I remember the day well. It was midmorning, Monday, Jan. 28, 1998. I was in the waiting room of the Halima Car Wash on Veterans Boulevard in Metairie getting my father's car washed. CNN cut in live, and there was red-faced Bill Clinton angrily wagging his finger at the camera. He was clearly not happy.
"I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I'm going to say this again. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time, never. These allegations are false, and I need to go back to work for the American people," Clinton said.
The White House room immediately erupted into applause as the president walked out. I remember thinking if he's lying, his presidency is over. How wrong was I?
Before the year's end, the House impeached Clinton but he survived his trial in the Senate after every Democrat voted to acquit him of obstruction of justice and perjury. Old Slick Willy looked right in the eyes of the American people, lied to them, and survived. Democrats had the political cover to acquit an obviously guilty president after Clinton, with the help of the media, brilliantly painted Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr as an unfair partisan and untrustworthy prosecutor. Starr often polled lower than Clinton during the yearlong scandal.
Clinton pulled off the diversion defense because he's a masterful politician. Which is why future New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell should be cautious if she thinks she can pull the same stunt as Clinton: Redirect attention away from her credit card abuse by demonizing the man investigating her, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.
When it comes to slipperiness and slickness, LaToya Cantrell is no Bill Clinton.
Cantrell's legal team has already accused Landry of conducting "nothing more than an intrusive and harassing witch-hunt by a political opponent." Remember Landry inherited this case from New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.
We've already seen some media types join in with Cantrell questioning whether Landry's investigation is politically motivated. They discredit Landry by labeling him consistently partisan for often tangling with Gov. John Bel Edwards over social issues. But of course he does. Landry is a social conservative. What else would you expect? Landry battling the governor over social issues doesn't prove he will treat Cantrell unfairly. Just as there is no evidence thus far Independent Counsel Robert Mueller will be unfair to Donald Trump despite the president's claims. Or for that matter that Kenneth Starr treated President Clinton unjustly as special prosecutor.
Are we going to get to a place where only liberals investigate liberals and conservatives, conservatives? At some point, we are going to have to trust our imperfect system of justice and realize it's made up of fallible people sometimes influenced by political leanings. It's not like Landry can just make stuff up about Cantrell. He'll have to present compelling evidence before moving forward. If his case is weak, it will be dismissed as partisan, as it should.
Whether Cantrell broke the law by abusing her city credit card is important to know since she is about to take the reins of a $1.3 billion city budget. We know Cantrell used her taxpayer-funded city credit card to give herself thousands of dollars in what amounted to interest-free loans. In some cases, she took up to four years to pay the money back. We also know Cantrell has a history of financial troubles involving delinquent taxes, unpaid ethics fines, and late house payments. According to court documents, Cantrell began to use her city credit card for personal expenses the very same month her home was being foreclosed on after she fell 14 months behind on her house payments.
An argument could be made Cantrell viewed taxpayers as suckers using them to cover her personal expenses for four years giving herself interest-free loans, a privilege and perk the rest of us do not have. Landry should put aside any political bias he may have and do everything in his power to determine if Cantrell's actions broke the law.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.