PREFACE TO THE MINORITY WHITEWATER REPORT
JUNE 18, 1996
In the following preface to their version of the Senate Whitewater committee's report, Senate Democrats argue that Senate Republicans failed to prove that any wrong-doing occurred and criticize the partisan atmosphere in which the committee worked in.
Kwame Holman reports on the Republican charges contained in the Whitewater report and the misgivings about the whole investigation detailed in the Senate Democrats' report.
Senators Robert Bennett (R-UT) and Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) debate the accuracy of the report's findings and how much partisan politics played in the Whitewater committee's work.
NewsHour regular political commentors Shields & Gigot put the twin reports in perspective.
Sen. Alfonse D'Amato's statement on the release of the Whitewater report. Sen. D'Amato was chair of the Whitewater committee.
MAY 28: Hillary Clinton discusses Whitewater and her role in the White House with Jim Lehrer.
FEB. 22: Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes testifies before the Whitewater committee.
DEC 15: Sen. Alfonse D'Amato and Sen. Paul Sarbanes debates the merits of the Whitewater committee's investigations.
Click here for a complete list of The NewsHour's coverage of Whitewater
The central question that faced the Special Committee is: Did Bill Clinton misuse the powers of the Presidency? The answer is a clear and unequivocal "no."
A secondary question is whether, prior to his election as President, Mr. Clinton used his official position in the State of Arkansas improperly to provide favored treatment to business associates or others. In its exhaustive review of various allegations extending back to the 1970s in some instances, the Committee examined in excruciating detail a number of matters in Arkansas ranging from the handling of water and sewer legislation to state regulation of the sale of alcoholic beverages. Again, the clear conclusion is that then-Governor Clinton did not abuse his office.
Having failed to tarnish the President, the Majority turned its attention to Mrs. Clinton's private law practice in Arkansas more than ten years ago. The Majority launched a massive hunt for some way in which to contradict statements made by Mrs. Clinton during the last four years. Again, no credible evidence has been put forward to show that Mrs. Clinton engaged in any improper, much less illegal, conduct.
The public deserves an objective report that separates the facts developed in the Senate Whitewater inquiry from the superheated and untenable conclusions that pervade the Majority's 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. Partisanship has colored the Majority's decisions in conducting the inquiry and in reaching conclusions that clearly are intended for political impact. It is now evident that this Committee's business easily could have been concluded within the original February 29, 1996 deadline. When a parallel situation presented itself as the Iran-Contra hearings threatened to spill over into the political season, Democrats concurred in bringing the hearings to a prompt close. That was the right decision and one that future Senate committees should follow as a more worthy precedent than the Whitewater example.
The Majority's pattern throughout these hearings has been to construct conclusions first and then to discard the facts as they become inconvenient. One after another, the partisan conspiracy theories about Whitewater -- from the alleged shredding of documents at the Rose Law Firm, to the so-called "mystery phone call," to the "all-important" White House e-mails -- have turned into dry holes.
Lacking any credible case against the President, the Majority is now engaging in a blatantly political game of "tag" by tarring several witnesses with unsupportable suggestions of perjury in a bid to grab media attention. The political grandstanding of these "perjury referrals" is a tactic also used after the 1994 hearings. Margaret Williams, for instance -- a favorite target of the Majority -- has passed two lie detector tests, which corroborate her testimony that she did not remove documents from Foster's office on the night of his death. Yet, the Majority seeks to discount Williams's lie detector tests -- performed first by a retired FBI polygraph instructor and confirmed by a present FBI expert under the supervision of the Independent Counsel. In the bargain, the Majority report takes on the reliability of polygraph testing, which the FBI has depended on for decades in investigations involving the highest levels of national security.
Taken as a whole, the Majority's approach to its report has been to hammer evidence -- no matter how ill-fitting -- into the precast mold of its conclusions. A perfect example of this refusal to modify its preordained conclusion by reference to the facts is revealed by the Majority's treatment of the April 5, 1985 fundraiser hosted by James McDougal for Governor Clinton at Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan. The Majority began the inquiry with the conclusion that there was a quid pro quo involving the fundraiser and the decision of an Arkansas state agency -- ADFA -- to lease office space from Madison Guaranty. To a fair-minded investigator, two obstacles to reading such a conclusion would be presented: 1) the fact that the lease for office space was entered into more than a full year before McDougal's fundraiser, and 2) the evidence showed that Governor Clinton played no role in selecting the office site or negotiating the terms of the lease. When the evidence at the public hearing demonstrated the circumstances under which the Madison space was chosen, a Member of the Majority registered his consternation at this departure from the Republican game plan:
Mr. Chairman, isn't the point here simply to draw a conclusion that [then-Governor Clinton] played a major role in the selection of this building?
Inconveniently, the evidence once again rebutted the preconceived conclusion, yet that conclusion is the one relied upon by the Majority in its final report.
More than finding no abuse of office by Bill Clinton, the evidence gathered by the Committee shows that then-Governor Clinton demonstrated independence from political supporters doing business with State government. Three examples from the Committee's exhaustive review of Governor Clinton's twelve-year tenure as governor of Arkansas are representative of our findings in this area. In 1983, Marlin Jackson, the Arkansas State Banking Commissioner, informed Governor Clinton of bank regulatory problems at the Bank of Kingston, a small bank in northern Arkansas that James McDougal purchased after leaving a senior post in Governor Clinton's first administration. Jackson testified that he mentioned the Bank of Kingston problem as a "litmus test" to see if the young governor would seek to influence Jackson and obtain favorable treatment for a political supporter. Clinton passed Jackson's test: Jackson testified that Governor Clinton told him:
You do whatever you need to do to be a good, no, to be a great Bank Commissioner and don't worry about the political consequences. It doesn't matter who is involved. I'll take the political heat. You just do whatever you need to do to be a great Bank Commissioner.
Four years later, in another situation involving James McDougal, Governor Clinton showed the same good judgment and respect for the independence of state regulatory officials. McDougal requested a meeting with Governor Clinton and State Health Department officials to present a grievance about unfair treatment by state sanitarians inspecting sewage disposal systems at one of the Madison Guaranty real estate developments. McDougal behaved badly at the meeting, attacking the Health Department officials and accusing them of misconduct. Governor Clinton supported the state officials at the meeting. He reprimanded McDougal for his conduct in front of Health Department officials. Most important, after the meeting, Governor Clinton pulled aside Tom Butler, the Deputy Director of the State Health Department, and told him to "do what you have to do, and you will not hear another word from me." Once again, Governor Clinton made it perfectly clear to a state regulator that James McDougal should not receive any special treatment.
One final example of Governor Clinton's actions in Arkansas is worth noting. About 1984, Dan Lasater, a strong political supporter of Governor Clinton who had helped Clinton regain the Governor's office in 1982 after an upset loss in 1980, requested a meeting to complain to the Governor that his investment firm was not getting its fair share of the state bond business. Governor Clinton met with Lasater, listened to his complaint, then told him that he should make his case to the appropriate State officials. Although it would have been easy for him to do so, Governor Clinton did not tell Lasater that he would intervene in the matter. Lasater left the meeting "disappointed" that he had not obtained the result he had hoped to obtain. Again, Governor Clinton did not intervene on behalf of a political supporter.
These examples lead a fair-minded reader to the same conclusion that will follow from a review of the entire, lengthy report: Governor Clinton did not misuse his office, as Governor of Arkansas, or as President.
These examples also underscore another important point. Governor Clinton, of course, was an elected public official when these events took place. As an elected official he was answerable to his constituents, and it was his responsibility to listen to their complaints. All elected public officials, at the state, local, and even the national level, must do this -- it is part of the job. To do this job properly, however, a public official must exercise good judgment, so as to be responsive to constituents without going too far and interfering with the actions of career government officials who also are discharging their responsibilities. Governor Clinton's actions some ten years ago in Arkansas, as illustrated, met the test then of proper conduct by an elected official, and they meet that test now.
The venom with which the Majority focuses its attack on Hillary Rodham Clinton is surprising, even in the context of the investigation. No attempt is made to place into perspective the relative importance to the American people of whether Mrs. Clinton has a specific recollection today of every memorandum, phone call, and detail of every case she handled in her private law practice in Little Rock over a decade ago.
Every act is portrayed in its most sinister light, every failure of recollection is treated as though the standard for human experience is total recall and photographic memory.
Perhaps the most sensationalized conclusions of the Majority involved the handling of Vincent Foster's papers. The crux of the disagreement between White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum and Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann was whether Nussbaum's insistence on being the one to review Foster's files in the presence of Justice Department lawyers and law enforcement officials would create an unfortunate appearance problem for the White House. Heymann agreed that, legally, the Park Police investigators had no right to enter the office and search the files, nor could Justice Department lawyers obtain a search warrant or subpoena. While Heymann was clearly prescient about the public and political fallout from Nussbaum's decision, who is to say that Nussbaum wasn't right also in believing that even if the Justice Department lawyers had taken part in the search, critics of the Administration would simply charge a broader conspiracy?
Irresponsible claims of possible obstruction of justice simply ignore the testimony of law enforcement officials who came before the Committee: that the investigation into Vincent Foster's death -- the only investigation involving the review of the office files -- was not obstructed; that the investigators were provided every document or file they requested; that the investigators had absolutely no interest in reviewing financial records or files involving personal investments of the Clintons such as Whitewater; and that the investigators' interest was limited to reviewing a suicide note or other information bearing on the cause for Foster's suicide.
The Majority's pursuit of White House officials involved in searching for a suicide note in the aftermath of Foster's death is equally irresponsible. Senator Dodd captured the spirit of the Majority's onslaught during a hearing in November, 1995:
Senator Dodd. Mr. Chairman, just on this point, and I think it is very important, this gets to the reality. But what I was getting at earlier and what we're doing here in a sense is there are sort of three fact situations. You get a witness that says well, I don't recall. The immediate accusation is you're being disingenuous.
If you have witnesses with conflicting testimony, the allegation is someone's lying. And if you have witnesses that have consistent statements, it's a conspiracy.
This is getting ridiculous. So you're trapped no matter what you say ... You're either disingenuous, lying or conspiring, and that's just foolishness.
The game of leaking information has marred the Committee's credibility throughout these proceedings. Often, distorted or even baseless charges have been disseminated through faceless leaks. The recent, well-orchestrated leak of the Majority report is but part of a pattern.
The supposed short-term benefits of leaking will be offset by the longer-term diminution of credibility that the Majority must suffer for these blatantly political and unfair tactics.
The Minority report was not leaked. It was released according to the rules. In it, the subjects set forth in Senate Resolution 120 are analyzed according to the testimony and documents presented. We look forward to the opportunity to present the facts to the American public in contrast to the overheated assertions by the Majority, which have characterized its approach to this investigation.
Not including the Senate Banking Committee's hearings in 1994, the Senate Whitewater Committee in 1995 and 1996 met for more than 300 hours in open sessions, taking 10,729 pages of hearing testimony in 51 hearings and 8 public meetings. The Committee received hearing testimony from 159 witnesses and took more than 35,000 pages of deposition testimony from 245 persons. Hundreds of thousands of pages of documents have been provided to the Committee by various government departments, agencies, and individuals.
The White House has produced more than 15,000 pages of documents, and the Clintons' attorney has produced nearly 30,000 pages more.
Direct costs of the various Whitewater inquiries now exceed $31,849,795 (as of May, 1996), including: $400,000 from the Senate Banking Committee's 1994 hearings (Senate Resolution 229), $950,000 through the initial charter of the D'Amato hearings (Senate Resolution 120), approved May 17, 1995), and another $450,000 for an extension this year approved by the Senate (Senate Resolution 246, approved April 17, 1996); $3,800,000 for the Resolution Trust Corporation's contract with the Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro law firm, for the production of its report; and $26,249,795 by the Office of the Independent Counsel (through May, 1996). Costs of the various Whitewater inquiries in the House of Representatives and agency work to comply with inquiries while not separately accounted for amount to significant additional sums.
This has been the longest-running congressional investigation of any sitting president, far longer than Watergate or Iran-Contra -- both of which involved actual abuse of government power. The facts gathered by the Committee are more than enough to close this chapter. The American people deserve to know, and now can take comfort in knowing, that this year-long investigation shows no misconduct or abuse of power by their President or First Lady.