June 16, 1996 in Nation/World

Panel To Blame First Lady Hillary Clinton Plotted Cover-Up, Committee Says

New York Times
 

The Senate Whitewater Committee, completing its 13-month investigation, has concluded that Hillary Rodham Clinton directed aides to prevent investigators from examining politically sensitive documents in the White House office of deputy counsel Vincent W. Foster Jr. after he killed himself nearly three years ago.

In a report scheduled to be made public on Tuesday, the Republicans, who control the committee, said senior White House aides impeded other investigations and close advisers of the Clintons provided “inaccurate and incomplete” congressional testimony “in order to conceal Mrs. Clinton’s pivotal role in the decisions surrounding the handling of Foster’s documents following his death.”

A copy of major portions of the report was provided to The New York Times by people involved in the congressional investigation.

The committee concluded that evidence “strongly suggests” the first lady was concerned that investigators might discover documents in Foster’s office about Whitewater or the firing of travel office staff, so she “dispatched her trusted lieutenants to contain any potential embarrassment or political damage.”

White House officials said Saturday that they had not yet seen the report, but said they considered it a purely political instrument designed by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato of New York, to help the Republicans.

“Americans understand that a report from Senator D’Amato, the chair of Bob Dole’s presidential campaign, is just not credible and amounts to nothing more than a $1 million taxpayer-subsidized press release for the Republican presidential campaign,” said Mark Fabiani, an associate White House counsel. Over the weekend, Senate Democrats worked on a minority report with conclusions far different from the Republicans’.

The aides said the Democratic version will demonstrate dozens of flaws in the Republican findings. To the Democrats, the Whitewater report reflects the kind of politically motivated inquisition they say has pervaded the investigation from its outset.

Throughout the hearing, both the White House and its congressional supporters have repeatedly challenged the assertions of the Republicans, saying they had woven a richly sinister fabric from frayed threads.

“The public deserves an objective report that separates the Whitewater facts from the Whitewater froth,” the chief Democratic counsel, Richard Ben-Veniste, said in a seven-page statement responding to the disclosure of the majority report.

“Unfortunately, the extension of these hearings directly into the presidential campaign season has provoked a high degree of partisanship which has undermined the objectivity of this investigation.”

But both the Republican and Democratic reports are laden with political baggage. While the Republicans read the 10,729 pages of testimony from 250 witnesses in the most incriminating light, accounts provided by Democrats indicate they accepted the most innocent explanations of widely conflicting testimony.

Even so, the Whitewater committee’s report is a remarkable document, if only because never before in modern history has a congressional committee so aggressively challenged a first lady.

In broad strokes, the report paints a portrait of Clinton and her associates as schemers who, for years, destroyed documents, stole sensitive files from a law firm, blocked investigators and went to great lengths to conceal the relationship between the Clintons and James and Susan McDougal.

The McDougals were the Clintons’ business partners in the 230-acre Ozark land venture known as Whitewater, and the owners of Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, which collapsed in 1989.

“At every important turn, crucial files and documents ‘disappeared’ or were withheld from scrutiny whenever questions were raised,” the report said.

Four weeks ago, the McDougals were convicted of criminal charges related to loans and deals they were involved in during the 1980s that were financed by Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan Association.

The White House has said that Madison Guaranty records that the first lady ordered destroyed while she was in private practice were part of a routine effort to reduce her firm’s paperwork.

Aides have also said she played no role in either the removal of files from her law firm after the 1992 campaign or in the handling of documents in Foster’s White House office after his death.

Congressional aides said Saturday that after the Republicans file their report with the Senate, they will ask the Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr to consider charging several senior advisers to the Clintons with lying to Congress, a federal offense.

The Republican requests for criminal prosecutions are entirely symbolic, carry no legal weight, and Fabiani of the White House characterized them as little more than a “theatrical gesture” on Saturday.

Indeed, Starr can ignore them but the referrals will provide further fodder for Republicans.

The Senate Whitewater report encompasses the three main aspects of the Senate investigation: the handling of Foster’s office after his suicide, the federal investigations into a number of associates of the Clintons, and the Arkansas banking and land transactions that were the basis for the initial Whitewater inquiries. Those sections say that senior officials in Washington abused their power by improperly disclosing confidential information about sensitive investigations.

People involved in the investigation provided The New York Times with large portions of the report on Foster’s office. Foster, who befriended the first lady when the two were in the same kindergarten class in Hope, Ark., ultimately became a law partner with Clinton and Webster L. Hubbell in Little Rock.

Foster advised the Clintons on a number of sensitive matters during the campaign, and in the early days of the administration, he was appointed the deputy White House counsel.

After Foster’s suicide on July 20, 1993, federal investigators complained that White House aides had blocked them from examining the papers in his office that investigators believed could shed light on why he had taken his life.

The White House responded that even though Foster had been a government lawyer, the Clintons had a legitimate interest in keeping his files confidential from Justice Department lawyers.

xxxx Whitewater committee’s report These are some of the conclusions of the Republican report: The actions of senior White House officials and other Hillary Rodham Clinton associates in the days after Vincent Foster’s death were part of a broader pattern that began in 1988 - concealing and destroying damaging information about the Whitewater land venture and the Clintons’ association with James McDougal and Susan McDougal. Before he died, Foster had been working on a number of politically sensitive matters for the Clintons, including the Whitewater venture and dismissal of seven officials in the White House travel office. The report said that White House officials were concerned after Foster’s death that investigators might find documents about these two affairs in his office. Clinton’s decision in 1988 to destroy her legal records of work she had done for the Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, then under investigation, was hardly routine, and may have violated ethics rules if the destruction was intended to impede investigation. The committee found it “especially troubling” that Clinton’s former law partner, Webster L. Hubbell, removed files about the savings association from the law firm when he left Arkansas in early 1993 to join the Clinton administration as associate attorney general. Later, he was convicted of embezzling nearly $500,000 from his Madison clients and partners. - New York Times


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