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California and the West

Democrat Drops Plan to Dig Up Dirt on Republicans

Politics: Bipartisan storm greeted threat from state party operative. He was angry at treatment of president.

April 14, 1998|MARC LACEY and ALAN C. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Furious that Republican congressmen have criticized President Clinton's sexual history but taken no heat for their own peccadilloes, a top California Democratic operative announced--then quickly called off Monday--a campaign to dig up dirt on GOP lawmakers.

Bob Mulholland, an advisor to the California Democratic Party, prompted a storm of bipartisan protest by announcing over the weekend that he was probing Republicans' personal lives. He dropped the effort after he was rebuked Monday by Democratic National Committee Executive Director Steve Grossman.

"I do not believe efforts of this kind advance the goals of our party," Grossman wrote Mulholland, who is a DNC member. "The Democratic National Committee neither condones nor supports this type of activity."

But Mulholland, whom angry Republicans portrayed as an agent of the DNC and the White House, offered no apology and proclaimed that he had achieved his objective.

"As one who served in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne and was wounded during the Tet Offensive, I learned that if someone is shooting at you, you shoot back," said Mulholland, who has been calling attention in recent days to divorces by prominent Republicans.

In an interview on NBC's "Today" show Monday, Mulholland said House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and California Gov. Pete Wilson "all dumped their first wives for younger women."

Mulholland also took a shot at Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), a leading advocate of impeachment proceedings against Clinton, saying that the twice-divorced Barr had failed to pay child support and is "on his third or fourth family--I can't keep track."

Such hardball tactics are nothing new to Mulholland, who was briefly suspended as party political director in 1992 after he confronted Bruce Herschensohn with allegations that the then-GOP Senate candidate frequented a Hollywood strip joint.

Mulholland's effort to expose the personal lives of Clinton's critics reflects a bare-knuckles environment in which congressional investigators also expect to be investigated.

For instance, lawmakers probing campaign fund-raising abuses last year braced for scrutiny of their own contributions, and they got it. Among the hardest hit was Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), who now faces a Justice Department investigation of his campaign finance tactics.

Making the current situation even dicier is the sexual nature of the allegations against Clinton, whose dealings with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky are being investigated by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.

With the House Judiciary Committee preparing to receive a report from Starr, whispers have already begun about panel members with skeletons in their own closets.

Larry J. Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia who has written a book on political scandals, predicted a "full-blown world war" of sexual allegations should House Republicans pursue impeachment proceedings against Clinton.

Although Mulholland said he was acting to defend the president, Clinton aides quickly distanced themselves from his effort. "We just don't think it's appropriate for people to be investigating the private lives of others," said White House spokesman Jim Kennedy.

When Geraldo Rivera last week raised a decades-old charge on CNBC's "Geraldo Live" about House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), White House aides were told to stay away from it--although Armey had labeled Clinton "a shameless person."

Just the same, Republicans were fuming at Mulholland's broadsides.

"Mr. Mulholland's activities are nothing short of a deliberate attempt to intimidate and impede the Congress in the performance of its official functions, and I call upon you to publicly repudiate his activities and ask for his resignation," Jim Nicholson, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, wrote to his Democratic counterpart.

Some suspect involvement by presidential aides, despite the disavowals.

"The administration has been engaging in a very systematic effort to go after anybody who dares to question them," Barr said.

"This is all absolutely laughable," he said. "Ronald Reagan was divorced. Did that stop him from being a great president? Barney Frank is an avowed homosexual. Does that make him unqualified to sit on the Judiciary Committee? Of course not."

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