GOP senators charge cover-up on Whitewater


WASHINGTON -- Accusing the White House of cover-ups and stonewalling, Senate Republicans lambasted the administration and congressional Democrats yesterday for their handling of the Whitewater imbroglio, and won assurances from regulators that there would be further investigations into Hillary Rodham Clinton's former law firm.

At a hearing to review the government's multibillion-dollar savings and loan bailout by the Resolution Trust Corp., lawmakers spent most of the time pounding fists over the Whitewater land deal President and Mrs. Clinton entered into with the owner of a now-defunct thrift, Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan.

Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and other high-ranking officials who had come to speak to the Senate Banking Committee about the RTC could only sit and watch the fireworks.

"I see a cover-up here; I see a whitewash here," said New York Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato. He led the Republican attack on the Whitewater investigation and, particularly, recent federal reports that cleared the Rose Law Firm, where Mrs. Clinton was a partner, of any conflict of interest in its connection to Madison's failure.

After hard-hitting questioning from Mr. D'Amato, Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger C. Altman, who is the acting RTC chief, and Andrew Hove, acting Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. chairman, both agreed to enlist the inspectors general at their agencies to conduct additional inquiries into the charges.

Also adding to the Republicans' suspicions was the disclosure by Mr. Altman that he had called for a "heads up" meeting held three weeks ago with senior White House aides. He said he called the meeting -- attended by the White House counsel, Bernard W. Nussbaum; the deputy chief of staff, Harold M. Ickes; and Mrs. Clinton's chief of staff, Margaret A. Williams -- to discuss a statute of limitations problem and how the RTC would decide on whether to proceed.

Republicans were disconcerted because the RTC is an nTC independent regulatory agency and should not be conferring with administration officials, particularly those who are principals the inquiry.

The Democrats initially tried to resist turning the hearing into a brawl but finally jumped in, insisting that their GOP colleagues were neglecting the $150 billion S&L; mess and focusing on Whitewater and Madison for purely political reasons.

"I think what we're doing is piling on in a clearly partisan fashion," said Democrat John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, who produced charts showing that 193 other S&Ls; had cost taxpayers more money than Madison had.

After mounting political pressure by both Republicans and Democrats last month, Mr. Clinton directed the attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Clintons' ties to Madison, which cost taxpayers $47 million to $60 million in its collapse.

Republicans attacked their Democratic colleagues for blocking attempts to conduct a congressional inquiry into Whitewater, saying that Democratic lawmakers enthusiastically pursued such investigations -- such as one against a failed S&L; headed by President George Bush's son, Neil Bush -- when they involved charges against a GOP administration.

Republicans seized upon yesterday's hearing to get into some of the questions surrounding Whitewater.

Mr. D'Amato particularly lashed out at a recent report by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. exonerating the Rose Law Firm of Little Rock of any conflict of interest charges in its involvement with Madison. He called the report "the most incredible whitewash of Whitewatergate I've seen" and "sophomoric legalistic mumbo-jumbo."

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