Whitewatergate?

December 23, 1993

We are shocked, shocked at reports that President Clinton was a philanderer when he was governor of Arkansas. At least we would be if we had been in a coma for all of 1992. The story that is now dominating the front pages and radio and television evening news broadcasts is old wine in new bottles, so to speak. There is nothing really new except some naughty details. They are titillating reading, we won't deny that, though how true they are is unknown.

Do the details inform Americans more about Bill Clinton's fitness to be president than did the reporting on this story in the winter and spring of 1992? Than his 1992 admission that he had not been a faithful husband? Not really, in our view. If he continued to have sexual liaisons long after the Gennifer Flowers story almost destroyed his candidacy -- even as president-elect, as one Arkansas state trooper now contends -- that suggests Mr. Clinton is more reckless, perhaps even compulsive about this area of his life than many people previously concluded. But we thought he was pretty reckless on the basis of the 1992 revelations.

Another old "Clinton scandal story" resurfaced recently. This one involves his, Mrs. Clinton's and her Little Rock law firm's possibly inter-related activities involving a failed savings and loan institution in Arkansas, gubernatorial decisions and an investment by the Clintons in a real estate deal -- Whitewater Development Corp. -- with the owner of the S&L. Like the sex story, the 1993 version has more details than were reported in 1992, but it so far has not revealed the president as more flawed than previously thought.

But there are some things new about this story this time, things that are of legitimate public interest. One of Mrs. Clinton's old law partners, Vincent Foster, became a presidential counsel and committed suicide. Files regarding Whitewater Development and other material relating to the Clintons were surreptitiously removed from Mr. Foster's White House office before law enforcement officials could search it for clues to his death. Another former Hillary Clinton law partner, Webster Hubbell, became associate attorney general, and his Justice Department is now investigating the removal of the files.

The president says he will cooperate fully. However, Mrs. Clinton and White House Chief of Staff Mack McLarty seem to be putting some limits on what they -- and the president -- will in fact provide. There may be good reasons why the Clinton files should not be made available to investigators, but we can't think of them. That would look too much like obstruction and stonewalling -- which Americans definitely find objectionable in the White House, as anyone old enough to remember Watergate must know.

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