Legally speaking, President and Mrs. Clinton were surely pleased with Special Prosecutor Robert B. Fiske Jr.'s first report on his investigation into their Whitewater real estate interests and Whitewater-related matters. Yet on a personal level, it was ,, surely not pleasant to read the investigator's detailed report last week on Vincent W. Foster Jr.'s depressed state and attendant miseries prior to his suicide.
Mr. Foster, the deputy White House counsel, old friend of the president and law partner of Mrs. Clinton, did indeed kill himself, Mr. Fiske concludes. That will surely cause distress among the most perfervid of the Clintons' attackers, who have been suggesting Mr. Foster may have been murdered to cover up some Whitewater crime.
Not only was there no foul play, says Mr. Fiske's report, but there is no evidence that the suicide was related to Whitewater in any way. That undercuts another widespread rumor: Mr. Foster killed himself out of guilty knowledge of the Clintons' illegalities involving Whitewater and its links with the failed Madison Guaranty S&L; in Arkansas.
The Clintons should be pleased with a third aspect of this report.
Mr. Fiske and his staff looked into allegations from Republicans that administration officials had improperly pressured Resolution Trust Corporation officials who were investigating a possible Whitewater-Madison link. There is "insufficient" evidence of corrupt intent or criminal violation by anyone at the Treasury Department or at the White House, the special prosecutor concluded.
This report is not going to end the Whitewater story -- certainly not the so-called Arkansas phase of it, to which Mr. Fiske will turn his full attention now, nor even the Washington phase with which his Thursday report dealt. The Senate and House both have plans to look into the Washington phase this month. These hearings will almost certainly be highly politicized.
That was evident in the way the Senate arrived at its decision to authorize its banking committee to look into the matter. So partisan was the debate that usually mild-mannered, moderate Maine Republican Sen. William Cohen charged that the Democrats were "hardening the hearts and the spirits of some of us who have dedicated their careers toward seeking compromise."
The Senate had rejected on a straight party-line vote a Republican resolution calling for a probe of any Whitewater-related administration activities. Then it passed a resolution, also on a straight party-line vote, to limit its probe to the specifics Mr. Fiske had already investigated.
Division in the House, where a similar committee investigation will be held, is equally partisan, and likely to be even more contentious. The principal congressional critic of Whitewater matters is the ranking Republican on the House Banking Committee, and the most dogged protector of the president is the Democratic chairman.
Expect more heat than light. That is a pity, but it has ever been thus. Politics is politics.