Whitewater documents surrendered

March 11, 1994|By Douglas Jehl | Douglas Jehl,New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- A 1,000-page stack of documents surrendered to a special prosecutor yesterday showed that more White House officials than the six already subpoenaed knew of internal discussions about a federal investigation into an Arkansas savings and loan tied to the Clintons.

The documents, which came from the offices of as many as 40 White House officials, were turned over by the White House in response to a sweeping subpoena by Robert B. Fiske Jr., the special prosecutor.

Nothing was known about the contents of the documents -- message slips to memorandums to personal notes -- or who they were from. The White House refused to say whether any of them belonged to President Clinton or Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But the fact that so many aides to Mr. Clinton had evidence of discussions about the confidential inquiry by the Resolution Trust Corp. into the failure of the savings and loan in Arkansas makes it more likely that Mr. Fiske will demand testimony from additional White House officials. The Resolution Trust Corp., a regulatory agency under the Treasury Department's jurisdiction, is administering the nationwide savings and loan bailout.

The first three top White House officials to testify about those meetings appeared before a federal grand jury yesterday. In a scene reminiscent of past fireworks in Washington, Margaret Williams, the first lady's chief of staff, and Mr. Fiske had to be escorted through a throng of reporters outside the courthouse, where a small number of protesters carried signs with slogans like "Fess Up."

Ms. Williams was followed in the closed-door sessions by Lisa Caputo, Mrs. Clinton's press secretary, and Mark D. Gearan, the White House communications director.

Joel I. Klein, the deputy White House counsel, told reporters that the president and the first lady as well as the entire White House staff had complied with the terms of the subpoena.

His comment could mean either that the Clintons turned over evidence of such discussions or that they found none. A senior White House official said he had been asked by Mr. Fiske to say nothing more specific about the documents or those who possessed them, but he did say that none of them had been withheld under any claim of executive or attorney-client privilege.

The subpoena, which was issued last week, demanded all communications between the White House and the Treasury Department as well as any communications within the White House concerning Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, a failed Arkansas institution that had been operated by James B. McDougal, the Clintons' partner in a land venture.

The question of whether there were improper discussions within the administration about the inquiry into Madison Guaranty is part of Mr. Fiske's investigation into what is now known as the Whitewater affair -- after the Whitewater Development Co., the real estate venture in which the Clintons and Mr. McDougal and his former wife, Susan, had invested.

In the subpoenas he issued to six White House officials last week, Mr. Fiske also demanded that the Treasury Department turn over evidence of its communications about the subject with presidential aides.

With his department also facing a deadline yesterday, Treasury Secretary Lloyd M. Bentsen ordered 15 Internal Revenue Service agents to join in the search to make sure that nothing was overlooked. A Treasury spokesman, Howard Schloss, said the Internal Revenue Service was called in earlier this week "to ensure that everything was done properly and correctly and beyond reproach."

But Mr. Schloss said the department had been unable to assemble the documents in time to surrender them to Mr. Fiske by yesterday afternoon and would be able to provide only some of them by this morning. Some computerized records are yet to be reviewed.

The three White House officials who testified before the grand jury in U.S. District Court yesterday were among the senior administration officials called by the subpoenas.

All three officials have acknowledged taking part in meetings or conversations in which the Madison Guaranty investigation was discussed. It was the disclosure last week of three of those meetings that prompted Mr. Fiske to issue the subpoenas, forced Bernard W. Nussbaum, the White House counsel, to resign and intensified public attention on the Whitewater affair.

Three other White House officials, including Mr. Nussbaum, were subpoenaed to appear yesterday but have been permitted to postpone their testimony until next week. One of them, Bruce Lindsey, a senior adviser to Clinton, was traveling with the president in New York.

David R. Gergen, the White House counselor, said on CNN yesterday afternoon that it had been "a difficult day for people, an emotional day." But Ms. Williams seemed relieved after her court appearance, telling reporters she had found it refreshing "to be participating in something where the finding of facts is actually important as opposed to innuendo, rumor mongering, gossip and sensationalism."

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