Shoulda, coulda, woulda

April 27, 1994

Toward the end of her press conference last week, Hillary Rodham Clinton was asked if she "should have known that Whitewater was not cash flowing and that notes and debts should have been paid [by you], whether Mr. McDougal asked you to pay them or not?" She replied, "Well, shoulda, coulda, woulda, we didn't. . ."

James McDougal was the Clintons' partner in the Whitewater investment. Among the accusations made against the Clintons is that money from Mr. McDougal's failing savings and loan were improperly diverted to pay Whitewater debts to the Clintons' advantage. Pretty serious stuff, and Mrs. Clinton's answer will not be the last word on this. The special prosecutor has the responsibility to see if laws were broken by the Clintons or anyone else, and in due time, no doubt he will.

Meanwhile the conflict between the Clintons and their critics will go on at the political and public relations levels. If this were just a legal matter, everybody would wait for the special prosecutor, but it obviously isn't. The reason both the president and Mrs. Clinton have held long press conferences to answer questions about Whitewater and her now famous speculation in the commodities markets is that they know they are being hurt politically by the story.

If performances count, the Clintons are in good shape. He handled questions masterfully. She did even better. In answering accusatory, almost hostile questions which implied suspicions of wrongdoing, she dazzled a lot of cynical Washington journalists with her calm, poised response to every question. Even her body language was perfect, as one critic commented.

Many Clinton critics are now focusing more on her speculation than on the Clintons' association with Whitewater. She seems to have received favors from the people she was doing business with that were unusually generous. One reporter asked her, "Don't you think that was preferential treatment based on who you were and who your husband was?" The implication is that Governor Clinton would give preferential treatment in return. Her answer was, "No. I really don't believe that. I don't think there's any evidence of that."

At this stage, evidence is not what matters. Appearances are. The Clintons appear to be cooperating in every way with the special prosecutor, and they appear to have no doubts that they are innocent of illegalities or unethical behavior. Their conveying this to the public may or may not affect the special prosecutor, but it is causing their critics in Congress to relax their calls for prompt hearings.

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