Clinton In Crisis: Foes get the glow

THE ACCUSERS: Far be it for the President's enemies to say `We told you so' - but they will, writes David Usborne
CLINTON-HATERS, step forward and take a bow. They know who they are. Never mind that the rest of us squishy liberals mocked them for years and tipped buckets of ice water on their incredible tales about Slick Willy and his supposed naughty doings in Arkansas and beyond. For this is their moment of vindication.

Some have surfaced already with their told-you-so's. Like Bob Dornan, the former representative from California, who once described Clinton as a "draft-dodging adulterer" and whom we in Washington used to call B2 Bob after the bomber plane. Last week he was overheard chortling this down the telephone: "He has been caught to the tenth power! And I am vindicated to the tenth power!"

So too is Floyd Brown, the man who spearheaded attempts in Little Rock back in 1992 to sink then-candidate Clinton with avalanches of dirt, both sexual and financial. "It's very gratifying," Mr Floyd confessed to the Washington Post. "I'm one of the first people to call for his impeachment."

Mr Brown belongs to a broad community of folk who strove to make the mud stick to Mr Clinton from the moment he ventured on to the national political stage in 1991. Apart from far-right activists such as Mr Brown, its members include a few prominent foes in the media. Among their number are Emmett Tyrrell, publisher of the conservative American Spectator magazine, and the former Washington correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph, and now prolific Daily Telegraph writer, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.

Theirs has been an oh-so-frustrating mission. Over and over, they were thwarted by the President himself, who, with his talent for semantic fudgings, seemed able to wiggle Houdini-like from every tight spot, and by the equally talented crisis-handlers around him, like the legendary Betsey Wright, officer-in-charge of scandal-skewering in the Clinton war room in Little Rock in 1992.

Victory was almost secured a few times during that first presidential campaign, for instance when the former club singer, Gennifer Flowers, claimed she had had an affair with Mr Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas. But he overcame that. Their hopes revived for a while as the Paula Jones case proceeded against him, but the case was dismissed early this year.

Of course, much of what was hurled at President Clinton still remains unproven, like wild tales of cocaine trafficking in Arkansas during his governorship. Even the allegations about the Whitewater deal, which set Mr Starr to work in the first place, got no mention at all in his submission to Congress last week.

But his accusers now have a right to some satisfaction. And to some respect. Until last week they were the members of the so-called right-wing conspiracy that, regardless of all facts, was supposedly out to destroy the man twice elected by the people. Thus, the spin went, it was the conspiracists who were bankrolling and encouraging Paula Jones in her civil suit against Mr Clinton. And it was the same conspiracists spreading lies about Bill and Monica. That, indeed, was precisely the rhetoric of the First Lady when she took to the airwaves last January to help to counter Ms Lewinsky and her tale.

This repeated rubbishing by the White House of all who dared to impugn the President may now come back to haunt it. Consider the insults thrown at Gary Aldrich, the FBI agent who found himself detailed to Mr Clinton after he was first elected. When he wrote a book accusing the President of committing infidelities while in office, the White House aide, George Stephanopoulos, labelled him a "pathological liar".

Ms Jones was called "trailer trash". But which side in that contest of truths do we believe now? On this, the White House may have more serious reason for regret. Emboldened by the Starr findings and the President's own confessions, lawyers for Ms Jones are fighting to have her complaint reinstated by the courts. "We feel more strongly than ever about our point that defendant Clinton and his supporters have engaged in a vast effort of perjury and obstruction of justice," said a Jones lawyer, Donovan Campbell.

Some among the anti-Clintonites were this weekend resisting the temptation to gloat, like Gary Bauer, head of the conservative Family Research Council. "I hope this doesn't strain credulity if I say I don't take any partisan pleasure in this," he told the Post. "This whole thing has been the equivalent of cultural oil spill, except it's our kids who are covered with gunk instead of sea otters."

One erstwhile foot soldier for the boot-him-out army, journalist David Brock, actually expressed his remorse some months ago for an article published in Tyrrell's American Spectator. Credited with triggering the whole mudslide of allegations against the President, it was a description of serial sexual adventures embarked upon by the President.

Mr Brock wrote a follow-up mea culpa article earlier this year saying he had been a hired right-wing "hit man". Of the Starr findings, he commented: "If this presidency is destroyed over this, I think it would be a really terrible thing".