Today's Papers

Pardon for the Course

The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with the revelation that lawyer Hugh Rodham, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s brother, received fees totaling about $400,000 for his involvement in supporting a pardon application for a convicted swindler and a commutation application for a convicted drug dealer, both of which were granted by his brother-in-law Bill Clinton just before he left office. The Wall Street Journal, which runs the story atop its front-page worldwide news box, declares this development to be “yet another blow to both Clintons on the heels of a humiliating series of controversies over their departure from the White House last month.” Most of the papers quote Republican Rep. Dan Burton’s comment that “Yet again, this makes it look like there is one system of justice for those with money and influence and one system of justice for everyone else.” The NYT lead editorial is headlined “Another Pardon Disgrace.” The lead at the Washington Post, which off-leads Rodham, says that the damage caused to U.S. intelligence and counterintelligence efforts by recently arrested spy suspect Robert Hanssen could be “particularly severe” because he had total access to information about sources, methods, and targets and was “among the most technologically sophisticated officials at the FBI.” The lead at USA Today, which also fronts Rodham, alleges an example of such sophistication, saying that in the early 1990s Hanssen hacked into the computer of the FBI’s top anti-Russian counterintelligence official–then told the FBI about it, saying he’d done it to demonstrate the system’s vulnerability. The paper says that the FBI didn’t discipline Hanssen and also reports that one former Bureau official feels the episode might have been a blown opportunity to catch Hanssen much earlier. An inside NYT story reports that the FBI never gave Hanssen a polygraph test.

The papers report that Bill and Hillary Clinton issued separate explanatory statements in response to the Hugh Rodham story. Both claim to have been “disturbed” about the fees and to have had no knowledge of them before this week. The Clintons requested that Rodham return the $400,000, and although Rodham refused to answer press inquiries, the papers carry a statement from his lawyer saying he’d done so but not because he’d done anything wrong, only to eliminate the “appearance of impropriety.”

Rodham’s lawyer also is quoted saying that Rodham “did not speak to either Clinton at any time” about the two cases. But this doesn’t rule out something important that the LAT reports: that an unnamed “longtime advisor to the Clintons” says that “the president knew of Rodham’s involvement when he approved the clemencies.” This adviser points out to the paper that Bill Clinton’s statement about the matter does not deny this but merely says that he didn’t know his brother-in-law would be compensated. The WSJ and the NYT editorial notice this, too.

The Journal also reports that when it inquired earlier this month if Rodham had any pardon role, Bill Clinton’s spokeswoman “dismissed the idea as an unfounded rumor.” Yet both the NYT and the WP report that the next issue of The National Enquirer will report details of the convicted swindler’s payment to Rodham. The Post says the tabloid will run a photo of one of the payment checks.

There isn’t much in the coverage about what exactly Rodham did for his two clients. The LAT says that he made “at least two calls to the White House” on behalf of the convicted drug dealer, speaking with Bruce Lindsey, a top adviser to former president Clinton. The WP makes a similar assertion, adding Lindsey “does not recall whether he discussed the Vignali pardon with the president” or informed him of Rodham’s involvement. By the way, both the LAT and WP report that the Dept. of Justice had formally recommended that the druggy’s pardon application be denied.

The NYT fronts three potentially relevant new facts turned up in the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation of the USS Greeneville’s colliding into and sinking of that Japanese fishing boat: 1) The sub had detected the boat more than an hour before the accident; 2) One of the sub’s crew told investigators that he could not complete his assigned task of updating a paper-and-pencil chart of surface vessels based on incoming sonar information because there were so many civilian guests in the control room; 3) The electronic display in the control room of the contact data gathered in the sub’s sonar room was not working.

The WP fronts word that although the Pentagon’s initial bomb damage reports about last week’s strike on Iraqi radar stations were glowing, the Pentagon now says most of the bombs dropped “missed their mark.” Most of the misses were by the Navy’s new and expensive guided bomb. The story has one military source saying the bombs were “tens of yards off” and another saying the average miss was by “more than 100 yards.” A WSJ story on the raid says that only about half the bombs dropped hit their targets.

In a NYT op-ed, two respected education researchers summarize their findings about the impact of intense sports recruiting on colleges and universities: the creation of an athlete cadre on campus that significantly academically underperforms not only their nonvarsity classmates, but also their (male and female) athlete counterparts from earlier decades. The authors wonder: “With intellectual capital ever more important, how great a role should hand-eye coordination play in deciding who is given educational opportunity?”

Although most of the coverage on the Hanssen case has to this point been properly circumspect, it’s worth reminding the papers of the dangers of being too influenced by the FBI’s initial account of a case. Can you say Wen Ho Lee? Richard Jewell? A small sign of a let-down appears inside at the NYT today, where the man who prosecuted Aldrich Ames is quoted referring to Hanssen’s “history of spying” with nary an “allegedly” in sight.