President couldn’t save his Whitewater partners

WASHINGTON (AP) —President Clinton was in a scheduling meeting in the Oval Office when word came from a Little Rock courtroom that seemed sure to revive the Whitewater scandal as a campaign issue.
The word was guilty.
James McDougal and Susan McDougal, partners with the Clintons in their Whitewater real estate venture. Guilty.
Jim Guy Tucker, Clinton’s successor as governor of Arkansas. Guilty.
All told, 24 guilty counts. Tucker announced he’ll resign.
These stinging verdicts, embraced by Republicans immediately, ensure the murky Whitewater issue will dog the president through the November election. The verdicts give fresh credibility to beleaguered Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr after months of attacks by the White House and its Democratic surrogates.
For his part, Clinton said he was saddened for his one-time friends.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers were loath to speculate on the impact of the president’s testimony. But his Republican adversaries, who for months have sought to score political points with Whitewater with a largely uninterested public, were jubilant.
Presumptive GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole answered artfully when asked whether the guilty verdicts meant that Clinton has no credibility.
“I don’t know, but I think the jury reached a verdict,” Dole replied.
For Clinton, the verdict was another roller-coaster turn in the Whitewater affair, which initially was brushed aside in a matter of days during the 1992 campaign but which has dogged his presidency nearly from the start.
The future harbors more ominous developments for the president.
Clinton faces the prospect of testifying in another Whitewater trial next month. Two Arkansas bankers are charged with illegally reimbursing contributions to Clinton’s 1990 gubernatorial campaign. The defense plans to call Clinton so that he can deny that he put one of the bankers on the state highway commission in exchange for the contributions.
In addition, a new Whitewater grand jury recently began work in Little Rock — taking the investigation into new areas.
Beyond its legal ramifications, the verdicts are inextricably tied to politics.
“I think the biggest impact is that the chorus of defenders is going to be muted,” said Jim Wilson, a Bush administration lawyer who worked for the Senate Whitewater investigation.
“People who were prepared in … to say this is nothing but partisan politics are going to be less willing to make that case,” Wilson said.
“The convictions indicate the seriousness and depth of Whitewater for those who said there was nothing there,” said Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, the New York Republican who chairs the Senate investigate committee on Whitewater.
Rep. James Leach, GOP chairman of the House Banking Committee, said “it would be a mistake … to read too much into the Mr. Hale vs. Mr. Clinton circumstance.” Yet Leach said Whitewater is about public trust, and involves business partners of the president.
“This is a very, very bad development” for the Clinton White House “because it gives credence to the general atmospherics around Whitewater — that there was dirty business afoot,” said Joseph diGenova, a U.S. attorney during the Reagan administration and former independent counsel.
Perhaps the biggest mistake by the defense was putting Jim McDougal — the Clintons’ former Whitewater business partner — on the witness stand.
McDougal’s tortuous testimony for three days allowed the jury to see the defendant the president went to bat for in a criminal trial.
“Maybe they didn’t believe me,” McDougal said of the jury after the verdict.