Senator Scolds Nussbaum over Role in Whitewater

By Ap | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), August 5, 1994 | Go to article overview

Senator Scolds Nussbaum over Role in Whitewater


Ap, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


In a stinging rebuke, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee told former White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum on Thursday that Nussbaum had improperly interfered with a top official's effort to remove himself from a Whitewater-related investigation.

"I think you have crossed the line," Sen. Donald W. Riegle Jr., D-Mich.,told Nussbaum. ". . . You should have bitten your tongue if you had to bite it in half."

Nussbaum, who left the White House this spring under criticism for his handling of Whitewater, took issue. He said that he had a responsibility to give his advice to Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman and that after giving that advice, he left the decision to Altman.

"I did not urge Roger Altman to stay in the case," he said. "I only asked him to consider whether he had a legal obligation to do so. A public official has a duty to do his or her duty."

The debate between Riegle and Nussbaum occurred in the 14th hour of a Senate hearing on Whitewater.

Throughout the day, senators from both parties renewed their attacks on Altman, bolstered by White House aides' testimony that Altman failed to correct earlier congressional testimony fully even after they told him it was wrong. The focal point for Nussbaum was his decision to question Altman on Feb. 2 after the deputy treasury secretary had decided to step down from any role in an investigation of a savings and loan with ties to the Clintons to avoid an appearance of a conflict.

Altman changed his mind the next day. In three weeks, he reverted to his original decision and recused himself.

Riegle said that Altman was acting in the role of independent agency head and that his decision to recuse himself from the case was his alone to make. "I think you had no right whatsover to inject yourself in any way, shape or form," Riegle told Nussbaum. "I think he felt pressure, and I think he responded to that pressure."

When Riegle finished, senator after senator continued the bipartisan tongue-lashing into the wee morning hours. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a liberal, called Nussbaum's arguments "legally ethically and politically indefensible."

The debate centered on an issue that has dominated the Whitewater hearings for five days. Republicans have suggested that White House officials - led by Nussbaum - urged Altman to stay on as overseer of the Resolution Trust Corp. …

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