Sex and funds trial damages Hillary hopes
The scandal of an ex-aide charged with lying about Hollywood cash has set back the senator's White House ambitions, reports Paul Harris in New York
Sunday May 15, 2005
It all sounds horribly familiar. Financial skulduggery, calls for a Senate investigation and the whiff of a sex scandal caught on tape. And all of it whirling around the Clinton name.
A court case involving the fundraising activities of Senator Hillary Clinton's former campaign finance chief threatens to put a time-bomb under the former First Lady's presidential ambitions.
The case in which David Rosen, 40, is denying three charges of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission has opened the lid on an allegedly murky world of Democratic fundraising, FBI wiretapping and salacious gossip about prostitutes for senior figures in the party.
Clinton, prosecutors stress, is not personally involved in the trial, which began last week in Los Angeles district court, but the case is threatening to derail her preparations for a bid for the White House in three years' time. Even if Rosen is cleared, the case is likely to provide ammunition for her conservative critics.
Problems began at a glamorous fundraising event in 2000 when Hillary was campaigning for her Senate seat in New York. Billed as a lavish and star-studded farewell by Hollywood to outgoing President Bill Clinton, the party at a Beverly Hills mansion was attended by such star names as Cher, Brad Pitt and Diana Ross.
The event's organiser, entrepreneur Peter Paul, is believed to have spent more than $1.2 million (£650,000) on it. But Rosen told the commission it cost $400,000, which means that at least $800,000 could have gone illegally into Hillary's campaign coffers.
This, if it is proved, would be a serious breach of America's strict campaign finance laws. Rosen faces a maximum jail sentence of 15 years and up to $250,000 in fines if he is found guilty.
Even though there has been no suggestion that Clinton knew about the alleged crimes, her name has already dominated the proceedings. Potential jurors were questioned about their feelings toward the senator.
One of her friends, James Levin, told the court the charges were part of a smear campaign. 'I thought, and I still think, they were politically motivated,' he said.
The case has highlighted a growing network of Republicans and other conservatives who are gearing up to attack Hillary Clinton's nascent 2008 campaign.
One of them, the veteran Arthur Finkelstein, has set up a 'Stop Her Now' website with the objective of raising $10 million to bankroll anti-Clinton activities.
Another site, the Hillary Clinton Accountability Project, was designed by the webmasters behind the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth group which helped to defeat Democratic Senator John Kerry in last year's presidential election.
Judicial Watch, a body that highlighted various scandals involving the Clinton White House, filed papers with the Senate ethics committee last week claiming that Hillary must have known that Rosen's filings to the election commission were false.
The conservative publishing house Sentinel has announced plans to publish a tell-all book called The Truth About Hillary this year. The appearance of the book, being written by journalist Edward Klein, is gleefully awaited by the Republicans.
Although Clinton is popular with many grassroots Democrats, she has some party bosses feeling nervous. 'She is just such an easy target,' said Shaun Bowler, a political scientist at the University of California.
The main evidence against Rosen is taped conversations he allegedly had with Ray Reggie, brother-in-law of Senator Edward Kennedy. In transcripts leaked to a New Orleans newspaper, Rosen and Reggie talk about the fundraiser, apparently admitting its cost.
The pair swap salacious asides which could also cause political damage. At one point Rosen describes how a donor to the Democratic party sent prostitutes to the hotel rooms of two senior Clinton loyalists after a night of drinking.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that organiser Paul was convicted of trafficking cocaine in 1979 and has been convicted of trying to defraud the Cuban government in a coffee trading scheme. Aaron Tonken, another organiser of similar events for the Democrats, is now in prison for a charity fraud.
Such links provide much material for Hillary's many critics on the right and the left to play with. It has also dealt a blow to her efforts to move her politics to the centre by appearing softer on social issues such as abortion and harder on defence issues such as military spending and Iraq.
'This sort of thing just serves to remind people of the Nineties scandals like Whitewater and the Monica Lewinsky affair,' said Bowler.
'Some Democrats have short memories - but I don't think that a lot of American voters do.'
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