Magazine article Insight on the News

Aide Swears Clinton Knew: Recently Discovered Deposition by Former Chief of Staff Says Drug- and Gunrunning Were Known

Magazine article Insight on the News

Aide Swears Clinton Knew: Recently Discovered Deposition by Former Chief of Staff Says Drug- and Gunrunning Were Known

Article excerpt

Recently discovered deposition by former chief of staff says drug-and gunrunning were known.

When did Bill Clinton first learn there was an alleged drug-smuggling operation -- and one possibly linked to Iran-Contra -- being run from Arkansas? What did he and his gubernatorial staff do when they found out that narcotics as well as guns were being flown brazenly in and out of the remote airport at Mena in southwestern Arkansas?

Both questions have been asked many times and are likely to figure prominently in the Mena inquiry just started by the House Banking and Financial Services Committee. (See "Truth & Consequences," Jan. 29. In a rare public comment Clinton made about Mena when he was Arkansas governor, he insisted he didn't know anything was amiss at Mena until 1988, a couple of years after Iran-Contra operations had ceased and about 24 months after the murder of Barry Seal, the chief Mena narcotics trafficker.

Now an oral deposition by Clinton's former gubernatorial chief of staff, just unearthed by Insight, casts new light on the timing of the then-governor's knowledge about alleged drug smuggling at Mena and prompts questions about why he did not use his authority to stop the illegal activity.

The deposition by Betsey Wright, which has been in the public record for five years but went unnoticed as part of a lengthy tort action, suggests that the Mena problem was well known at the governor's mansion a good three years before Clinton said he first learned about it. According to Wright, the governor's mansion was being inundated as early as 1985 with complaints from both citizens and law-enforcement officers worried about the strange nighttime flights from the secluded Mena Intermountain Regional Airport.

In the deposition, which was taken July 29,1991, for a slander suit brought by former U.S. Attorney Asa Hutchinson, Wright was asked when she first heard of Seal. She responded: "Not too long after I went to the governor's office, when I began getting calls from people in the Mena area of great concern about what kind of activities he was involved in," Pressed about dates, she acknowledges in her deposition that she first heard about drugs and Mena just "prior to `85" and that there was an increase in calls "after `85."

Wright, who is still one of Clinton's closest confidants, said that all information received at the governor's mansion about Mena was passed on to the Arkansas State Police, in particular to then-commander Tommy Goodwin. "I had the director of the state police talk to everybody who called us about it and then, as time went on and the increasing calls were from people demanding that the governor convene a grand jury, I felt like I spent a lot of time doing basic civics about the power of the governor and lack thereof about convening grand juries."

Despite all this Mena activity identified by Wright, Clinton has claimed he knew nothing about Seal and the allegations of massive drug trafficking until 1988. …

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