Clintons Not Charged in Whitewater

Wednesday, September 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON – Independent Counsel Robert Ray wrapped up the six-year Whitewater investigation Wednesday without charging President and Mrs. Clinton with any wrongdoing.

With little fanfare, Ray issued a six-page statement saying there was "insufficient'' or "inconclusive'' evidence to warrant charges for any of the allegations that prompted the most expensive independent counsel inquiry in history.

He said the Clintons were investigated for allegations ranging from obstruction of justice to false testimony concerning their Arkansas business dealings, including the Whitewater real estate venture.

"This office determined that the evidence was insufficient to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that either President Clinton or Mrs. Clinton knowingly participated in any criminal conduct,'' Ray said.

The White House, which frequently battled with Ray's predecessor, Kenneth Starr, during the $52 million inquiry, politely cheered the findings.

Presidential aides who feared Ray's statement might include information that could hurt Mrs. Clinton's Senate bid in New York breathed a sigh of relief.

"Robert Ray is now the latest investigator to complete an examination of the transactions related to Whitewater Development Co. and conclude that there are no grounds for legal action,'' press secretary Joe Lockhart said.

As the statement was released, President Clinton was at a hotel across town, receiving a warm embrace from a group of black bishops. Hillary Clinton was in New York at a meeting of editors.

Ray said the office investigated whether the president gave false testimony in the trial of former Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker when he denied being aware of a fraudulent loan. The office concluded it could not prove Clinton "knew of the loan or that his testimony regarding the loan was knowingly false.''

Ray also investigated the disappearance of Mrs. Clinton's law firm billing records, which vanished after the 1992 election and mysteriously surfaced in the White House in 1996, long after they had been subpoenaed.

The prosecutor said the evidence concerning the billing records was "inconclusive'' as to whether "any person, including Mrs. Clinton, knowingly or willfully possessed the billing records with the intent to obstruct justice.''

The billing records disclosed for the first time to investigators that Mrs. Clinton had done legal work on a fraudulent land development south of Little Rock, Ark., that was owned by Jim McDougal, one of her Whitewater partners.

Ray will now focus on whether to bring criminal charges against President Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal – a matter that was added to the independent counsel's investigation in 1998 during Starr's tenure.

Ray has said that decision will be made after the president leaves office in January. A grand jury was impaneled recently in Washington to help make the decision.

The Whitewater investigation left an indelible mark, including a record $52 million bill and 14 convictions, including those of the Clintons' business partners in Whitewater, Clinton friend Webster Hubbell and Tucker.

The lone remaining matter in the original Whitewater case is an appeal involving one of Tucker's cases. Ray is not expected to retry Tucker if the appeal succeeds.

Ray's announcement ends the investigation into the failed Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan in Arkansas, owned by the Clintons' Whitewater partners, McDougal and his former wife, Susan. The thrift failed at a cost of $73 million to taxpayers.

The McDougals were convicted in a 1996 fraud trial stemming from the collapse of the S&L.

Jim McDougal died in prison and Susan McDougal served a year and a half behind bars for refusing to tell a federal grand jury whether President Clinton testified truthfully in the case.

The president swore that he knew nothing about a fraudulent federally backed $300,000 loan to the McDougals that they never repaid.

When prosecutors finally got to question Mrs. McDougal last year for the first time, she said more than 40 times that she did not recall various business deals related to Whitewater and the failing S&L, asserting that her husband had handled most financial matters.

The investigation of Mrs. Clinton focused on legal work she performed on a fraud-ridden land development called Castle Grande, owned by Jim McDougal and Little Rock businessman Seth Ward, the father-in-law of Hubbell, Mrs. Clinton's former partner.

An indictment accused Hubbell of concealing his and Mrs. Clinton's legal work on Castle Grande. Mrs. Clinton's role in the project was revealed in 1996 when her law firm billing records mysteriously turned up in the White House family residence under circumstances that have never been explained. Whitewater prosecutors had subpoenaed them two years earlier. Hubbell pleaded guilty to a felony in the case a year ago but maintains that Mrs. Clinton engaged in no wrongdoing.

Mrs. Clinton's billing records disclosed that she prepared a real estate document valuing a parcel of Castle Grande property at $400,000. The federal government got just $38,000 for it six years later following the S&L's collapse. Federal regulators concluded the S&L used the document prepared by Mrs. Clinton to deceive bank examiners about hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions paid to Ward.

Questioned about her work for the S&L, Mrs. Clinton said on 99 occasions in a 2½-hour interview with federal regulators in 1996 that she was unable to recall it.

The billing records reveal that Mrs. Clinton and Ward spoke at least 15 times from mid-November 1985 to June 1986 about Castle Grande and other business related to McDougal's S&L. Mrs. Clinton and Ward said they didn't recall the conversations. Ward died this year.

Ray's findings on Whitewater are among four different investigations he has been wrapping up.

In June, Ray found "substantial evidence'' that Mrs. Clinton played a role in the purge of the White House press travel office. She swore to congressional investigators in 1996 that she had no role in the decision to fire the employees.

In March, Ray concluded that there was no credible evidence of criminal activity in the White House's improper gathering of hundreds of FBI background files of former Republican appointees.

The Clintons have criticized the Whitewater probe as politically motivated. They grew embittered in 1996 when Whitewater prosecutors summoned Mrs. Clinton for questioning before a federal grand jury, the first time in the country's history that a first lady had been subpoenaed in a criminal investigation.