WASHINGTON -- Hillary Rodham Clinton ridiculed yesterday suggestions that anyone tried to buy the silence of former Justice Department official Webster L. Hubbell, saying the continuing attention on the Whitewater controversy is akin to "some people's obsession with UFOs and the Hale-Bopp comet."
Preventing Hubbell from cooperating with Whitewater prosecutors "was not the intention of anyone that I'm aware of," she said in a National Public Radio interview, referring to administration officials who lined up paying engagements for Hubbell after he was forced to resign his position.
"There isn't anything to be hushed up about, so I attribute that to the ongoing saga of Whitewater," Mrs. Clinton said.
Referring to allegations being examined by a Whitewater grand jury that the actions of administration officials in helping Hubbell could amount to obstruction of justice, the first lady added: "There's no evidence of that. There will be no evidence of that."
Mrs. Clinton denied there was any effort to keep Hubbell, her former law partner in Little Rock, Ark., from telling Whitewater prosecutors about possibly incriminating activities by herself or her husband.
"That was not the intention of anyone that I'm aware of," she said, adding that Hubbell was "somebody who people wanted to help to get through what they thought was a rough patch in his life."
The president, meanwhile, told reporters he is not angry about a Hubbell admission last week that he had lied three years ago when he told the president that he had done nothing wrong.
"I'm not angry with him, because he paid a very high price for the mistake he made," Clinton said of his friend, who pleaded guilty to fraud and tax-evasion charges and served 16 months in prison for bilking clients and law partners of $482,410. "He's apologized, and I accept his apology."
The White House acknowledged last week that Clinton's then-chief of staff, Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty, and Erskine Bowles, the current staff chief, made calls to line up work for Hubbell. Bowles said he acted after then-U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor told him of Hubbell's predicament.
The president said last week that McLarty and Bowles acted out of "human compassion."
Prosecutors in Little Rock working under independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, frustrated by Hubbell's memory lapses in the probe of the Clintons' finances, are investigating whether the aid given to Hubbell was aimed at ensuring his silence.
The first lady said she and her husband had no reason to disbelieve Hubbell's denials of wrongdoing before he was charged and pleaded guilty.
"He very clearly and unequivocally just looked us in the eye and said, 'I didn't do anything wrong. This will blow over, this is all going to be taken care of,' " she recalled in the radio interview.
"So I think that it's unfortunate that he didn't tell the truth to his friends and to his colleagues. He should not have put anyone in the position of trying to help him and his family without full disclosure," she added.
Mrs. Clinton, who testified last year before a Whitewater grand jury about the disappearance for several months of law firm billing records, was asked if she had any concerns about being indicted.
"None whatsoever," she replied. "This is the endless saga that someday, perhaps in my lifetime, will end. But at this point, I don't pay much attention to it. I just try to cooperate and try to be as cheerful about this five years of inquiry as I can be."
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that a House panel is demanding that White House officials produce documents about efforts to help Hubbell.
Subpoenas for documents were issued to Bowles, Kantor, McLarty and senior presidential aide Bruce R. Lindsey, the committee disclosed yesterday.
The subpoenas are part of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee's inquiry into whether aid for Hubbell was arranged to influence his cooperation with the Whitewater independent counsel.
The panel also issued a subpoena to former senior White House aide George Stephanopoulos for documents about any dealings with West Coast businessman Johnny Chung, a frequent White House visitor who took six Chinese businessmen to the taping of one of Clinton's radio addresses.
The subpoenas -- which came after similar ones were issued by Starr to Bowles and McLarty to answer questions before a federal grand jury -- were disclosed as committee Democrats lost a bid to widen the scope of the campaign-finance inquiry to specifically include abuses by Republicans.
The committee voted along party lines to reject Democratic amendments to broaden the scope and end the power of the chairman, GOP Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, to issue subpoenas unilaterally. Democrats accused Burton of running a partisan probe.
Pub Date: 4/11/97