Linda & John & Webb & Suzy
York, Byron, The American Spectator
On March 14, 1994, the CBS Evening News began with word of a big shake-up in the Clinton administration. "Another high-ranking member of the Clinton team was pulled down tonight in the spreading undertow of Whitewater," anchorwoman Connie Chung announced. "The latest to resign: Webster Hubbell, a high-ranking official at the Justice Department with close ties to the president and Mrs. Clinton." Chung tossed to correspondent Rita Braver, who reported the story from Detroit, where President Clinton was attending a jobs conference; then to Bob Schieffer, who covered reaction on Capitol Hill, and finally to Linda Douglass, who was traveling with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in Colorado.
Douglass reported that Mrs. Clinton was trying to keep the focus on her health care initiative-and away from Whitewater. But she wasn't having much luck; everywhere she turned, journalists seemed more interested in her role in the Arkansas land deal. The experience was clearly troubling for the first lady, Douglass reported, and Douglass herself seemed almost saddened by the turn of events in Washington. She concluded her report on a faintly elegiac note: "This was a difficult day for Mrs. Clinton as she watched another close friend, Webster Hubbell, forced from public life," Douglass said. "She had urged him and other friends to join her to serve in Washington; yet despite her power, she's had to watch some of them fall and has been unable to protect them. Linda Douglass, CBS News, Denver."
What CBS viewers could not have known was that Webb Hubbell-who later pleaded guilty to stealing $q.oo,ooo from his old law firm and cheating on his taxes-was not just the first lady's friend. He was also a friend of Linda Douglass. From the earliest days of the Clinton administration, Douglass and her husband, an influential public interest lawyer named John Phillips, socialized often with Hubbell and his wife Suzy. Within weeks of Hubbell's resignation, Phillips put together a deal by which a California non-profit group paid Hubbell $45,ooo to write a series of articles on the idea of public service. Later, Phillips and Douglass picked up much of the tab when they and the Hubbells flew to Greece for a ten-day vacation cruising the Aegean Sea. They stayed in touch after Hubbell pleaded guiltyand even after Hubbell went to prison.
Phillips's financial help for Hubbell attracted the attention of investigators from Dan Burton's House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, which is probing, among other things, payments made to Hubbell at the time when he was a potentially crucial witness for Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr (Phillips, who is not suspected of any wrongdoing, has also testified before Starr's grand jury). Last summer Phillips was interviewed at length by Burton's lawyers. His depositionwhich was only recently made public-provides the most detailed account yet of one of Hubbell's lucrative deals.
But it tells another story as well-of a dilemma that has become particularly acute since the Clinton administration came to power. It's well known that there is a cozy relationship between some journalists and newsmakers in the capital. For example, CBS's Rita Braver is married to Washington lawyer Bob Barnett, an important Clinton backer who was the president's first choice to defend him in the Whitewater matter (he declined in light of his wife's position as the network's White House correspondent). Todd Purdum, a reporter for the New York Times, dated press secretary Dee Dee Myers at the same time he covered the administation (they married in 1997). And Matthew Cooper of Newsweek, who has written extensively on Clinton, last year married Mandy Grunwald, who played a critical role in the 1992 Clinton campaign and is now a frequent defender of the White House.
Such intimate ties among the mainstream press, top executive branch officials, and White House operatives were far less common-almost unheard of-during the Reagan and Bush years. …