Counsel Blasts Clinton Testimony

Thursday, October 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Independent Counsel Robert Ray challenged Hillary Rodham Clinton's testimony and criticized ``uncooperative'' presidential aides in a final report on the 7-year-old controversy over mass dismissals in the White House travel office. The report became an instant issue in the first lady's Senate race in New York.

Ray concluded that Mrs. Clinton gave ``factually false'' testimony, but he decided not to prosecute her because he could not prove she intended to deceive when she denied having a role in the May 1993 purge of the travel office. Ray said Mrs. Clinton may not have even known that her contacts with presidential aides had instigated the firings.

Bill Powers, chairman of the New York state Republican Party, said the prosecutor's report ``once again makes us question'' Mrs. Clinton's believability.

``We believe that character counts in public service,'' said Mrs. Clinton's Republican opponent in the Nov. 7 election, Rep. Rick Lazio.

Mrs. Clinton's lawyer, David Kendall, called the prosecutor's conclusions about factually inaccurate testimony ``highly unfair and misleading.'' The final report ``recognizes she may not have even been aware of any influence she may have had on the firing decision,'' Kendall wrote.

Also, the White House noted that Ray's report found evidence of financial irregularities at the time of the firings inside the travel office, which handles travel arrangements for the White House press corps.

``The report recognizes that Mrs. Clinton was rightfully concerned about the financial improprieties in the travel office,'' White House press secretary Jake Siewert said Wednesday.

Outside auditors in 1993 identified at least $18,200 in missing checks and improperly recorded or unrecorded petty cash transactions in the travel office.

Locked in a tight race for the Senate, Mrs. Clinton dismissed the findings during a campaign stop in Syracuse, N.Y. ``Most New Yorkers and Americans have made up their minds about this,'' she said.

Ray singled out a number of former White House aides for engaging in ``serious resistance'' to investigators' questions about Mrs. Clinton's part in the firings, declaring that ``witnesses were uncooperative in this office's investigation.''

Ray cited former White House chief of staff Mack McLarty, ex-deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes, Lisa Caputo, Patsy Thomasson and Jeff Eller. Caputo is Mrs. Clinton's former press secretary, Thomasson is a former deputy of David Watkins, who fired the travel office employees, and Eller is a former deputy press secretary.

McLarty insisted he had been ``completely forthcoming and truthful at all times'' with investigators, who asserted that McLarty had given varying accounts of a conversation with Mrs. Clinton.

Ickes told prosecutors he had no memory of a two-hour meeting eight days before the travel office firings with Hollywood producer Harry Thomason, a key figure in the controversy. At the time, Ickes was a private attorney.

Ickes told Ray's office he had ``no idea'' where the meeting with Thomason was held, that he did not ``recall who was there, if anyone,'' what city it was held in or what was discussed.

Prosecutors said Eller claimed a lack of memory more than 200 times in less than two hours of grand jury testimony.

The continuing White House e-mail controversy also played a role in Ray's final report, with the prosecutor saying computer messages received in June this year could have been used to refresh the recollection of Eller had they been available during the investigation. Because of a computer problem that the White House failed to disclose, thousands of e-mails were never turned over to investigators.

Two e-mails to Eller included in Ray's report suggest that White House aides knew a full week beforehand that the travel office employees were to get the ax.

``I am glad that it will be over by next weekend,'' White House aide Catherine Cornelius, a distant cousin of President Clinton, messaged Eller seven days before the purge. ``Gosh, Jeff, by next week I may really be the director of this office, officially.''


On the Net: Independent Counsel report: