Susan McDougal just began serving a two-year sentence as a result of the first Whitewater trial. McDougal’s refusal to comment about the newest evidence in a fraudulent loan probe led to two criminal contempt of court charges and one of obstructing justice on Monday. The indictment came three days before the scheduled expiration date of a federal grand jury in Little Rock, Ark. McDougal’s lawyer said Tuesday that independent counsel Kenneth Starr used her as a scapegoat because he could not charge President Clinton or first lady Hillary Clinton in that time. Starr’s team argues the White House has slowed the investigation and this led to multiple indictments of the same people. But Starr’s continued probe is what is leading to the additional charges. In his quests, Starr will fail to charge the people at whom he aims. Instead, others will spend more time in jail.
Two weeks ago prosecutors started to question McDougal about a 1983 check she signed that included the notation “payoff Clinton.” They believed the check for more than $5,000 was a loan payment on behalf of the Clintons. It became the latest piece of evidence surrounding a Whitewater investigation with claims that Clinton knew about corrupt practices, including a fraudulent $300,000 loan. McDougal’s silence in the Whitewater matter has already brought her 18 months of jail time for civil contempt. She just started serving another two years for a 1996 fraud and conspiracy conviction.
Hillary Clinton is also under legal pressure as questions continue about law work she did for an unethical savings association in the 1980s. Many law experts consider Whitewater to be Hillary Clinton’s most challenging legal issue. Although Starr’s most recent investigation brought no action against the first lady, he will likely remain persistent. But Starr can only legally challenge the Clintons indirectly. He is conducting a separate investigation to prove that President Clinton had a sexual relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Last week, a federal judge rejected Lewinsky’s claim that Starr granted her immunity from prosecution. She faces allegations that she had an affair with Clinton and then lied about it in court. Starr could lead an indictment against Lewinsky, as he did with McDougal.
With no concrete evidence to charge Hillary Clinton, McDougal’s attorney is likely right when he said Starr’s team needed to blame their legal failures on McDougal’s silence. The indictment also helps Starr in his separate investigation about Lewinsky’s relationship with the president. Perhaps now Lewinsky will fear legal consequences if she refuses to answer to Starr’s inquiries. Legally pressuring such witnesses, however, will only bring about more charges against them.
Whether the allegations against the Clintons are true, McDougal and Lewinsky obviously want to remain silent. Even if Starr’s team were to present additional scraps of evidence or more witnesses before another jury, it would be a waste of time and money. If Starr can’t find help from his current key witnesses to form concrete cases against the Clintons, he probably won’t in the future and should stop investigations now. Until then, Starr continues to hit a mark far out of his target area, which only makes someone else bleed.