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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer

The Final Days

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 impeachment trials. 

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 journalists."

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 supposition.

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 be proven.

That doesn't mean the Clintons didn't commit the crime - I believe they did. But Olson's book does not prove it.

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