Insight

Curse the Whitewater investigation of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, curse and fie. Starr apparently has contrived to ensure that his prosecutors do not leak any details of the inquiry to the press. It reminds me of one of the great moments during the briefings of the Persian Gulf War. A reporter asked Pete Williams, the Pentagon spokesman, about the use of air-launched cruise missiles. Coolly leaving no possibility of reporters’ misunderstanding just how secret they are, Williams said that the Pentagon did not discuss the use of air-launched cruise missiles. The reporter asked why the Pentagon wouldn’t discuss it. Williams explained that he couldn’t say, because that would be discussing it.

Something like that. It all seems rather unfair. The Iran-Contra investigation of independent counsel Lawrence Walsh leaked like a sieve, for example. One of the lawyers, after leaving the team, even wrote a book about his exploits while Walsh’s investigation was still going on. The Friday before the 1992 presidential election, the Walsh team filed court papers describing a supposedly damning diary entry by President Bush, and the Democratic National Committee had a press release out denouncing the president faster than you could say, “We were tipped off yesterday.” Walsh’s final report is chockablock full of quotations from supposedly secret grand-jury testimony – a highly tendentious use of that testimony, of course, not that we have been allowed to see the rest of it to assess how badly it was wrenched out of context in the service of Walsh’s conspiracy theories.

Now, in the Whitewater affair, it’s corruption by Democrats under the microscope, and all of a sudden the prosecutors are ethical. Gee whiz.

Fortunately for all of us desperate for revelations and disclosure in Whitewater, we do have a couple of things going for us. One is the public filings of the Starr investigation as it proceeds. Another is the action (or inaction) of investigators on Capitol Hill who have been trying to get to the bottom of the affair. A third is sheer reportorial tenacity, such as that which my colleague Jerry Seper at the Washington Times has demonstrated over and over in pursuing this story. Mix all three and shake well, and you have a recipe for informed speculation about where all this is going, at least.

Several important developments have been made during the last six months – starting with the somewhat-surprising guilty plea of Webster Hubbell, former No. 3 Justice Department official and close friend of the Clintons. Hubbell pleaded guilty to two felony counts, one related to overbilling his clients hundreds of thousands of dollars at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock (where Hillary Rodham Clinton was a partner) and the other for income-tax evasion. The plea agreement entailed his cooperation with Starr’s investigators. What does Hubbell, part of the inner circle of Little Rock cronies in the administration, know? Put another way, if anything was improper, it seems likely that Hubbell would know it.

The second was the postponement of hearings by Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, the chairman of the Banking Committee, who has cast himself in the role of Whitewater avenger. D’Amato had planned to start hearings as early as January. But following a meeting with Starr, he announced he was postponing them. The question here is what Starr could possibly have said to D’Amato, an unapologetic seeker of limelight, to get him to back off.

Then came another postponement. At Starr’s request, a court delayed Hubbell’s scheduled sentencing from April 28 to June 28. Starr’s office had more questions for Hubbell.

The Whitewater questions always have had two parts: What happened in Arkansas? And was there was any obstruction of justice in Washington for the purpose of avoiding political embarrassment? Of the two, the second is far more explosive. What is Starr asking about now? Among other things, according to reports, about whether Hubbell and Paula Casey, the friend-of-Bill U.S. attorney in Little Rock, did anything to interfere with an investigation by the Resolution Trust Corp. into the failure of a savings and loan owned by business partners of the Clintons.

Then we had another plea agreement, this time with Neil Ainley, former president of the Perry County Bank of Perryville, Ark. Ainley had been charged with five felony counts in connection with a failure to report more than $50,000 in cash transfers from his bank to the 1990 Clinton gubernatorial campaign. He ended up pleading guilty to two misdemeanors – a substantial reduction in charges, one taking him off the hook for a maximum sentence of 40 years and leaving open the possibility of little or no jail time – in exchange for cooperation. At the time he was charged, Ainley maintained that he was following the instructions of others and did not wish to be the fall guy. Who else?

Finally, Starr’s office has notified White House Deputy Counsel and long-time Clinton political fixer Bruce Lindsey that he is a target of the investigation. He was treasurer of the 1990 Clinton campaign. There have been extensive reports that Ainley is testifying before a Little Rock grand jury about Lindsey and the 1990 cash.

Now there is some additional detail reported by Seper: Investigators are looking at seven phone calls from Hubbell to Casey from Sept. 29 to Nov. 9, 1993. Both dates are potentially significant. On the latter, Casey recused herself from anything related to the RTC investigation. On the former, Treasury Department officials had given that first, famous “heads-up” about the RTC investigation – to then-White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum. The information later made its way to Bruce Lindsey.

What’s Starr up to? Well, it looks kind of like a pincer movement – one part centered on the Ainley-Lindsey nexus and the other on the Hubbell-Casey-Lindsey connection. Very interesting. Right at the heart of the Clinton White House.