THE subject of the Clintons' involvement in the Whitewater development project first came to public attention during the 1992 presidential primaries when Jerry Brown raised the matter. Bill Clinton's response to the allegation of impropriety was interesting. He didn't deny it. He didn't admit it. He just didn't answer it at all. Instead, he wagged a finger at Mr. Brown and warned him to stop "jumping all over my wife."
In point of fact, Mr. Brown was not attacking Hillary (as Bill Clinton certainly knew); he was attacking the governor for possible misuse of office.
But the episode was covered as an Outraged Husband Defends Wife's Honor story. The Clintons released a statement saying that Whitewater had been a losing investment for them, and that was that.
For a while.
In the past few weeks, it has been confirmed that White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum entered White House aide Vince Foster's office just hours after Foster committed suicide and removed files related to Whitewater (files which the Clintons had denied existed). There were also reports that the White House interfered with the investigation of Foster's death.
Under mounting pressure to release the documents, White House officials at first declared that they had already been turned over to the Justice Department and then revised this to say, no, the documents hadn't been released because they were being "catalogued." After Dec. 24, the White House revealed that the documents were being handed over to Justice in compliance with a subpoena -- but the subpoena had been requested by White House lawyer David Kendall in order to prevent the material from being released to the public.
What are President and Mrs. Clinton so eager to hide?
The Whitewater development project was a land scheme the Clintons invested in with partner James McDougal. Mr. McDougal was also the owner of Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, a thrift which was closed down by the Resolution Trust Corp. at a cost of about $60 million to the taxpayers.
Mr. McDougal invested more than $90,000 in Whitewater, yet the McDougals and Clintons were to share any profits equally. Why? The Clintons have claimed that they lost $60,000 of their $68,900 investment. But they have no records to support this, nor did they deduct the loss on their income tax forms (there is conflicting information on whether or not the law would permit such a deduction).
They did illegally deduct interest payments that had been made by the Whitewater corporation from their personal returns. Mr. McDougal, interviewed recently by the Associated Press, said he thought the Clintons had lost much less than they claim, perhaps $9,000. In any case, the Clintons say they have no business records related to Whitewater -- this, from people who painstakingly recorded every piece of clothing and underwear donated to charity in order to deduct the contributions from their income at tax time.
The plot thickens. Governor Clinton handpicked the state regulator who had oversight over Madison Guaranty, and Hillary Clinton served as Madison Guaranty's attorney, at a cost of $2,000 a month, to appear before that very regulator. At the same time, Madison executives held fund-raisers to retire Governor Clinton's campaign debt, and Madison was making loans to close associates and friends of the Clintons, including Seth Ward, the father-in-law of Webster Hubbell, now associate attorney general, and Gov. Jim Tucker, Mr. Clinton's successor.
The conflicts of interest alone form a veritable maze.
There is smoke aplenty here, strongly suggesting fire. But more galling than the possible violations of law and ethics is the stench of hypocrisy.
Bill Clinton ran for president decrying the "greed" of the 1980s and laying blame for it all at the feet of Republicans. The truth about the savings and loan crisis is that greed and illegal profiteering had little to do with the losses eventually dumped on taxpayers. But it now does seem that Bill Clinton may have been one of the few miscreants who actually did misuse his office and influence to profit from a dubious land deal and a high-flying S&L.;
He ought not to be permitted, in the old Watergate phrase, a "modified, limited hangout." Let's have the truth.
Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.