JANUARY 16, 1996
The Senate Whitewater Committee began a new week of hearings by talking to three lawyers who worked on the Whitewater issue for the President and the First Lady. Kwame Holman reports.
KWAME HOLMAN: Appearing before the committee today were one current and two former White House lawyers, who in November 1993 met with President Clinton's personal attorney, David Kendall, to discuss the Clintons' failed land development company known as Whitewater.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, Republican Counsel: Mr. Kennedy, on November 5, 1993, you met with Mr. Kendall and other individuals at his offices in Williams & Connolly, is that correct?
WILLIAM KENNEDY, Former White House Counsel: It is, Mr. Chertoff.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF: Mr. Lindsey, you were at that meeting.
MR. LINDSEY: Yes, sir.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF: Mr. Eggleston, you were at the meeting.
MR. EGGLESTON: I was.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF: Mr. Kennedy, you prepared notes of the meeting in your own handwriting?
WILLIAM KENNEDY: That is correct, MICHAEL CHERTOFF.
KWAME HOLMAN: It was William Kennedy, associate White House counsel at the time, who kept notes at that November 1993 meeting, notes both he and the White House refused to release when Kennedy appeared before the committee in December.
SEN. ALFONSE D'AMATO, Chairman, Whitewater Committee: (December 5, 1995) I am very concerned that the White House has put us in this position where the committee is forced to spend far too much time and energy to obtain relevant evidence which we are entitled to.
KWAME HOLMAN: For a while, it appeared a constitutional crisis might result. The committee and the full Senate voted to go to court to force the White House to release the notes. But it never came to that. Just before Christmas, a deal was reached in which the White House did release the notes. Today, the Committee's Democratic counsel immediately tried to downplay the significance of both the notes and the meeting, itself.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, Democratic Counsel: Let me ask you, in your understanding, what was the purpose of the meeting?
NEIL EGGLESTON, Former White House Counsel: Mr. Ben-Veniste, by November 5th of 1993, what had been made public essentially was that there was a criminal investigation and that it-- that aspects of it touched on the President and the First Lady, not that they were subjects, not that they were targets, but that they weren't somehow involved. It became important, and I remember talking about this with Mr. Nussbaum, it became important to us that we make sure, we in the White House, make sure that we are doing the appropriate role and that there are things that we can't do. And the purpose of this meeting was--and I remember it--the purpose of this meeting was to make sure that the President and the First Lady had private counsel who would do the kinds of things that private counsel can do in connection with these kinds of matters, and there are lots of things that we as government officials can't do, and that we in the White House would do the things that were appropriate for government officials to do who are working at the White House. But my recollection is that the purpose of this meeting was to ensure that everybody had on the right hat.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE: I take it there was some understanding that you would have to continue to communicate with one another, that is, the White House lawyers and Mr. Kendall and his team of lawyers, as issues arose on a going-forward basis to make sure that something didn't fall between the cracks and that a matter was being handled in the most appropriate way possible.
NEIL EGGLESTON: I think that's absolutely accurate. I think that we anticipated that that would be a, sort of a first communication, but then over time there would be the need for additional communications between the counsel's office and Mr. Kendall as each were appropriately performing their own function in this, in this matter.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Republican Committee Counsel Michael Chertoff disputed that characterization.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF: Mr. Eggleston, you didn't after November 5th create separate spheres in which Mr. Kendall was going to be working on his own matters and you were going to be working on your own because within five days thereafter, Mr. Kendall sent you a copy of a chronology he had prepared as part of his representation as a private client which was found in your files, so there was a continued exchange of information. And you didn't take yourself out, am I not correct, you didn't then say after November 5th, look, I'm going to separate myself from Kendall, I'm going to make sure that none of the information I get as a government official is going to get over to Kendall because I'm going to create an ethical war between us. You continued to deal with Kendall, so even after November 5th, there wasn't a parting of the ways or a passing of the torch. What happened is everybody lit the same torch and went on caring, isn't that right--
KWAME HOLMAN: As for the notes Kennedy took at the meeting--
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE: What did you mean, to the best of your recollection, when you wrote this note, "vacuum," space, "Rose law files?"
WILLIAM KENNEDY: We were referring to at the meeting that there was an information vacuum, that when you tried to get your arms around Whitewater in this case, referring to the real estate investment, it's impossible to do; the records were a shambles. I had personal knowledge of that. You're dealing with an information vacuum. The Rose law files, as they related to Whitewater documents, if you had gotten your, gotten your hands on them, they would not have meant anything to you because of the condition of the records.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE: Did you or anybody at that meeting suggest in any way, shape, or form that files then existing at the Rose Law Firm should be destroyed or hidden or otherwise made unavailable?
WILLIAM KENNEDY: Absolutely not. And I don't have a prosecutorial background, but I wouldn't have tolerated it either.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Republican counsel Chertoff continued his sharp questioning of former White House lawyer Neil Eggleston, particularly on his possession of internal documents from a Small Business Administration investigation of a Whitewater-related matter.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF: Mr. Eggleston, on November 16th, you called or contacted Mr.-- someone at the Small Business Administration to get documents that had been sent to the House of Representatives, is that correct?
NEIL EGGLESTON: That is. I testified about that at great length a few weeks ago.
KWAME HOLMAN: Chertoff read from a message found in the files of Bruce Lindsey, White House adviser at the time, the message apparently written by Lindsey's secretary.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF: "Neil Eggleston said the additional information is at SBA and approximately a foot high. He has a call in to SBA to find out if it contains reference to either the President or Hillary. He can obtain a copy of the documents if it appears necessary but does not believe it is problematic."
NEIL EGGLESTON: Let me give you a slightly longer answer. It would make a lot of sense that I would have tried to talk to Mr. Lindsey. The reason I was getting these documents is that we were concerned that having been produced to Congress, there was an issue about leaks, and I testified to that last time. Mr. Lindsey at the time was the person who would probably have gotten a telephone call if there had been a leak and a press inquiry to the White House. That is absolutely as logical as it can be that I would have attempted to talk to Mr. Lindsey about this, because, in fact, that was the notion of what I was doing.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Eggleston said the press never reported the story, and so he never did show the SBA information to Bruce Lindsey.
SEN. ALFONSE D'AMATO: Now you have them. You call up the secretary. You don't remember the actual call, but the records reflect that you called, and you left a message, and the message said, "important," right? Was it important? It was important at that time, wasn't it?
NEIL EGGLESTON: It was important as of the time, of course.
SEN. ALFONSE D'AMATO: And now you're going to tell this committee you don't remember going over or going over the documents with him, somehow it didn't become important because two days later the Justice Department made some announcement?
NEIL EGGLESTON: I--
SEN. ALFONSE D'AMATO: Is that what you expect us to believe?
NEIL EGGLESTON: I am telling this committee that I believe that I did not go over these documents with Mr. Lindsey. I don't know what his recollection his, but my recollection is he did.
SEN. ALFONSE D'AMATO: So the records aren't revealing the truth then? Once again, I mean, the records aren't telling the truth.
NEIL EGGLESTON: Senator, you're going to have to draw whatever conclusions you want. I'm just--
KWAME HOLMAN: Facing an end-of-February deadline on the funding of their inquiry, the committee's Democrats and Republicans have agreed to issue a report on their findings later this month, but Republicans want to seek an extension of the hearings of up to three months, and Democrats have yet to agree to that.