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MOLLY IVINS WHAT’S D’AMATO WITH AL? A well-informed woman, interested in politics, inquired a few days ago: “I keep trying to follow this, but I still don’t understand: just what is it Hillary Clinton is accused of?” Beats me. I keep listening to Senator Alfonse D’ Amato, a punishing assignment in itself, and I don’t get it either. Of course, having D’Amato conduct an ethics investigation is like watching Mike Tyson run a sensitivity-training seminar. As I understand it, D’Amatoby straining at gnats and putting on a display of prosecutorial innuendo unrivaled since the days of Joe McCarthyhopes to make the case that the first lady personally ordered the firings of . everyone who worked for the White House travel office when Clinton first came in, which, were it the case, would not be illegal, immoral or unethical. He has further sought, with great fervor, to prove that Hillary Clinton did some legal work for James McDougal’s long-sincefailed savings and loan, which we know to she did so is also not illegal, immoral or unethical. For some reason, all of this inspires D’Amatowho always has been easily excitedto wander around talking about “bombshells” and “smoking guns.” D’Amato claims that there are “tremendous discrepancies” in what the first lady has said. She said that the work she did for Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan was “minimal.” The billing records show that she did sixty hours of work for the S&L over fifteen monthsless than an hour a week. Quel tremendous discrepancy. The funniest day so far in D’Amato’s Fun House was when a fellow whom Hillary Clinton had described as a “young lawyer” who originally brought the McDougal business to her firm came to testify. D’Amato had promised the press, per usual, that his testimony would be a “bombshell.” The press duly reported the night before that “a bombshell” was expected at the hearing. The “young lawyer,” now bald as a billiard ball and distinctly middle-aged, shows up, reminding all hands that we are now trying to get people Molly Ivins is a former Observer editor and a columnist for the Fort Worth StarTelegram. to remember, in excruciating detail, what happened fifteen years ago. So, this middle-aged bald guy tells the committee, yeah, you could say he brought in the business. But, cries D’Amato, you didn’t bring in McDougal with a signed contract in hand, did you? No, says the bald guy, I didn’t bring in McDougal with a signed con tract in hand. Aha! cries D’ Amato. And all the television networks duly run a clip of the bald guy say ing, “I did not bring in McDougal with a signed contract in hand.” Well! We’ve certainly proved that, haven’t we, Al? \(I call him Al because I first knew him when he was a squirrely pol in Long Island, N.Y., who used to go around documents. Hillary provides documents. Al & Co. demand more documents. Hillary provides more documents. Aha! cries Al Why didn’t you provide these documents earlier? This is sinister; there must be a plot here. \(Quick, where are your records from fifteen years ago, and why can’t you protions raise questions about the appearance of possible improprieties.” Don’t you just hate thatwhen questions are raised about the appearance of possible improprieties? Al has now spent about six million of our taxpayer dollars raising questions about the appearance of possible improprieties, but it’s been worth every penny because pols now show that fifty-one percent of the American people have doubts about Hillary Clinton. Good work, Al. Personally, I’m a lot less worried about questions of the first lady’s appearance of possible improprieties than I am about D’Amato’s. Hey, forget the old stuffI mean the stuff that goes back fifteen years. Who would worry about fifteen years ago, when Al testified as a character witness for a Mafia goon? \(Philip Basile, described by Al as “an honest, truthful, hardworking man, a man of integrity.” Al then kissed him on both cheeks, and the jury convicted him of conspiracy to defraud and lying to about that old stuff like D’Amato and S&Ls, D’Amato and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, D’Amato and Roy Cohn, D’ Amato and Wedtech, D’Amato and Joe Margiotta, D’Amato and junk bonds? What are you, a historian? I’m talking about the nifty new stuff, like June 1993. Al made thirty-seven thousand, one hundred and twenty-five dollars in a single day on an initial stock offering made possible by a Long Island bro kerage firm that, at the time, had se rious Securities and Exchange Commission fraud charges pending against it and has since been heavily fined and sanctioned. Al was then the ranking Republican on the Banking Committee, which oversees the SEC. Al’s broker at the firm bought four thousand five hundred shares of the new stock for Al at four dollars a share and sold them the same day for twelve dollars and twenty-five cents a sharea deal not available to ordinary investors. I’m talking about Al and his brother Armand. Forget Armand and the race-track interests and all that old stuff; let’s talk Armand and Unisys in the late 1980s. Unisys, a Long Island defense contractor, hires Armand and pays him one hundred twenty thousand dollars to lobby for Pentagon contract business. The checks are made out to a law partner of Armand’s. Armand gets Al’s office to send the Navy two letters on Al’s stationery, both ghostwritten by Unisys employees and with Al’s signature on them. Al is on the Defense Appropriations Committee, and the Pentagon gives Unisys a one-hundred-million-dollar contract. Armand gets convicted of mail fraud, is sentenced to five months and is out on appeal; Al gets a rebuke from the Senate Ethics Committee and never releases the documents. Appearance of possible impropriety, anyone? KEVIN KRENECK 12 FEBRUARY 9, 1996