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Senator Suggests a Bit of Hypocrisy in Fight on Drugs

February 14, 1996|RONALD J. OSTROW and SHERI L. WASSENAAR | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee charged Tuesday that President Clinton has "abandoned the bully pulpit" against drugs and suggested that members of his administration feel "hypocritical" about the issue because of their own involvement with drugs years ago.

"I think there's a feeling that it would be hypocritical on the part of those who may have used some of these drugs themselves in their late teens or college years to come out and speak against them now," said Judiciary Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah).

When reporters pressed him for details, Hatch noted that he has reviewed investigative reports--presumably those prepared by the FBI and Senate investigators on nominees for top federal posts who appeared before the Judiciary Committee for confirmation hearings.

"Many of these people are very honest about the fact they may have used drugs one time or another. . . . I'm not going to judge anybody," Hatch said in comments made at a Drug Enforcement Administration conference in Arlington, Va., devoted to the growing problem of methamphetamine use.

Asked whether the references in the investigative reports to drug use were greater among Clinton administration appointees than among Bush administration nominees, Hatch said: "I'd rather not get into that." But with TV cameras running and several reporters there, he added: "Off the record, yes."

White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry dismissed Hatch's comments as "silly" and a "canard," adding that it "sounds a little bit like a smear tactic to raise questions of this nature."

Hatch, one of the Senate's more conservative members, said that those who now fear they would appear hypocritical by making anti-drug statements are acting on thoughts that are "unconscious or subconscious but they've got to get over that. . . .

"Top officials saying that it's bad to use drugs has a great impact on our youth of today."

He also sharply criticized the administration's record in combating illicit drugs.

"President Clinton has abandoned the bully pulpit, overemphasized treatment of hard-core users and--most importantly--de-emphasized core law enforcement and interdiction activities," said Hatch, whose committee regularly assesses the nation's progress in fighting illegal drugs.

However, citing Clinton's nomination last month of Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey to be the new director of the White House Office of Drug Control Policy, Hatch said: "I believe the president is starting to move in the right direction. I hope it's not tied to the presidential reelection. I just hope it's a natural, honest change of ways."

McCaffrey, as commander of the U.S. Southern Command, was a strong proponent of interdiction as a means of combating drugs, a strategy that Hatch favors and one that the administration until now has downgraded.

In calling the three-day conference on methamphetamine, DEA Administrator Thomas A. Constantine noted that its use has spread.

Federal, state and local law enforcement authorities at the meeting said that fighting the clandestine laboratories that produce the drug is dangerous, time-consuming and costly.

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