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A White House credibility crisis

Obviously, the Clinton administration has decided it would rather resort to outrageous excuses than maintain any credibility with the American people. How else can the events of recent days be explained?

We doubt many Americans will believe the sudden appearance of White House video tapes involving the coffee klatches at the center of alleged wrongdoing was mere coincidence. Not the way it happened, one day after Attorney General Janet Reno announced she was dismissing claims the president raised money illegally from the White House.Nor are people likely to believe the omission of sound on only one of the tapes was coincidence. That tape just happens to be of a June 18 meeting involving Democratic fund-raiser John Huang, a central figure in the alleged plot to secure illegal donations to the Democratic Party from foreign nations.

Conveniently, a tape showing Democratic National Chairman Don Fowler refusing to accept five checks came complete with brilliant sound. But when Huang speaks at a meeting during which, witnesses said, he asked guests for money, there is nothing but silence.

"An honest mistake." That was the administration's official explanation, incredible in a post-Nixon America, for not knowing the tapes existed. In truth, they may have remained a secret still, except that Time Magazine learned they existed and began plans for a story in its next edition.

No one has yet offered an explanation for the incredibly well-timed audio difficulties. Another honest mistake? Or perhaps just a mistake?

If Fred Thompson needs a prescription for blood-pressure medicine, we're not surprised. He is the chairman of the Senate investigation into this sordid chapter in White House affairs. For months he has been banging his head against administration tactics craftily designed to obfuscate until time runs out, either on the investigation or on the administration's term in office.

Quite simply, the president has little to lose personally. He cannot seek re-election. But the sorry way his administration has responded to allegations of illegal fund-raising has hurt the chances Vice President Al Gore has for future political office. More importantly, they have driven a further wedge between the office of the president and the people of the United States.

Ultimately, that may be the most difficult damage to restore.