An open letter to Sens. John Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy:

As a journalist, voter, part-time Vineyarder and full-time Democrat, I’m writing to urge you to produce the removed 120 pages of The Barrett Report before they foment a ruinous political scandal.

A cardinal rule of democracy holds that any candidate for elected office — and certainly for the highest office in the land — must first be cleared of any and all possible criminal charges. Witness, then, The Barrett Report, released two years ago minus 120 pages. Mr. Barrett, a Washington, D.C., attorney, had been appointed by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals to investigate possible misconduct on the part of Henry Cisneros, President Clinton’s appointed Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. It turns out, according to Washington insiders, Mr. Barrett found in his nine-year inquiry enough evidence of criminal misdeeds committed by both Clintons to sink Hillary’s presidential ship.

As we know, Senator Kerry, you and several Democratic senatorial colleagues attached a rider onto an appropriations bill hiding the potentially incriminating pages. It appears in retrospect a desperate measure to avoid the kind of transparency needed in equally desperate measure in today’s somber political skies. At the time the step was understandable, in the Machiavellian way of things. The Clintons, scalawags that they may be, were still the Democrats’ meal ticket and the party clearly wasn’t ready to bet the farm on Barack Obama. Events suggest that you and the rest of the Democratic leadership decided, perhaps reluctantly, that you had best cover for the Clintons one more time, then wait and see how things shook out when the campaigns started.

They started with a handsome win by Senator Obama in Iowa but were followed by Clinton victories in New Hampshire and Nevada. Note Bene: A wise man once observed that there are no coincidences where the Clintons are concerned. I believe that. I therefore think it was no coincidence, Senator Kerry, that you rolled into South Carolina to voice your support for Mr. Obama barely 48 hours after Mrs. Clinton captured New Hampshire. Sure enough, we saw endorsements quickly follow from California Cong. George Miller, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s right-hand man, and from Vermont’s distinguished Sen. Patrick Leahy. Then, after Mr. Obama’s two-to-one sweep in South Carolina, you, Senator Kennedy, rang in loud and clear with your coveted endorsement (along with another from your favored niece, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg) plus your pledge to campaign on Senator Obama’s behalf.

Truth: the Catch-22 in the mystery rider you saddled, Senator Kerry, is that any congressman, Democrat or Republican, may expose it merely on request. Consequence: the Republican highwaymen are waiting in the weeds, praying for Mrs. Clinton to get the nod so they can waylay her on the road to the White House. That is precisely what the Democratic leadership is devoutly determined to prevent — and thus explains at least in part why you, as the party’s last presidential candidate and sponsor of the rider, jumped in so quickly to back Mr. Obama.

This all strikes me as a very dangerous game the Democrat power structure is playing. You want Senator Obama to win the nomination next August but you don’t want to release the Barrett documents to accomplish your goal. Possibly there are some embarrassing side wages to pay in the concealed pages. Still, I put it to you gentlemen and to your colleagues that you surely can’t have it both ways. Subterfuge is risky business and the missing pages are a petard which could blow up in your faces at any moment the GOP chooses.

By my lights, both parties are guilty of first-degree cynicism in this unconscionable cover-up. The victims, as ever, are the voters. Even as we face the most crucial election year since 1932, Democrats and Republicans alike, for their own political purposes, are sitting silently on evidence which could seriously impact the outcome of the race and so the nation’s future.

It comes to this: You, Senator Kennedy, as Democratic dean of the Senate, should use the powers of your position to urge preemptive disclosure in this matter before the Republicans do it for you. I’m aware that you and Senator Clinton are longtime associates. But you have also heard her repeatedly affirm that she stands on her record. Very well; let her stand on that record in the full glow of transparency.

And you, Senator Kerry: You bear primary responsibility for burying the beast in Hillary’s basement. It’s up to you to release it.

Mark Goodman is a veteran journalist and author of the novel Hurrah for the Next Man Who Dies. He last appeared in the Gazette with a farewell to the late Ed Tyra of Edgartown.