667,000 in contributions from individuals who made donations within days of attending White House coffees and responded that the timing was "a coincidence." Amy Weiss Tobe said it was an "urban myth" that major donors purchased nights in the Lincoln bedroom. White House aide Carolyn Huber said subpoenaed Rose law firm billing records miraculously "appeared there" on a table in a secure room in the White House. The two years it took to correct false testimony about "volunteers" who were actually paid by the DNC to work in the White House was blamed on "inadvertence and the press of business" by White House Office of Administration general counsel Nelson Cunningham.

Then there was Vice President Al Gore's straight-faced defense of "no controlling legal authority" concerning calls he at first denied making from his government office and then reluctantly acknowledged. And who can forget that Buddhist Temple fund-raiser which Gore called a "community outreach event"?

How many of these excuses would be accepted if this were a Republican president? Would a mechanic who was supposed to fix your car be forgiven for failing to do so as long as he had an excuse? What is it about this bunch that makes them think they can get away with anything and everything by pleading incompetence? They are either crooks or think they can fool most of the people all of the time, or both.

The supposed investigation by the Justice Department has been a sham, and its announcement of "an expanded probe" into the delayed release of the videotapes probably won't deliver any more than previous probes. This is why there is an independent counsel statute. It is long past time to name one in this latest sordid affair, if the integrity of the Justice Department is to be restored and the truth learned.

Los Angeles Times Syndicate

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