|WRAPPING UP WHITEWATER|
September 20, 2000
Terence Smith discusses the case with Michael Chertoff, counsel to the Republicans, and Richard Ben Veniste, counsel to the Democrats.
TERENCE SMITH: We get the perspectives of two men who were opposing
counsels during the Senate Whitewater Committee investigations from
1995 through 1996. Michael Chertoff was counsel to the Republicans,
Richard Ben-Veniste to the Democrats. They are both now in private practice.
Welcome to you both, gentlemen.
|Reaction to Ray's report|
| RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, Former Senate Democratic Whitewater
Counsel: With respect to the Whitewater investigation, I think he has
paid an inheritance tax of Mr. Starr taking so long and still not coming
to a conclusion with respect to the Whitewater investigation. 1996, after
an 18-month very intense investigation where we went into excruciating
detail on Whitewater, we produced a volume of 673 pages, analyzing the
Whitewater... all of these elements of the Whitewater investigation. And
it came to the conclusion that there was nothing there. It was for everyone
in the country to see. This report may now have some value with insomniacs
through the land, but not much else. And one can properly ask why it took
Kenneth Starr the ensuing three years until he resigned and still could
not bring himself to announce that there was no "there" there
in terms of any criminal responsibility by the Clintons.
TERENCE SMITH: Let's let Michael Chertoff comment on that and the report and Mr. Ray's remarks.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, Former Senate Republican Whitewater Counsel: I think Richard's not be totally fair. Obviously this was a serious issue, serious questions were raised concerning the conduct of a lot of people back in Arkansas at the time of the events that were being looked at. Obviously a lot of convictions were produced. But I do have to agree that as of 1996, when our report was produced, and certainly shortly thereafter when Mr. McDougal started to cooperate with Mr. Starr, there was before the prosecutor essentially all the facts. And while people may disagree about whether what was done in Arkansas was proper or not, I think in terms of the evidence, the prosecutor had what he needed to make a decision, and he had an obligation to make a decision fairly quickly. So I have to agree to some extent that I'm surprised that after four additional years, when I look at what was produced by Mr. Ray today, I don't see very much more than we knew back in 1996 and 1997.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Let me can ask you both, you first Mr. Chertoff, about the timing of this announcement with about six-and-a-half weeks before the election.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF: Well, it's certainly got to be welcomed by Mrs. Clinton, and it's certainly better before the election then after the election. I have to ask myself why we didn't have it two years ago and why it was necessary to keep things open up until the year 2000. Now, perhaps there are matters in the grand jury that we don't know about that will be revealed that will explain what additional time was necessary. But this has clearly been a process that has been too long and has resulted in an answer that frankly we probably could have heard a considerable period of time earlier.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay. Richard Ben-Veniste, what do you say about the timing?
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE: I find it very hard to disagree with Michael here. I'm almost at a loss for words. He's become extremely reasonable with the passage of time. There is no reason why this report could not have been summarized, the conclusion summarized well before Mrs. Clinton even announced her intention to run for the Senate. So in the sense, yes, it's welcome. Were people sitting on tender hooks waiting for this conclusion, I don't think so. It was quite clearly there wasn't anything there a long time ago -- when Mr. Starr did what he could to advocate President Clinton's impeachment, not one word was mentioned about Whitewater. So we have a quite good idea up until today that there was nothing. And so this is the final shoe of the Whitewater centipede, which has had, I don't know how many shoes dropped before.
|A legitimate investigation?|
TERENCE SMITH: Was the investigation, in your opinion, legitimate to begin with?
MICHAEL CHERTOFF: Let me...
TERENCE SMITH: I'm sorry. Mr. Chertoff, you want to come in on this?
MICHAEL CHERTOFF: Yes. Let me answer that. I hear Richard say there was nothing there. I don't think that's quite fair. Whether you look at the conviction record or you look at the substantial issues raised in the report, and Richard and I may disagree about those issues, clearly there were serious questions about the conduct of the governor and the then-first lady of Arkansas in their dealing with this fraudulent savings and loan and the subsequent investigations thereafter. But those were not criminal questions. And I do think that in deciding whether to bring a criminal case, a prosecutor has a very high standard to consider. And I think in this case Mr. Ray reached his judgment and had an obligation to announce that as quickly as possible.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Now let's get Richard Ben-Veniste's comment on that, as well.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE: In terms of the evaluation of this information, it was often very early on. The in the light was intensely shined on this process. And all of the facts relating to Whitewater. When I say there was nothing there, it's quite clear there was no ground to bring a criminal case. And we knew that years ago. Why it took so long to come to this point is a question which I think most Americans have already answered for themselves.
TERENCE SMITH: Well, let me ask you about that. This is a 52 million dollar investigation and still counting. On and of a $73 million bank failure. Does that add up to you?
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE: Well, it doesn't add up, and the bank failure was certainly not the direct product of this Whitewater investment. Moreover, 52 or 58, whichever figure you hear in millions, it doesn't sound like much if you say it fast in Washington. But that's only the direct cost. The indirect costs are a multiple of that, in terms of the diversion, the time spent, the cost to individuals, the payment of attorney fees by honest government employees who have been put through the wringer, called before the grand jury repeatedly and harassed, these are some of the excesses that occurred during the course of this investigation which at the cost of substantial credibility I'm sorry to say for the federal investigatory process.
|Criminal indictment of President Clinton?|
| TERENCE SMITH: Michael Chertoff, what do you expect to
come next? In other words, there's a grand jury impaneled. Mr. Ray still
has the Monica Lewinsky matter to look into. Are we looking at an indictment
of a former President next year?
MICHAEL CHERTOFF: Well, you know, I think this indicates one of the problems with the independent counsel process, which thankfully I think we're now done with, which is we announce public investigations. There's an immediate clamor for some kind of a result. There's a countdown to when that result is going to come. And the result is to put enormous pressure on prosecutors to produce something. I think the normal model, which is preferable, is to conduct investigations in secret. If there's a case, you bring the case and you stand up in court and you present it. If there's no case, you close it quietly and no one is the wiser. So I think, you know, we ought to try to revert to that model. If and when a charge is brought, that's worth addressing and dealing with and watching the court proceeding. And if no charge is brought, then I think the matter ought to be put to rest.
TERENCE SMITH: Richard Ben-Veniste, do you expect, what do you anticipate?
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE: I have a slightly different take. Since the only thing left is the Monica Lewinsky matter and we have again an excruciating, painful detail gone through the facts relating to that, what is there left to investigate? And why can that not... That chapter also be closed in terms of any criminal prosecution?
TERENCE SMITH: Do you take, picking up on Jim's last questions, there do you take the fact that he did not choose to close it now, that Robert Ray did not, evidence that he's seriously considering an indictment?
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE: Well, he said he is seriously considering this investigation. And I take him to be a serious person. My question is why this matter could not have been resolved very shortly after the impeachment.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay. Gentlemen, we have to leave it there. Thank you both very much.