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Whitewater: Who and what Answers: "Whitewater" has become shorthand for a widening complex of investigations, with the nation's first couple at the center.


WASHINGTON -- Whitewater, a catch-all name for a series of murky business transactions in Arkansas, continues to be in the news.

It has already brought about investigations of Arkansas bankers, that state's current governor (Jim Guy Tucker), a former top official in the U.S. Justice Department (Webster Hubbell) -- and President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Carl M. Cannon of The Sun's national staff reintroduces the issues and the actors in that drama, one being performed on many stages.

Whitewater, Whitewater: How did the scandal get its name?

The source is the White River in Arkansas. There, in 1978, four young professionals decided to make money by buying and subdividing a 230-acre tract of land.

They were James and Susan McDougal and Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Their company was Whitewater Development Corp.

So everything called "Whitewater" is related to the Whitewater Development Corp.?

Not any more. Whitewater is no longer about only a land development that proved unsuccessful.

Mrs. Clinton's $100,000 profit in 10 months from trading cattle futures is considered part of "Whitewater."

L So is some of her work for the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock.

Whitewater has come to stand for Arkansas cronyism and for the Clintons' credibility.

Back to the land deal: Did the Clintons make a financial killing -- is that the crux of this?

Actually, the Clintons lost money on the deal -- about $47,000, they estimate.

James and Susan McDougal, who are now divorced, lost even more.

The development project went belly-up in the late 1980s.

So, why have federal banking regulators given Whitewater so much scrutiny?

The McDougals also owned a federally insured thrift, Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, that went bankrupt in 1989. The bankruptcy left taxpayers with a $65 million bill.

Investigators have wanted to know if the McDougals funneled money from Madison into their Whitewater development to help the Clintons.

In other words, did Whitewater contribute to the demise of the thrift?

Did it?

The link is not clear.

Jean Lewis, a criminal investigator with the Resolution Trust Corp. (a federal regulatory agency), testified that she believes $88,000 in depositor funds from Madison were diverted to Whitewater -- and $12,000 into then Governor Clinton's campaign fund, contributing to Madison's collapse.

But a report prepared for banking regulators disputes the notion that Whitewater hastened Madison's demise.

Another investigator is the Whitewater special prosecutor, Kenneth W. Starr.

He, too, has been investigating the flow of cash between Mr. Clinton's gubernatorial campaign and Madison.

He has not yet made his conclusions public.

One more time: Who is doing the investigating?

The cast includes the Senate Whitewater Committee, under Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato of New York, a Republican; the House Banking and Financial Services Committee, under Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa, also a Republican; the Resolution Trust Corp., which referred the matter to the Justice Department; and Mr. Starr, who has already brought more than a dozen indictments.

But how can the congressional investigations drag on so long? Is Whitewater just a handy tool for the Republicans to use to attack a Democratic president?

This is the allegation leveled by numerous Democrats on the committees and by Mark D. Fabiani, a White House lawyer brought in to handle Whitewater.

Mr. Fabiani says he believes "it's no coincidence" that Mr. D'Amato is chairman of both the Senate Whitewater Committee and the presidential election committee of Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.

Republicans insist that the reason hearings have dragged on so long is the reluctance of the Clintons and their allies to be forthcoming.

But why are events that occurred years ago back in Arkansas the focus of attention in 1996? Weren't these events investigated when they first happened?


In fact, James McDougal was tried and acquitted years ago on state charges relating to the failure of Madison.

But the Clintons' involvement with the McDougals became known publicly only in 1992, when the New York Times wrote about Whitewater while Mr. Clinton was running for president.

Mr. Leach, says the Clintons have never provided the true picture.

He says the Clintons actually made money on the Whitewater project -- even as the McDougals were going under.

The Clintons have also added to their own problems.

They maintained that Mrs. Clinton, then a partner with the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, never represented clients before regulators appointed by Mr. Clinton when he was governor.

But recently discovered billing records from the law firm show that Mrs. Clinton called the state securities commissioner on behalf of Madison the day before the commission issued a ruling favorable to Madison.

Is there any reason to doubt the first lady's testimony that she doesn't know how the billing records turned up in the White House last month?

The billing records are a mystery.

Mrs. Clinton maintains that they made their way from Little Rock to the White House office of her former law firm partner, Vincent W. Foster Jr., and from there, after Mr. Foster's death, to a room in the White House used mainly by the first family, without her knowing it.

Mr. Starr, the special prosecutor, stresses that Mrs. Clinton is not a "target" of his investigation.

Mrs. Clinton says those records support what she's been saying. Is this true?

The first lady had said she did "minimal" work for Madison.

The billing records showed that she did bill some $6,000 worth of work over 15 months. The legal community has been debating whether this word -- "minimal" -- was correct.

But it comes out to less than one hour a week, and most lawyers say her characterization on this point seems reasonable.

When will Whitewater -- the special prosecutors' investigations, the committee hearings, the grand jury testimony -- end?

No one knows, with the possible exception of Mr. Starr.

It seems likely that Whitewater will go on all year, meaning that it will drag into the general election season, possibly into a second Clinton term -- or go on, as the Iran-contra investigations did, long after the principals are out of office.

And how much will the investigations cost taxpayers?

Possibly more than was lost when Madison went belly-up.

Senator D'Amato's committee, Mr. Leach's committee and the RTC's outside investigation cost $5 million, while the special prosecutor has spent $23 million so far and is spending about $1 million a month.

This point is being raised by Democrats as a way of chiding the various congressional committees into wrapping up their inquiries.

But Republicans have been unswayed by the line of argument.

Is there a lesson in this for future presidents?

L The same one as always, although they don't seem to heed it.

That lesson is this: It's rarely the original allegation that causes the problems.

It's the cover-up, or the appearance of one.

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