President Clinton on Wednesday heatedly rejected critics’ efforts to equate the Whitewater controversy with the Watergate scandal that destroyed Richard M. Nixon’s presidency and he declared that $25 million worth of investigations of the Clintons’ Arkansas real estate venture have found “not a shred of evidence that we had done anything whatever wrong.”
Getting their side of the story out to the public has sometimes been so difficult, Clinton said, that he and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton sometimes relieve their frustration by laughing about it.
So determined has he been not to let the controversy distract him from larger issues, Clinton said, that until the current argument erupted over surrendering notes from a 1993 White House meeting on the subject - he would permit “no discussion of this in my household, no discussion of this in this office.”
“It’s not funny when somebody says something about you that’s not true,” he said, “but sometimes you just have to learn to laugh about it and go on.”
It was clear, however, during an hour-long interview at the White House with members of the Los Angeles Times’ Washington Bureau, that the continuing controversy has gotten deep under the president’s skin. Coming at a time when he has gained ground in his struggle with the Republican Congress and seen his own political prospects brighten for the first time in many months, the intensifying Whitewater controversy appears to be a darkening cloud over his future.
“What was Watergate about? It was about abuse of the CIA, illegal wiretaps, criminal conduct in the White House. There has not been a single, solitary soul accuse me or my wife of doing anything illegal not only in the White House, in the presidential campaign, or in the governor’s office,” Clinton said.
“This is the first time we have ever had in the history of the Republic a special inquiry dealing in some ephemeral way with something the president may or may not have done that may or may not have happened, that didn’t even include not only the administration but the campaign.”
“What I think about this is that a lot of this is politics,” he said.
As for the confrontation with Senate and House investigating committees over notes from the 1993 meeting at which White House staff lawyers and Clinton’s personal attorney discussed Whitewater, Clinton said, “these people won’t take yes for an answer.”
“I’m dying to give these notes up,” he said, and have offered to do so, provided the over-all principle of attorney-client privilege is preserved. “I never wanted to keep these notes. I have given 35,000 pages of documents up.”
Clinton, especially outraged that the Whitewater investigations increasingly are focusing on the first lady, said that it apparently is “part of the price of being president. I hope to goodness nobody else has to go through it ever,” he said.