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Extra Credit

While Mrs. Clinton is pummeled for a mysterious, 26-year-old epithet, Rick Lazio has been commandeering bills of concern to Jews -- whether or not he had any input on them.

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"Once is happenstance," Auric Goldfinger counseled James Bond, "and twice is coincidence." And what would he call three times?

Twice before, Rick Lazio has been caught lassoing legislation originated by a Democratic colleague, putting his name on it, and claiming credit for it. It happened again two weeks ago, under the cover of a tentacled appropriations bill, and the episode tells us quite a lot about the Lazio method.

Here's the story: On July 21, Hillary Clinton attacked Lazio for voting for a $4,000 pay raise. The pay raise was included in HR4871, a Treasury appropriations bill. Since there was no separate vote on the raise, Mrs. Clinton's sally was kind of silly, but hardly out of the ordinary for someone running against a sitting member of Congress.

Lazio responded by saying that there were a lot of good things in the bill that merited support. But he took it one step further -- he plucked out some of those good things and argued that because Mrs. C hit him on the raise, she was therefore against all the nice stuff.

So on July 21, his campaign issued a press release under the headline HILLARY CLINTON COMES OUT AGAINST SANCTIONS FOR TORMENTORS OF IRANIAN JEWS. At issue is the fate of the ten Iranian Jews convicted of espionage in Tehran, under circumstances that needless to say did not meet Western jurisprudential standards. There was an amendment included in HR4871, which the press release proudly trumpeted as the "Lazio Amendment," that would prevent the Clinton administration from lifting an existing embargo on Iranian goods. The release quoted Lazio campaign manager Bill Dal Col: "Mrs. Clinton's opposition to this measure is indefensible."

This didn't sound right to me. The Clinton campaign has made its share of mistakes, but would Hillary actually come out against this obvious and easy hanging curveball? Of course, she had not; in fact, she had expressed her outrage over the case previously. Her campaign's people didn't know about this "Lazio Amendment" until I told them, and spokesman Howard Wolfson said last week that yes, Mrs. Clinton would support such an amendment.

Lazio has been a reliably pro-Israel vote in the House. But that's not really saying much: King Hussein would have been, if he had represented downstate New York.

So there's your clear lie about Mrs. Clinton's position, trying to paint her as anti-Jewish on an issue on which she'd already spoken out on the pro-Jewish side. But here's the kicker: It wasn't Lazio's amendment!

After reading the press release, I went to www.congress.gov to look into the history. The only amendment to HR4871 that was about Iranian Jews was identified as the Deutsch Amendment. That would be Florida Democrat Peter Deutsch, who represents Fort Lauderdale and the Keys. Deutsch, says his spokesman, Ray Krauze, came up with the bill and invited Lazio to join as a co-sponsor. You might now ask why a Democrat would want to share credit with a Republican running in the highest-profile Senate race in the country. Could it have something to do with the fact that Democrats know that, because Lazio's running against Hillary, any legislation with his name on it, especially if it pertains remotely to things Jewish, will get the green light from the House Republican leadership? Krauze chuckled warily. "I'm not gonna go there," he said.

In any event, Krauze noted that the amendment "was Congressman Deutsch's brainchild." Well, did Lazio help write it? Krauze checked with the legislative staff: "Our office wrote the entirety of it." Well, did Lazio whip it -- Capitol Hill parlance for rounding up votes? Krauze wasn't sure, but as it happened, the amendment passed by voice vote, so no whipping was even needed.

Mollie Conkey, a Lazio spokeswoman, conceded that "the bottom line here in retrospect is we should have put Deutsch's name" on their press release. But she said Lazio played "a very active role" in getting the amendment through.

Lazio did do two things. First, he spoke on the floor (gotta get those remarks in the Congressional Record!). Actually, Deutsch barely got out two sentences before Lazio asked the gentleman to yield so he could have the limelight. Second, Lazio's congressional office, as well as his campaign office, issued a press release -- the headline on which was lazio amendment passes.

The Deutsch episode is Lazio's third strike. Back in May, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Lazio and Bay Area Democrat Anna Eshoo had worked together on a breast-cancer bill. Eshoo did most of the work. But as the bill approached a vote before the full House, Lazio introduced a revised version that was missing (a) money and (b) Eshoo's name. The breast-cancer lobby roared into action, and the money was restored. Not Eshoo's name, though.

Earlier in July, after Brooklyn Democrat Anthony Weiner had worked for months trying to pass a bill granting permanent-resident status to 1,500 Syrian Jews in his district and managed to get nowhere with it, Lazio stepped in and introduced the same bill. The Lazio version magically came up under suspension of the rules, and passed.

And now the Long Island legioklept has struck again. Breast cancer, Jews, and Jews. Think that's a coincidence? To Goldfinger, the third time constituted "enemy action"; Lazio may not be interesting enough to be anybody's enemy, but his idea of friendship looks awfully opportunistic.

Lazio has been a reliably pro-Israel vote in the House. But that's not really saying much; King Hussein would have been, if he had represented downstate New York. Lazio has never been a leader on Middle East issues. During the whole Holocaust-reparations business, which came before the Banking Committee he sits on, he was resistant to a class-action lawsuit, brought by a Washington firm on behalf of Holocaust survivors, to revoke the American charters of three Swiss banks. "I'd be very reluctant," Lazio told Jewish Week in 1997, "to scapegoat a couple of banks." One of those banks, the Union Bank of Switzerland, was financial adviser to Fleet Bank in its takeover of Quick & Reilly. Lazio profited from that takeover by selling his Quick & Reilly stock just before it happened.

And now, suddenly, every piece of paper that flies off Capitol Hill with the word "Israel" on it has to have "Lazio" on it, too.

Yet apparently more central to the Jewish vote than any of the above is an incredible charge against Hillary Clinton made by three hustlers that dates back 26 years, which no one gave any play to until a former National Enquirer reporter peddled the story to Rupert Murdoch's publishing house. Makes you proud to live in America's intellectual capital.

E-mail: tomasky@aol.com


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