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web posted March 27, 2000

Counsel ponders Clinton charges

Independent Counsel Robert Ray said he is adding investigators to help him determine whether to file criminal charges against President Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky affair.

It marks the first time Ray, who took over for Kenneth Starr in October, has publicly discussed the possibility Clinton might be prosecuted for his statements and actions in the Lewinsky case.

A federal judge in Little Rock, Ark., has held the president in civil contempt for 10 alleged lies in a deposition "no reasonable person would seriously dispute."

Ray announced recently he found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by White House officials or Clinton's wife, Hillary, in the 1996 "Filegate" episode.

He said March 19 he found "no dissemination for partisan political purposes" of hundreds of files of Republican former White House employees the FBI was ordered to deliver to Clinton staff members.

But he said on ABC's This Week the five-year, $50-million investigation that began with Starr's look at the Clintons' Whitewater real-estate dealings is far from over.

He has sworn in two new lawyers, will be hiring others and is bringing in investigators from the FBI and other agencies.

"I am anticipating making judgments about whether or not it is appropriate to bring prosecutions," he said.

"I intend to have the assistance of experienced people, experienced prosecutors, to help me make those judgments."

"There is -- as the public is well aware -- a matter involving the president of the United States in connection with the Lewinsky investigation," Ray said.

"The country went through the matter of impeachment. The judgment was made by the country that it was not appropriate to remove the president from office," he said. "It is now my task as a prosecutor, with a very limited and narrow focus, to determine again whether crimes have been committed and whether...it is appropriate to bring charges."

He promised his investigation will be fair and thorough but said: "There is a bigger issue here and the bigger issue is yet to be vindicated."

"And the issue to be vindicated is that no person, including the president of the United States, is above the law."

White House spokesman Jim Kennedy referred queries to Clinton's personal counsel. Presidential lawyer David Kendall did not immediately return a message left at his office.

Ray said the Lewinsky investigation is not the only one left on his agenda.

"It is my judgment based upon the several mandates that we have...to arrive at reasoned and considered judgments with respect to each and when those decisions are made to release them...eventually to the public," he said.

He should be finished, he said, "during the course of this year."

Schumer said risks involving the legal process in politics, specifically Hillary Clinton's campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Opposing views of new test videotape in Waco debate

Attorneys for both the Branch Davidians and the federal government claim videotape of a court-ordered infrared camera test backs up their opposing positions in the wrongful death lawsuit the Davidians have filed against the government over the 1993 Waco siege.

The plaintiffs' lawsuit claims gunfire from federal agents cut off the Davidians' only route of escape as fire destroyed their compound several hours into a tear-gassing operation. The group's leader, David Koresh, and some 80 of his followers died during the fire on April 19, 1993.

Government officials have long denied claims that federal officers fired on the compound during the final day of the standoff. They contend the Davidians died by their own hand, either from gunshots or the fire.

U.S. District Judge Walter Smith said the court's infrared expert -- an independent British firm -- would release its own analysis within 30 days.

The March 19 demonstration of the Forward Looking Infrared camera -- used by the FBI during the siege -- was designed to determine whether the camera could detect people, debris heated by exhaust from tanks, reflected sunlight and the muzzle flashes of gunfire.

The test, complete with aircraft equipped with infrared cameras, soldiers firing weapons and tanks rolling -- was conducted at Fort Hood, Texas, about 40 miles southwest of Waco.

Infrared experts from both sides are comparing the test video with the FBI's 1993 video to determine whether muzzle blasts fired during the test have similar thermal signatures.

A preliminary review of the test video "clearly demonstrates that there was government gunfire on the back of (the Branch Davidian compound known as) Mt. Carmel on April 19, 1993," plaintiffs' lead counsel Michael Caddell said at a news conference in Houston the next day.

Branch Davidian plaintiffs suing the government insist the field test confirms their experts' analysis -- that rapid-fire bursts of light appearing on the FBI's 1993 aerial infrared surveillance footage represent gunfire from government positions into the Davidians' retreat.

Caddell had hoped to air portions of the test video. But Smith barred release of the film, although he permitted discussion of its contents.

Government sources familiar with the test said that people on the ground are always visible on the tape.

That's significant, the sources said, because in the original FLIR tape shot at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, no people are visible until after the fire erupted and FBI agents emerged from armored vehicles to search for survivors.

Even before the choreographed demonstration, the government had insisted that its forces fired no shots on the siege's final day. That day, the FBI launched a tear-gassing operation designed to end the 51-day standoff.

Surviving Davidians, like Clive Doyle, said it was too noisy for him to hear if anyone outside the compound was shooting.

"I couldn't point-blank swear that I heard a rifle shot or whatever," said Doyle.

The FBI also has contended that no law enforcement personnel were at the points where flashes were seen on the original tape.

While the government suggests no shots can be fired without shooters, the plaintiffs argue that gunmen weren't detected because the temperature of their fire-retardant clothing and body armor was similar to that of the soil.

But the government contends that initial analysis of the test video shows FBI sharpshooters did not open fire on sect members.

U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford, one of the federal government's lead lawyers in ongoing Branch Davidian litigation, spoke to reporters at an early morning news conference in Killeen, near Fort Hood.

"There are some particular matters that we think are important in confirming our position," said Bradford, "and we believe we will clearly demonstrate that, through the comparison (of) these materials to the tapes" of the raid.

Bradford has acknowledged that infrared technology can detect gunfire -- a statement Caddell has described as a stunning reversal of the government's earlier position.

Flashes -- as well as people -- were visible in all tapes reviewed, Bradford said.

"Of those items that we think are especially significant are the fact that the debris field in these tapes clearly reflects flashes," he said, adding that test footage would be reviewed in greater detail for several weeks.

According to other government sources, there are lots of flashes attributable to glints from the sun or reflections of the sun off of objects on the ground on the test tape.

These sources say the firing of weapons used by the Hostage Rescue Team members operating near the Branch Davidian complex -- which included M-16s and handguns -- could not be seen in the test FLIR tapes.

Sources say flashes could be seen from an MK-19 -- a military grenade launcher that shoots 40 mm grenades -- as well as flashes from an M-60, a heavy-duty, belt-fed machine gun.

But the FBI contends it did not have an MK-19 at the original scene and that the M-60 -- which it does acknowledge having at the original scene -- was not within FLIR range.

Giuliani favors licensing firearms

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, under attack from Senate rival Hillary Rodham Clinton for taking money from gun interests, says he favors a sweeping licensing system for firearm owners.

During a two-day campaign trip last weekend, Giuliani drew applause for his proposal in a largely conservative area of the state.

At a community forum in Watertown, in northern New York, one resident reminded the Republican mayor that many people in the region firmly believe in the constitutional right to bear arms.

"I do not think the government should cut off the right to bear arms," Giuliani responded. Nonetheless, the mayor said his position for many years has been that just as a motorist must have a license, gun owners should be required to have one as well.

According to a tape recording of the meeting provided by his staff, Giuliani said anyone wanting to own a gun should "have to pass a written exam that shows they know how to use the gun, that they're intelligent enough and responsible enough to handle a gun."

Asked if he felt both handguns and rifle owners should be licensed, Giuliani said, "We're talking about all dangerous weapons."

The first lady has called for a licensing system for handgun purchases.

The mayor also said he supports GOP Gov. George Pataki's gun-control proposals unveiled last week. The Pataki plan would require ballistic records on all handguns sold in New York and mandatory trigger locks.

Pataki would also raise the legal gun purchase age to 21, up from 18, and require instant background checks at gun shows and flea markets.

The mayor's gun-control statements came just hours before the Clinton campaign attacked him for taking $1 000 from the Bushmaster Firearms, a contribution that was listed by the Giuliani campaign as coming from the head of "Bushmaster Farms." The mayor said he didn't know anything about the contribution or who had given it.

Bushmaster Firearms is a Maine company that makes automatic weapons for government agencies, semiautomatics that are sold to the public and a rifle widely used in shooting competition.

Clinton also criticized the mayor for taking a $1 000 contribution from actor Charlton Heston, president of the National Rifle Association.

Criticism of the NRA has increased in recent days after the group's executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, said President Clinton was "willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda."

"He ought to break with Charlton Heston and his friends in the gun industry," Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson said.

There was no immediate comment from the NRA to Giuliani's licensing position.

The debate highlighted a fact of life in the New York Senate race -- Clinton and Giuliani agree on many social issues. In addition to being strong advocates for gun control, they each also support gay and abortion rights.

British Columbia will change law to continue lawsuit to sue tobacco companies

The British Columbia government will introduce new legislation to renew its legal battle against tobacco companies following a court ruling that threatened to derail the case.

"Our fight against the tobacco industry is continuing," Attorney General Andrew Petter said at a packed news conference on March 21.

"We maintain that tobacco companies have known for years that cigarettes are addictive and that they can cause death and disease and that they failed to warn consumers."

In February, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled part of the province's legislation aimed at recovering health-care costs related to tobacco was unconstitutional because it was outside the province's jurisdiction.

Justice Ronald Holmes said he found the "dominant characteristic" of the legislation to be the pursuit nationally and internationally of the tobacco industry for the cost of health care benefits incurred by British Columbia.

"The extra-territorial reach of the act places it beyond the constitutional competence of the province," he wrote.

Several provinces have been watching what happens in British Columbia with a view to launching suits of their own.

Petter and Health Minister Mike Farnworth expressed confidence new legislation will satisfy the court's concern.

New legislation means the government won't appeal the court ruling, avoiding the delay that could cause.

Petter and Farnworth said the B.C. court decision upheld four principles of the Tobacco Damages and Health Care Costs Recovery Act.

The court ruled the province has a right to recover costs from tobacco companies and can pursue the claims on an aggregate basis.

It also ruled on the validity of placing the onus of proof on the tobacco companies and that medical records should remain private.

"We will remove the provisions that dealt with extra-territoriality," said Petter.

"What we will be doing is proceeding against tobacco companies that have engaged in wrongdoing within the province, either because they may have been directly involved in the province or they may have been parent companies that were actively promoting tobacco use in the province."

Petter said the new legislation, to be introduced in the current session, will prohibit the province from "going after holding companies that had a completely passive role."

Farnworth said British Columbia takes in about $480 million annually in tobacco tax revenues, but he estimated the direct and indirect health costs in the province amount to about $2 billion annually.

A spokesman for the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council said he was "disappointed that the government is going to continue an expensive lawsuit."

"We'll defend ourselves vigorously," Dave Laundy said.

The legal expenses could be better spent on anti-tobacco initiatives, he said.

He also reiterated the council's stance that governments and the industry should discuss ways to deal with the effects of tobacco, particularly smoking by young people.

Petter said the B.C. government is considering joining the federal government's civil action against RJR-Macdonald alleging the company was involved in a scheme to smuggle cigarettes.

British Columbia's law was modelled on Florida legislation that helped net a $256-billion US settlement with American tobacco firms.

As of last fall, five other suits were being considered, three in Ontario and two in Quebec.

Newfoundland was mulling a B.C.-style law and Manitoba planned court action. New Brunswick has said it is also considering such a move.

In arguing the case for the B.C. government last fall, Tom Berger, a former B.C. Supreme Court judge, said 6,000 people die in British Columbia and thousands more become ill each year with tobacco-related diseases.

Browning declines to sign Smith & Wesson gun control deal

Following the lead of Glock Inc., gun manufacturer Browning announced on March 21 it will not sign onto a voluntary gun-control agreement similar to the one signed the week before between the Clinton Administration and Smith & Wesson.

"In my estimation, (Smith & Wesson) has been politically drug into giving away their own rights, the rights of everyone in the industry, the rights of licensed gun dealers and the rights of law-abiding gun owners," said Rich Bauter, vice president of the Utah-based company.

Like Smith & Wesson, Browning is a defendant in a number of lawsuits filed by cities and counties on the grounds that gun makers and dealers do not take the necessary precautions to ensure the firearms they sell are safe.

To avoid those suits, Smith & Wesson signed an agreement on March 17 to install gun locks and other child-safety devices on all guns and introduce "smart-gun" technology in all newly-designed handguns.

"Unfortunately a member of our industry, that is owned by an outsider, a foreign country, has caved in to political maneuvering," said Bauter. "There would be no way that we would make such an agreement."

Smith & Wesson is owned by the English conglomerate Tomkins PLC. Browning -- which was founded by Mormon pioneers in the 19th century -- is also owned by a European company, Fabrique Nationale d'Armes de Guerre of Belgium.

Georgia-based gun maker Glock Inc. also considered signing onto a voluntary agreement with the Clinton Adminstration before disagreements over an outside "oversight commission" of local, state and federal officials killed the deal.

"The commission is an absurd concept," said Paul Jannuzzo, vice president and general counsel of Glock, a unit of Glock GmbH of Austria. "It's overly broad. It's more powerful than any regulatory agency."

Smith & Wesson agreed to an oversight commission, and also promised to put a hidden second serial number on handguns to make it easier to trace such weapons.

Jannuzzo said that Glock would adopt many of the provisions agreed to in the Smith & Wesson deal, but said such changes will not be made with hopes of avoiding lawsuits.

"Nobody's going to drop any of these lawsuits unless we sign on to the commission, and we will never do that," Jannuzzo said.

Thirty cities have already sued gun manufacturers to recover the costs associated with gun violence. At least 15 of those cities have dropped suits against Smith & Wesson.

"I understand the business decision that was made," said Jannuzzo. "I'm just tired of this extortion. This thing is a ridiculous red herring."

Judge strikes down provincewide ban on smoking in bars, restaurants

Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein of the B.C. Supreme Court concluded in a ruling released on March 22 the ban was enacted by the Workers Compensation Board without proper consultation and is therefore null and void.

"When the impact of a given regulation is so far-reaching as to extend to those beyond the jurisdiction of the board, where the impact is so significant as to pose a risk to the private economic interests of both employers and workers . . . then public debate is of paramount importance," she wrote.

The judge rejected board claims that the hospitality industry was notified of the decision to expand the ban to include hotels, bars and other establishments used for public entertainment.

The expansion also meant the rules applied in seniors' homes and prisons. Those facilities now are exempt as well.

The judge was highly critical of the board's actions.

She said the hospitality industry stayed away from 1996 hearings into the proposed ban to prevent workers from being exposed to second-hand smoke because it was told it was exempt from the regulations.

But after hearings were held, the board added a sunset clause in 1998 that imposed the ban on the industry as of Jan. 1, 2000.

"I find it difficult to conceive of notice which could be more potentially misleading than the notice here where certain facilities, including the hospitality sector, were assured that their interests were not affected, only to later find the extreme opposite effect," the judge wrote.

Since the WCB regulation came into effect, smokers have fed their habit standing in bar doorways in the rain, cold and snow, or sneaking smokes in bathrooms.

Some have angrily stayed away from favourite watering holes altogether, which the hospitality industry says has led to more than 700 layoffs and some bar closures.

Brenda Locke of the Neighbourhood Pub Owners Association of B.C. said her members are realistic about what will happen next.

"I don't know if it will be appealed, but we certainly do have to come to some agreement with the whole issue of environmental tobacco smoke because the issue will not go away."

WCB lawyer Scott Nielsen said the decision means "where we are now is exactly where we were prior to Jan. 1, 2000."

But even before the ban, regulations stated that restaurants and bars had to limit their workers' exposure to tobacco smoke "by all reasonable and all practicable controls, including administrative and engineering controls."

The WCB has not decided on its next move, he said.

"They're still digesting the decision. The possibilities are an appeal or (resume) the public hearing process again."

Tim Williamson, who represented the B.C. Liquor Licencees and Retailers Association during the court hearing in early March, said "the judge's reasons for quashing the regulation was clear."

"The industry was blindsided by the WCB," said Williamson. "The decision to ban smoking at bars and restaurants was made without warning."

Vance Campbell, president of the Cabaret Owners Association of B.C., urged the WCB to work with the hospitality industry to find a proper ventilation solution.

"We are willing to work with the WCB to protect workers," said Campbell. "The hospitality industry is not interested in promoting smoking, but this is about government acting beyond its boundaries."

It was never clear how many bars complied with the ban. The industry said 60 per cent provincewide didn't comply while the WCB said more than that were complying.

Pub owners in the northeastern community of Dawson Creek were so vehemently against the anti-smoking policy that they threatened to secede from British Columbia and join Alberta.

Several business owners formed the Freedom of Choice Committee and held a rally to protest the regulations.

Charles Kux-Kardos, who operates the Dew Drop Inn pub in Dawson Creek, said he was overjoyed with the court's decision.

"It's a wonderful, wonderful relief from an impossible situation that we couldn't abide by," Kux-Kardos said.

"About 10 days ago we went back into non-compliance because we were just a hair away from having to sell our RRSPs or try to mortgage our home to stay in business. It was that bad."

Jim Gibb, who owns the Dawson Hotel, didn't comply.

He said he still lost 30 per cent of his customers because people were afraid they'd be fined for smoking at his pub.

He said he was forced to shut down his restaurant.

Labour Minister Joy MacPhail told a news conference she agrees with the judge's decision and has discussed it with the board.

"While I have no authority over the WCB, I am asking the governors of the WCB to not appeal the court decision," she said.

"I hope that they will get on with very quickly conducting open and transparent public consultations so that we can move once again to providing a safe and healthy environment for workers in this province."

The WCB comes under the purview of the Labour Ministry but is an independent body supported by employers and workers.

House committee investigates first lady's political travel

The frequent New York Senate campaign trips of first lady Hillary Clinton came under congressional scrutiny on March 23, after a preliminary GOP review of White House billing records revealed she has reimbursed taxpayers for only about one-fifth of her travel expenses.

However, the data released to the House Appropriations subcommittee charged with overseeing White House spending revealed that Mrs. Clinton's New York Senate campaign is complying fully with regulations.

The first lady took 26 trips to the Empire State between June 9 and December 14, 1999, -- usually aboard government aircraft -- that cost the U.S. government $182,471, according to data released by congressional Republicans. Mrs. Clinton has paid back $32,878 of those costs.

However, billing records from the White House travel office indicated Mrs. Clinton's campaign owed $36,685 in political travel costs through December 14, 1999, and paid all but $3,808 in outstanding bills. Those figures correspond with her campaign's Federal Election Commission filings, which listed $34,000 in government travel reimbursements.

The stark difference in the two sets of figures lies in the fact that theÊfirst lady reimburses the government the same way presidential candidates do: at the rate of a first-class commercial airline ticket.

The Secret Service recommended that Mrs. Clinton travel on military aircraft when she began her Senate exploratory campaign last July -- travel estimated to cost between $3,705 or $4,346 per hour, according to the U.S. Air Force.

While the practice is legal, it has drawn fire from Republican political opponents, who have complained that Mrs. Clinton is seeking public office at government expense. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, her all-but-certain Republican opponent for the Senate seat, complained in February that the first lady travels "like royalty."

"It is unprecedented for the first lady to use government aircraft for her own political purposes, said Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Arizona) chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government.

"Our phones have been ringing off the hooks with concerned citizens calling to inquire about how the first lady's travel is paid for," he added.

Democrats assailed the subcommittee hearing as little more than an extension of Giuliani's Senate campaign.

"The Secret Service strongly recommends that the first lady travel on military aircraft," Howard Wolfson, Mrs. Clinton's campaign spokesman, told the subcommittee. "I think it's outrageous the Republicans would politicize the first lady's security."

Wolfson said the campaign has "reimbursed the government for everything we were billed for ... following the letter of the law."

Kolbe questioned whether the level of security was necessary.

"The Secret Service prefers and even recommends that the first lady travel on government aircraft, but it is by no means a requirement," he said. "It is my understanding the first lady used private aircraft while she was promoting her book several years ago."

But the subcommittee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, produced White House memos from the Reagan and Bush years showing previous administrations' handling of first lady travel.

A 1981 memo by former Reagan administration chief of staff James Baker and a 1989 memo by former Bush administration chief of staff John Sununu outlined the multiple reasons justifying flying the president's wives on military aircraft, from convenience to security.

"There is no deviation from past practice," said Michael Lyle, a White House travel official. "We followed all the applicable rules and laws."

A shame just to be nominated

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) has once again honoured the "best of the worst" in public pending. Yes, the Y2K version of the Teddies were handed out last week in Ottawa.

Named after former (and fired) public servant Ted Weatherill who dined on the taxpayers tab for almost a decade, the "Teddies" annually put the spotlight on spending excess and contempt for taxpayers which is still endemic throughout each level of government in Canada. Here's a look at this year's nominees …

Federal Nominees
Best Ensemble with Comedic Writing - Minister Jane Stewart and Jean Chretien for their laughable defense of HRDC job grants.

Best Taxpayer Horror Film - HRDC job grants scandal: the internal audit and funding of dubious ventures and bankrupt companies.

Best Movie: HRDC and the Police Investigations - HRDC job grants scandal: 19 police investigations and alleged violations of the Financial Administration Act.

Best Screenplay with 4,000,0000 Possible Sequels - HRDC for its lack of management and tracking of Social Insurance Numbers.

Best Federal Example of Y2K Bandwagon Stupidity - The Millennium Bureau of Canada and its $143 million funding of Y2K initiatives.

And the winner is, HRDC for the Best Taxpayer Horror film. One critic put it best when he said, "this is an unacceptable way to spend public funds." By the way, that critic is Canada's foremost government watchdog, Auditor General Denis Desautels.

Provincial/Municipal Nominees
Best Ensemble in a Documentary - Newfoundland Premier Brian Tobin and his 16-member Cabinet retreat cruise aboard a Coast Guard vessel.

Best Taxpayer Horror Film - City of Edmonton for property tax hikes, councilor pay hikes, councilor pensions and car allowances.

Best Screenplay Sequel - The BC Government and the Fast Ferry Fiasco: The Audit.

Best Provincial Example of Y2K Bandwagon Stupidity - Government of Ontario for the Millennium Memento book.

Best Movie: Mr. Potatohead - Government of Saskatchewan and the Spudco debacle.

And the winner is, the BC Government and the continuing Fast Ferry saga. While it took an iceberg to sink the Titanic the provincial auditor found that a few logs, clumps of seaweed or strong winds are all that are needed to keep these not-so-Fast Ferries in dry-dock.

The project, originally projected to cost $210 million, has stung BC taxpayers with a whopping $463 tab. When asked if they would apologize to taxpayers for this mess, the two Cabinet ministers now responsible for this file simply laughed. It seems the more arrogant you are toward and contemptuous you are of taxpayers puts you in good standing for a seat at the BC Cabinet table.

Lifetime Achievement
This year's winner is the Hon. Sheila Copps, Minister of Canadian Heritage. From her defense of $106,000 MP salaries to the tape tax to overseeing funding for soft porn films like Bubbles Galore, Ms. Copps has built a legacy of taxpayer defiance.

And Canadians should not forget the latest brainchild from Parks Canada - an agency she oversees - and its plan to ethnically cleanse trout fish in Banff National Park. For more info, please visit the CTF web site at www.taxpayer.com.

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