Whitewater talks broke no laws, counsel decides


WASHINGTON -- The Whitewater special prosecutor, in a report greeted with relief by the Clinton administration, determined yesterday that no laws were violated when White House aides discussed a Whitewater-related savings-and-loan case with Treasury Department officials.

In doing so, the special prosecutor, Robert B. Fiske Jr., cleared the White House in the one area of the Whitewater-related investigation that several Clinton administration officials said they had feared most.

Some outside legal experts had predicted that if any indictment was handed down against White House officials, it would be over those discussions. In addition, the controversial contacts involved behavior that occurred since Bill Clinton became president. The contacts did not, unlike other aspects of the Whitewater inquiry, involve private business transactions that occurred long ago in Arkansas.

"We are . . . pleased by the independent counsel's conclusion that no indictments will be sought relating to the so-called White House-Treasury contacts," said White House counsel Lloyd N. Cutler. "While some of these contacts may have been inadvisable in hindsight, they violated no law."

The conversations, which occurred between September 1993 and February, were between some White House aides and officials with the Treasury Department who have authority over the Resolution Trust Corp., the savings-and-loan bailout agency.

The discussions related to the RTC's criminal referral against Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, a now-defunct institution owned by James McDougal, former partner of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Whitewater Development Corp.

Mr. Fiske said that he had investigated more than 20 of these "contacts" between the White House and Treasury. That figure is more than the White House had acknowledged, but the prosecutor said that his office found no evidence that White House officials tried to quell the investigations or improperly affect their outcomes.

"After a review of all the evidence we have concluded that the evidence is insufficient to establish anyone within the White House or the Department of the Treasury acted with the intent to corruptly influence an RTC investigation," Mr. Fiske's report states.

"Therefore, the evidence of the events surrounding the contacts between the White House and the Treasury Department does not justify the prosecution of anyone."

But Mr. Fiske's will not be the last word. Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen has asked the Office of Government Ethics to investigate whether "any ethics issues or conflicts" were involved. Yesterday, he said that review will now begin.

Mr. Cutler indicated that he would conduct an internal White House review. Congressional hearings are expected in late July.

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