Did Clinton Hire `Plumbers'?

Article excerpt

In an eerie parallel to Watergate, a former adviser has testified that the Clinton White House assembled a team of private eyes to investigate `enemies' of the president.

It will get him in far more trouble than the sex ever would. The "it" in question: Political espionage and the use of gumshoes to investigate Bill Clinton's enemies -- from bimbos to Kenneth Starr's prosecutors and critical lawmakers. Is America soon to be faced with ugly disclosures about a presidential secret police run amok?

Former Clinton campaign adviser Dick Morris says yes. In testimony before the Monica Lewinsky grand jury in August, Morris was questioned about sleuths Terry Lenzner, the head of Investigative Group International, or IGI, and San Francisco-based gumshoe Jack Palladino. Morris said the Clinton use of muckraking private eyes might be this administration's Achilles' heel. "It's a pattern that I feel can consume the administration just as it consumed Nixon's administration" Morris told Starr prosecutors.

Morris, who claimed his own White House file had been misused and that details from the FBI file on GOP strategist; Ed Rollins had been leaked, named longtime Clinton confidant and aide Bruce Lindsey as a central figure in an alleged operation that the White House runs to savage women whose only sin is that they said yes ... or no. Morris' testimony on what he termed the "Clinton secret police" attracted only momentary interest, even though he tracked the origins of the first family's reliance on sleuths back to Arkansas and the bimbo patrols mounted by aide Betsy Wright.

But in the weeks ahead, as the House Judiciary Committee holds impeachment hearings, Morris might be heard about private eyes as well as Filegate. Some congressmen serving on the impeachment panel already are pressing for a probe of gumshoe activities, arguing along with Morris that there might be comparisons to be drawn between Richard Nixon's Plumbers and the Clinton secret police, say Capitol Hill sources. A hint of that came during the House Judiciary Committee debate on the scope and timetable for an impeachment inquiry, when Republican Rep. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina warned that if the president obstructed justice by having his aides secretly going after women, or anybody else who got in his way, impeachment would be merited.

Go back a generation to the Nixon White House -- a dark, paranoid bunker where the president harbored such a sense of vulnerability that he saw enemies everywhere and wanted them destroyed before they could get him. Within two months of Nixon's 1969 inauguration, aide John Ehrlichman started establishing a secret political-intelligence capability. Initially, his plan entailed former New York cop Jack Caulfield setting up a private security agency to provide investigative support for the White House. That fell through. Caulfield was put on the White House payroll instead and soon was joined by G. Gordon Liddy, Jeb Magruder and failed CIA agent E. Howard Hunt. The scope of their underground activities was broad and outrageously illegal -- reportedly everything from break-ins to wiretaps and on to prompting federal tax authorities to audit liberal think tanks.

Now fast-forward to the 1990s. Clinton aides secured more than 900 FBI background files on former Reagan and Bush staffers, coincidental tax audits were launched into conservative think tanks and details about the personal lives of sacked employees of the White House -- and the contents of Linda Tripp's Pentagon employment file -- were leaked to the press. Deja vu? Clinton critics wonder if this White House put into effect what Ehrlichman wanted for Nixon -- a private intelligence capability to deal with political opponents.

Questions on Capitol Hill about the Clinton administration's use of private eyes break down into two areas. Were gumshoes used by the White House or Clinton loyalists to trawl for trash on lawmakers in a bid to intimidate Congress? …