Whitewater Case: What's It All About?

Article excerpt

Maybe you've had the nightmare. You sit down to take a college final, only to realize that you're utterly unprepared. You don't remember signing up for the course, and you certainly didn't attend any of the classes. The combination of embarrassment and cold panic can leave you upset for hours after you wake up.

This nightmare - or some version of it - appears to be fairly common, even for eminently successful people who've been out of college for decades.

Here's mine: Some arbiter of the right of journalists to practice their calling will assemble us in some huge hall, hand us a thick blue book and a No. 2 pencil - and ask us to explain Whitewater. And I'll know with terrifying certainty that I can't do it.

It's not that I haven't been studying. I've been following the thing, more or less, since it first surfaced as another in a series of supposed moral and ethical lapses involving Bill and Hillary Clinton. I know that it has something to do with a money-losing real estate venture and a failed savings and loan association. Probably something to do with Vincent Foster, too, but I'm not sure what.

But the thing that still mystifies me is the depth and duration of the federal interest in the thing. Clinton was still a presidential candidate when The New York Times broke the story of a deal with Jim McDougal, undertaken when Clinton was attorney general of Arkansas. Hillary Clinton did some legal work for McDougal's state-chartered Madison Guaranty S&L.

Now let me be clear. I offer no defense of anything the Clintons might have done or failed to do in those long ago days. My limited point is this: If the Clintons underpaid their taxes when he was governor (the Times piece alleged an improper deduction), it should have been a matter for the Internal Revenue Service. If Hillary Clinton's legal work for an S&L whose owner was a business partner represented a conflict of interest, it would have been a legitimate issue for his campaign opponents. But if there was anything approaching felonious behavior on the part of the Clintons, I can't figure out what it is supposed to have been - or why, nearly two decades after the fact, we've got a special prosecutor and two congressional hearings delving into the thing.

Nor do they seem discouraged that they haven't turned up much of anything. …