James Stewart is the author of a book on Whitewater, Blood Sport: The
President and his Adversaries (Simon & Schuster). A former page one editor
of The Wall Street Journal, he is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a
contributor to The New Yorker and Smart Money.
Peter Carbonara is the reporter for FRONTLINE's "Once Upon a Time in
Q: Do you agree with any of the criticisms of independent counsel Kenneth
Starr: that he's either hopelessly partisan or now just simply stuck in an
investigation he can't end?
Stewart: I think it's important to remember that Ken Starr never was a
prosecutor before and I don't think he was probably prepared for the kind of
criticism he would take. . . . As to whether he's a partisan, obviously the
assignment - looking into alleged wrongdoing by people in a Democratic
administration - is something that would appeal to a Republican. But beyond
that I don' t think he's done anything showing particularly partisan zeal.
Is he stuck? Obviously, he's stuck. This thing has so many players and so many
of the key participants, like Susan McDougal, are not cooperating with him...I
think he'll get out of it, though he may not get the Supreme Court
Q: At Jim McDougal's trial last year, David Hale testified that President
Clinton was present at one meeting concerning a bogus Small Business
Administration loan. Do you think a case could be made that President Clinton
perjured himself when he denied that?
Stewart: It's unlikely. The two witnesses, McDougal and Hale, are both
convicted felons....they were telling different stories before and now they are
both cooperating with Starr...There have been some hints that there might be a
third witness somewhere.
Q: The other prime potential target is Mrs. Clinton and it's been suggested
tghat she might be indicted for obstruction of justice in connection with the
reappearance of her Rose Law Firm billing records. She and her apologists,
though, have said the substance of the records - her work on the Castle Grande
deal - is, if anything, exculpatory.
Stewart: I don't think any fairminded person can look at those records and
call them exculpatory. I think the White House has gone way overboard in
saying that. There was, you may remember, a torturous argument put forward by
David Kendall - not Mrs. Clinton - that she knew that deal by another name,
IDC. [Ed.--Before the billing records reappeared, Mrs. Clinton said that she
had done no legal work connected to the Castle Grande Development.] Well all
right, technically the entity was known as IDC but nobody in Little Rock,
nobody in the Rose firm called it anything but Castle Grande. That really just
Q: Do you think a case could be made against Mrs. Clinton for concealing those
Stewart: I don't know what Mrs. Clinton told the grand jury about that...all
we know is that those records were at the Rose firm and then somehow they wound
up in the White House.
Q: To prove obstruction, Starr would have to be able to find at least one
witness who could say that Mrs. Clinton had control of the records at the time
they were under subpoena and deliberately withheld them.
Stewart: Right. Obviously, you'd need to establish the chain of custody.
But even if you could, proving her state of mind was a criminal state of mind
would be difficult.
Q: Gene Lyons and others have criticized you and the other reporters who have
covered Whitewater for being too aggressive, for looking for crimes where there
are none. Do you think that's a fair charge?
Stewart: As far as Gene Lyons argument goes, my posi tion is 180 degrees
opposite. ..I was amazed at how, given the resources of the electronic
newsmedia who went down to Little Rock after Jeff Gerth's first Whitewater
story in the New York Times, how little new information came out of that
exercise. I think it was a sorry lesson in what passes for investigative
journalism in some quaters... If anything the media should have been more
aggressive. I mean these were important allegations of potentially criminal
activity by someone who at the time was a candidate and is now the President of
the United States and they should be looked into...
I think the power of the presidency cowed a lot of people. I heard from a lot
of reporters aout their editors saying, 'We don't want to be out front on this.
Let's let Starr take the lead and we'll just report on what he's doing."...I
mean I was just one person. If I were an
an assignment editor I could have given out six or seven assignments for
investigative reporing on what I found.
Q: Something that's now become conventional wisdom about the Clintons and
runs throughout this whole affair is that they have a habit of dropping people
whenever they threaten to become political liabilities. Does your reporting
bear that out?
Stewart: I just heard it from so many people that you have to give it a
certain credence...I got criticism from the right because I didn't find any
evidence of criminal activity by the Clintons with regard to the original
Whitewater deal. I got criticism from the left for portraying the Clintons as
being willing to do anything to get ahead...If anything, that portrait of them
in the book was mild.
It made me sad. I mean I was a Clinton supporter I voted for Clinton . . . and
it made me wonder - do you really have to be like this to succeed in politics?
And I guess the answer is yes.
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