Clintons to go on offense over policy, Whitewater

March 31, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- White House officials, concerned that Whitewater will remain a vexing issue, have launched a public relations blitz to defend President Clinton and the first lady and to keep the controversy from interfering with the president's congressional agenda.

The Clintons feel an obligation to continue responding to questions about Whitewater and plan to take a leading role in the campaign after returning to Washington from vacation this weekend, senior White House aides said yesterday.

The president and Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to various cities next week promoting health care reform and other legislative goals while also responding to queries about Whitewater, the aides said. In addition, Cabinet secretaries and Democratic members of Congress plan to participate in 70 "events" related to the legislative agenda.

The overriding message of the public relations campaign, officials indicated, will be that the Clintons are being fully responsive on Whitewater and that the American people do not want the controversy to become an excuse for the legislative gridlock that has characterized Washington in recent years.

"I think a lot of the concern we have in the country about Whitewater arises more in the question of whether it's going to disrupt government than what may have happened 15 or 16 years ago" in the Whitewater controversy, said presidential counselor David Gergen.

That message, said Mr. Gergen, also has been heard by "a lot of Republicans" who are now talking about seeking bipartisan answers to important policy issues. Among them, he said, are House Republican Leader Robert H. Michel of Illinois and House Republican Whip Newt Gingrich of Georgia.

Mr. Gergen and two other senior White House aides -- Chief of Staff Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty and congressional liaison Pat Griffin -- discussed the administration's plans to defend Mr. Clinton and promote his policies at a breakfast with Washington journalists.

Mr. Gergen said Mrs. Clinton already has fully disclosed how she parlayed a $1,000 investment in commodities futures into a $100,000 profit in the late 1970s.

"I think she feels it's important to be responsive" to questions about Whitewater, he said.

The Whitewater label has come to embrace not only the Clintons' failed real estate investment in the Whitewater Development Corp. and White House meetings allegedly held to protect the Clintons from the controversy, but also questions about Mrs. Clinton's financial affairs and her role as a Little Rock lawyer.

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