Clinton Reverses Vow on Legal Fees: Denies Saying He'd Sign Travelgate Bill
Bedard, Paul, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
President Clinton yesterday reneged on his administration's promise to sign legislation to pay the legal bills of "Travelgate" figure Billy R. Dale, just minutes after a spokesman said he'd approve the bill.
Showing flashes of his famous private anger during a news conference, Mr. Clinton claimed he had never promised to sign the legislation providing $500,000 for the legal fees of Mr. Dale and his six former colleagues in the White House travel office.
His spokesmen repeatedly said he would sign the bill.
"I never gave my word on that," Mr. Clinton said, catching his aides by surprise. At one point he told a reporter for The Washington Times: "Don't talk to me."
Mr. Clinton said he would sign legislation to pay the legal fees of the ousted travel staffers only if Congress also sets aside money to pay the Whitewater-related legal fees of his aides - a highly unlikely proposal.
Despite his statements to the contrary, Mr. Clinton never before linked payment of Mr. Dale's legal fees to those of his own aides.
"I'm shocked that the president would reverse himself in a commitment that was clearly made by his spokesperson," Dale attorney Steven C. Tabackman said.
Rep. William F. Clinger, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the House committee investigating Travelgate, said, "I get the very strong feeling that the president has welshed on a commitment that he made."
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which approved the legislation to pay the travel staffers' legal fees, said: "I'm disappointed to hear of the president's unjustified about-face in now refusing to reimburse the attorneys' fees for those employees who were savaged by the White House. Their reputations will always be besmirched."
Mr. Clinton called the impromptu Rose Garden news conference to take credit for the growing economy but was cut short when Vice President Al Gore and Chief of Staff Leon Panetta signaled for Mr. Clinton to flee.
Mr. Clinton's red-hot exchange with reporters pulled back the veil the White House has kept over his reputation for exploding at aides. It also demonstrated his tendency to abandon them.
The president apologized to CBS reporter Bill Plante for his outburst, even though he did not express anger at that reporter's initial question. The White House did not apologize to The Times reporter who asked five follow-up questions. …