By Barbara Olson
Regnery Publishing, 240 pp, 2001
You may recognize the name Barbara Olson
for two reasons. She wrote a political biography of Hillary Clinton some
time ago that was not very flattering, and she was aboard the airliner
that crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. This book was
published a few days after her untimely and tragic death.
The wife of Solicitor General Ted Olson,
Barbara Olson was a former prosecutor turned pundit and appeared on many
of the talking head news shows. She was developing into a conservative
favorite for her strong stands against the Clintons, especially during the
With that out of the way, I now must say
that this book is not very good. I'll explain in due course.
As the title makes clear, Olson covers the
last few months and weeks of the Clinton presidency. The subtitle, The
Last, Desperate Abuses of Power by the Clinton White House, makes us
believe that all sorts of chicanery, fraud, and law-breaking took place.
Some of it did, but not nearly as bad as Olson suggests.
She begins with Clinton inexplicably
pardoning violent Puerto Rican terrorists in 1999, presumably to help
Hillary with her New York Senate campaign. Perhaps, even probably so, but
Olson offers little support for that view, except for some quotes from
Clinton enemies. It is true that Clinton bypassed the Justice Department,
which usually plays a major role in pardons. But as Olson makes clear in
her book, the pardon power is the president's only, to do with as he
pleases. The Constitution places no limits on it.
Olson also covers old ground, such as
Hillary's cattle futures deal, Whitewater, her book deal, Clinton's
creation of monuments, his blizzard of executive orders, and finally, the
pardon of Marc Rich and other assorted malcontents and scumbags. Little of
this is new - she has simply rehashed familiar news accounts. It's one of
the flaws of the book - there's no original reporting, no new revelations.
It's stuff we already knew.
Olson also has a nasty habit of making
unsupported and unwarranted assumptions and assertions. For example, she
criticizes Clinton for going on too many foreign trips, and recounts how
Clinton wanted to travel to North Korea, but did not. "After a North
Korean visit by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton tried
to arrange a trip to Pyongyang, where Kim Jong Il, the son of Kim Il Sung,
who had launched the 1950 invasion, had recently taken power. But the
visit never came off, perhaps because conditions in that country were so
bad that they would have been hard to paper over for visiting
Notice that sneaky perhaps. Olson has no
idea why Clinton decided not to visit North Korea, but she wanted to put
some negative reason in the reader's mind. She should have found out why
Clinton did not go.
Instead, Clinton went to Vietnam, where
Clinton cozied up to the Commies and ignored political dissidents and the
government's oppression of its people. So why did he go?
It is not outside the realm of possibility
that the Vietnam trip was Bill Clinton's way of flipping half a peace sign
at his detractors, especially those who dared to point out his
draft-dodging exploits in the early days of his first presidential
campaign. Bill Clinton is a man who not only enjoys winning but who needs
to gloat over his victories. Or, perhaps he thought that it was better to
see Vietnam during his presidency than not at all and to keep observers
mystified about the motive. But it is a safe bet that neither his skillful
avoidance of the Vietnam conflict nor his eleventh-hour presidential visit
will do much to burnish the Clinton legacy.
Again, Olson has no idea why Clinton went
to Vietnam. But that doesn't stop her from dreaming up negative reasons.
It is sheer speculation, and hardly an "abuse of power."
Olson conjures up outrage over the cost of
Bill's post-presidential offices and Hillary's Senate offices. It's true
they were very expensive and extravagant, but they are hardly the first
politicians to suck on the public teat for their own personal comfort.
She's on much firmer ground when she points how the Clintons are welfare
queens, demanding money from friends to pay for things, like furniture,
that they could pay for themselves.
Olson suggests that the Clintons looted the
White House, absconding with items that were donated to the government and
not to them personally. But Olson doesn't know for sure. "The
Clintons reportedly returned "the four items," along with a
vague reference to "other furnishings" returned which had been designated
official White House property by the National Park Service. In one report,
the Clintons returned "a truckload of couches, lamps and other
furnishings taken from the White House." Unfortunately, no one knows
for sure how much the Clintons got away with. That information has been
withheld despite numerous attempts for disclosure. All everyone knows is
that they tried."
Again, she doesn't know if the White House
was looted or not. The Clintons claimed to return everything, and Olson
does not believe them. Fine - I don't believe them either. But you've got
to make your case, and it has to rest on something strong than
Finally, Olson examines all those pardons
Clinton issued the last few days in office. Several were questionable, in
that the people forgiven were bad folks - major drug dealers, terrorists,
fugitives (Marc Rich), and friends and relatives of Bill and Hillary. It's
probable that Clinton pardoned Rich because Rich's ex-wife donated lots of
money to the DNC and Clinton's library.
Is it unseemly to pardon your brother? Of
course. But is it an abuse of power? Again, the Constitution gives sole
pardoning power to the president. There are no limits to it. He could
pardon every killer on death row or every drug dealer in prison. He can
pardon rapists, child molesters, embezzlers, corporate crooks, and
arsonists. Most presidents would do no such thing, but the power is there.
It is legal and necessary, a check on the power of the judiciary.
Olson makes a strong case that the Clintons
are scumbags. But that's common knowledge. Her case is not so strong when
she says they abused their power. An abuse of power is a crime that must
That doesn't mean the Clintons didn't
commit the crime - I believe they did. But Olson's book does not prove it.