Barbara Olson is the author of Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
NR: Ken Starrís successor, Robert Ray, was on the talk shows this weekend, reminding us that the Clinton administration isnít quite off the hook. Heís hiring more staff and talking about the possibility of filing criminal charges against the president. At this point, is this still a legitimate and worthwhile investigation?
Barbara Olson: It was worthwhile for Senator Lieberman and others in the Democratic party to argue during the impeachment and removal debate that it was a valid solution. I think as a prosecutor, Ray has to look at whether or not the president has committed indictable offenses. We know that Judge Susan Webber Wright definitely found that he lied under oath. The decision that has to be made was whether it was material, i.e., whether it was an important fact, and whether he knew he was lying under oath, whether he did it willfully. And I think thatís required of any prosecutor who is charged with an investigation of this.
NR: The president was held in contempt this weekend after refusing to answer questions he wants to wait until after he leaves office to answer. What does that mean?
Olson: Well, the president asked not to have to respond until after he left office. And so the court said no, and gave him an extra four days. It came after a lot of pushing and prodding the court to take action on whether to revoke his law license. They certainly waited long enough. Particularly in light of the fact that they revoked Governor Jim Guy Tuckerís license, I think they decided that they needed to act on this and they needed to act on it promptly.
NR: How big of an issue will this be for Hillary Clinton in the New York Senate race? What does she have to worry about?
Olson: First of all, she has to look at the 36 questions about the travel office that she answered under oath to Chairman Clingerís committee when I was working for him. She answered those questions under oath, under penalty of perjury. She has to worry about the report even if they decide against indictment. She has to worry about a report that will lay out her involvement and contrast it with her statements. Under oath Mrs. Clinton said that she didnít have a hand in firing off the travel-office employees. Everyone has heard the evidence and it is substantial that she not only had a hand in it, but that she was the driving force behind the firings. I think thatís going to be an issue: Whether or not voters are going to get more of the same in a Clinton candidacy or whether she really is something unique and has something to offer apart from her husband.
NR: How about Al Gore? Can Rayís investigation do him damage?
Olson: Al Gore seems to have found a great political ploy: Picking up whatever issue he is most vulnerable on and championing the cause. So, at best, he will add other issues. Perhaps he will start to champion not only campaign-finance reform, but also perjury statutes and obstruction of justice.
Kidding aside, I think Gore does have to worry about these issues. He is tied to Bill Clinton. We know that there were telephone calls that he made from his office. We know that there were visits to the Buddhist temple. Itís difficult to believe that Al Gore was oblivious to the existing laws and I think thatís a problem for him. I think he has to respond at some point and he has to respond directly. ďMistakes were madeĒ is something we heard back in í92 and that has sort of been the Clinton administrationís mantra. I canít imagine that Al Gore is going to be able to pick up that statement and carry it through the next election.
NR: Somehow, regardless of the mounds of evidence against the White House, Republicans always turn out to be the bad guys. How can that be avoided? How do Republican congressional candidates avoid it? How does George W. Bush avoid that going into November?
Olson: The press is always going to do that. It canít be avoided. The mainstream media has chosen their candidates and their issues and theyíre not the same as the GOPís. They are going to be painted as the bad guys. But in the end, I think it will reverberate with voters that, but for the Republicans pursuing these issues, they might elect another candidate like Bill Clinton. Hopefully, at some point, people will at least credit the Republicans with carrying out their oversight responsibilities and with pursuing a principled course of action even in the face of everyoneís short-attention spans and the mediaís attacks.
NR: During the primaries, the Republican candidates for the most part shied away from bringing up the legitimate questions of perjury and obstruction of justice. Would it be wise for Bush to stay away from it a little bit or should he make this a main campaign issue?
Olson: I think from what weíve heard about George W., he has a lot issues that he wants to run on. Theyíre positive. Theyíre good. He thinks heís got a good vision for America. And I think thatís what heís going to run on. He has those issues and heís not just going to talk about the fact that one shouldnít vote for an Al Gore. However, I think itís still there. I think the questions that are not asked by the media surely will be asked by voters. I think itís information that voters want to know and look at. And so, although I donít think heís going to harp on the negative, I still think itís something that is there and that at least the voters are going to want to explore before they make their decision between two candidates that have real distinct differences.