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Joe Conason: Recycling for Fun and Profit — Imminent Return of the ‘Clinton Scandals’

Hillary Clinton may well run for president in 2016. Or she may not. But while the nation awaits her decision, both jittery Republican politicians and titillated political journalists — often in concert — will seize upon any excuse to recycle those old "Clinton scandals."

The latest trip around this endless loop began when Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican of extremist pedigree and nebulous appeal, deflected a question about his party's "war on women" by yapping about Monica Lewinsky, the former "inappropriate" playmate of Bill Clinton.

Then the Free Beacon, a right-wing Washington tabloid, published some old papers about the "ruthless" Hillary and the "loony toon Monica" from the archives of the late Diane Blair, a longtime and intimate Arkansas friend of the Clintons.

Suddenly, the media frenzy of the '90s resumed, as if there had never even been a pause.

What was truly bizarre in Paul's outburst was his suggestion that somehow Hillary Clinton is implicated in the Lewinsky affair (which he and others have wrongly characterized as "harassment" or victimization of the young White House intern). Most voters will consider that kind of insinuation more repulsive than persuasive.

Still, there were other long-running pseudo-scandals that featured Hillary Clinton. Are we doomed to revisit every crackpot allegation and conspiracy theory? Very likely so, if only because that brand of moonshine brought in wads and wads of money from the same credulous wingnuts who follow Fox News. Last week, many of them surely sent money to Paul or clicked on the Free Beacon.

The Clintons are still big-box office in the mainstream media as well. Our historical amnesia will make the old charges against them sound new again. And if there's a sucker born every minute, a lot of minutes have passed since they left the White House.

To prepare for the coming tsunami of bull-bleep, a brief guide to past scandals may prove useful. Then when another lightweight politician or television personality starts spouting about Whitewater or Filegate or Travelgate — about which he or she actually knows approximately nothing — pertinent facts will be available. (For the longer version, with colorful narrative, consult The Hunting of the President.)

» Whitewater: Kenneth Starr spent roughly millions of dollars trying to find evidence of chicanery in a land deal that lost money for the Clintons — and his probe ended up demonstrating their innocence, like several earlier investigations. Having whispered to gullible journalists that he was about to indict Hillary in December 1996, Starr instead abruptly resigned as independent counsel in February 1997, knowing he had no case against her.

Indeed, the Clintons have undergone more thorough and invasive financial vetting than any couple in American history, from the exhaustive Starr investigation through Hillary's Senate financial disclosures to the Clinton Foundation donors disclosed before her nomination as secretary of state.

» Travelgate: Feverish coverage of Hillary Clinton's firing of several White House employees who handled press travel arrangements neglected some salient facts — such as the suspicious absence of accounting records for millions of dollars expended by the White House Travel Office, the Travel Office director's offer to plead guilty to embezzlement, and evidence that he had accepted lavish gifts from an air charter company. The first lady and her staff didn't handle the controversy skillfully, but she had plenty of reason to suspect chicanery. And again, exhaustive investigation found no intentional wrongdoing by her.

» Filegate: Sensational accusations that Hillary Clinton had ordered up FBI background files to target political opponents soon became a Republican and media obsession, with respectable figures warning that Filegate would be the Clintons' Watergate. "Where's the outrage?" cried Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential nominee. Starr investigated the matter and found no evidence of wrongdoing. Finally, in 2010, a Ronald Reagan-appointed federal judge mockingly dismissed a civil lawsuit based on the allegations, saying "there's no there there."

In truth, there never was.

Joe Conason is editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. Click here to contact him, follow him on Twitter: @JConason, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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