FEBRUARY 22, 1996
KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate Whitewater Committee received more than 100 pages of documents from the White House Tuesday night, documents it had subpoenaed months ago. This morning, Committee Chairman Alfonse D'Amato opened the hearings, making it clear he was not at all pleased with the cooperation shown by the Clinton administration.
SEN. ALFONSE D'AMATO, Chairman, Senate Whitewater Committee: I find it unacceptable to have a pattern which I can only describe as un--unacceptable, where the White House and its chief aides continue a pattern that is certainly contemptuous of good procedure that borders on deliberate withholding of information, or at the very least, total and ineffectual efforts to attempt to be cooperative. It is one or the other.
KWAME HOLMAN: The newly-arrived documents are notes belonging to Deputy White House Chief of Staff Harold Ickes, the committee's loan witness today. Ickes took the notes during a 1994 meeting of a White House response team formed to handle press inquiries about President and Mrs. Clinton's Whitewater land investment in Arkansas and its connection to the failure of Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan of Little Rock.
HAROLD ICKES, White House Deputy Chief of Staff: There was no attempt whatsoever to hide anything, to keep anything back from this Committee. I think if you look at the substance of those documents, there's nothing of critical importance in there. Obviously, this Committee has a right to have those documents. I made a mistake and I apologize to the Committee for that. But the fact of the matter is this White House has made every attempt exceeding--exceeded by no White House in the history of the republic--to cooperate with this Committee, with House Committees, with independent prosecutors. We have turned over fourteen some thousand pages of documents, I'm told, to this Committee alone. We have turned over fifty to sixty thousand documents in total to various committees and the independent counsel. We are not hiding anything.
KWAME HOLMAN: But the hearing was filled with heated exchanges, as Republican Counsel Michael Chertoff pressed Ickes about the Clintons' interest in investigations related to Whitewater.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, Republican Counsel: Did you have discussions with the President concerning the question of the possible exposure that the President and Mrs. Clinton might have with respect to an RTC investigation of the Rose Law Firm?
HAROLD ICKES: Well, are you reading from testimony that I've given, Mr. Chertoff.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF: No. I'm asking--
HAROLD ICKES: If so, I'd like to see it.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF: I'm asking you a question, Mr. Ickes.
HAROLD ICKES: Are you reading from testimony, Mr. Chertoff? Because if you are, I would like to see it.
SEN. ALFONSE D'AMATO: Mr. Ickes, Mr. Ickes, you don't ask the questions here. All right? We ask the questions. And it would appear fairly obvious that Mr. Chertoff had to ask the question two or three times to get a response as it related to whether or not you communicated with the President with respect to Whitewater. And then--
HAROLD ICKES: He used the word--
SEN. ALFONSE D'AMATO: Excuse me.
HAROLD ICKES: Mr. Chairman, he used the word--
SEN. ALFONSE D'AMATO: Now, wait a minute, Mr. Ickes. You may be deputy chief of the White House, and you give orders there, and we're going to try to be fair, and we will be fair, but try to be responsive. Now, I'm going to ask--
HAROLD ICKES: I'm trying to do that, Mr. Chairman. I think I've testified before at least twice, if not three times, Mr. Chertoff, that I did have conversations. I wouldn't say they were about exposure, and I do not recall at what time I had those conversations, when I had those conversations, where I had those conservations, or whom was present.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democratic Counsel Richard Ben-Veniste tried to defuse the matter by asking Ickes to review his notes taken during a meeting of the Whitewater Response Team.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, Democratic Counsel: Now I think the important thing is to see what is it in the notes, look at that carefully, and get your best recollection about those events.
HAROLD ICKES: Well, one, one issue that was being discussed at that time was the release of documents, and as you recall, there had been a subpoena that had been negotiated between Mr. Kendall and the Department of Justice in late December of the preceding year, and I think the notes say here release of documents on the advice of counsel and totally--probably should read total--but totally cooperation--and I take that to mean that there was a--that the discussion there was that there should be complete and total cooperation as had been promised by the President with respect to the release of documents. We should spend, I think as I read my handwriting, it should be, we should speak, and the question there is who should speak and in what terms. A lot of the people at the White House were talking about Whitewater at that time. Some were informed; some were misinformed. Quite frankly, we were getting hammered by the press because of misinformation, not wittingly, but inadvertently, it was coming out of the White House, and one thing we wanted to do was to limit the number of people who were speaking about Whitewater so that--and when I use Whitewater, I use that in a broad, generic sense--so that accurate information would be coming out from the White House.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Utah President Orrin Hatch wanted to know just what the Clintons' concerns were over the possible appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Whitewater.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: During this January 4th meeting, did Mrs. Clinton express concerns during that meeting that an independent counsel should not be appointed?
HAROLD ICKES: As I recall, her concerns were, No. 1, that they, meaning she and her husband, had done nothing wrong; No. 2, there was no predicate for the appointment of an independent or special counsel, and she was concerned about the fact that if mere allegations were sufficient, then you'd have special counsels being appointed any time somebody raised an allegation without laying the requisite predicate.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democrat Christopher Dodd of Connecticut concluded none of the released documents point to any wrongdoing by wrongdoing by anyone at the White House.
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Is there anything that you've seen in these documents that contradicts earlier statements or earlier evidence that this committee has received?
HAROLD ICKES: Not to my knowledge.
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: You saw them and you went, Holy Cowboy, this is really going to hurt us?
HAROLD ICKES: No, not to my knowledge. I mean, obviously, people can put different interpretations and different glosses on words, but to my knowledge and from my viewpoint, the answer is no, Senator.
SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, I know we play "gocha" up here a lot with witnesses to try and snare people, but I think we need to get to the, say to the bottom line.
KWAME HOLMAN: Nevertheless, Committee Chairman Alfonse D'Amato said the delays in getting documents from the White House leave him no choice but to ask the Senate to extend the Committee's hearings beyond their scheduled expiration next week.