Whitewater's Haunting Campaign Implications: Dangerous New Orbit

By Lambro, Donald | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 3, 1996 | Go to article overview

Whitewater's Haunting Campaign Implications: Dangerous New Orbit


Lambro, Donald, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The three convictions won by independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr have sharply escalated the seriousness of the Whitewater scandals that have threatened Bill Clinton's presidency ever since his election.

The persistent and deeply troubling issue of the president's character was already being raised by his political opponents when the jury handed down its guilty verdicts in Little Rock last week. Now the convictions of James and Susan McDougal, his former business partners, and Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, have lifted the issue into a new and more dangerous orbit for the Clintons.

The White House insisted the president was not in any way implicated in the trial. But a key prosecution witness in the trial, David Hale, testified that Mr. Clinton pressured him to give an illegal Small Business Administration-backed loan to Susan McDougal, part of which went into the Whitewater deal.

In sworn testimony delivered to the jury on videotape, the president denied he had asked Hale to make the loan. But prosecutors argued that the SBA-backed lending firm Hale ran was used by him, the McDougals and Tucker as a source of other illegal loans. The convictions suggest the jurors believed Hale and not the president and raise further questions about Hale's central charge.

The president and Mrs. Clinton have maintained throughout the Whitewater investigation that he did nothing wrong; that no charges of wrongdoing have ever been lodged against either of them; and that the entire investigation is politically motivated. But Mr. Starr's convictions proved for the first time that he and his team of criminal prosecutors have a legitimate case to make, that the Whitewater case involves bank and wire fraud, misapplication of funds and conspiracy, just for starters.

Is there enough credible evidence to bring charges against the Clintons in connection with their real estate deal? Mr. Starr will answer that soon enough. But the convictions themselves of people close to the Clintons, personally, politically and financially, raise new and much more troubling questions about the president's character, on this front as well as on other issues.

Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit continues, despite the specious claim by the president's attorney, Robert Bennett, that the case should be postponed because as commander in chief Mr. Clinton is in the military and thus is immune to lawsuits as long as he holds office. The law Mr. Bennett cited is a little-known provision in the 1940 Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act.

Thus, Mr. Clinton, who went to great lengths to avoid military service, sought to use a legal protection afforded to those who entered the armed services in time of war. Republicans immediately pounced on the legal maneuver, calling it a shameless act of legal exploitation that was "a slap in the face to the millions of men and women who are serving on active duty. …

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Whitewater's Haunting Campaign Implications: Dangerous New Orbit
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