Democrats use letter to support bias charges in Whitewater probe Personal message takes ex-RTC investigator by surprise at hearing

November 30, 1995|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Trying to show that the federal official who started the Whitewater investigation was biased, Senate Democrats yesterday revealed a personal letter by the investigator in which she disparaged then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton using provocative language.

But that official, Jean Lewis -- a former criminal investigator for the Resolution Trust Corp. -- told the Senate Whitewater Committee yesterday that she had bent over backward to keep her "political bias" out of her work.

Yesterday's hearing took on the air of a sensational trial with the presentation of the surprise letter, in which Ms. Lewis called Mr. Clinton a liar.

After hours of questioning, Ms. Lewis, who has high blood pressure, asked for a halt to the proceedings. A doctor was summoned and her pressure registered high.

Ms. Lewis, who was helped from the cleared-out hearing room, )) was to return for more questioning today depending on her condition, the Associated Press reported.

Richard Ben-Veniste, a lawyer for the Senate Democrats, tried to show that Ms. Lewis -- who acknowledged yesterday that she was a conservative Republican -- was motivated by a political agenda in her investigation of a failed Arkansas savings and loan with ties to the Clintons.

To that end, the lawyer surprised Ms. Lewis with a personal letter that, unknown to her, was on a computer disc she had provided the Whitewater committee.

In the February 1992 letter, written to a friend one month before she began her investigation of Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, Ms. Lewis refers to Mr. Clinton's denial of an extramarital affair with Gennifer Flowers.

The letter says: "I never slept with that woman quoth the illustrious Governor Bill Clinton. Everybody in Arkansas knows he did, the lying bastard, and then put her on the state payroll!!"

Ms. Lewis described the remark as a "political aside" in a 20-page letter to a close friend about veracity problems she was having with her 14-year-old stepson.

"Frankly, Mr. Ben-Veniste, that's a real cheap shot," she said.

In her criminal referrals submitted to the U.S. attorney in Little Rock in August 1992 and in 1993, Ms. Lewis named the Clintons as witnesses to potential criminal activity at Madison.

She said the Clintons benefited financially from an elaborate check-kiting scheme conducted by James McDougal, their partner in the Whitewater land deal and the owner of Madison. The Clintons have denied any wrongdoing.

Ms. Lewis has testified at hearings yesterday and last summer that her investigation of Madison was obstructed and manipulated by higher officials in Washington who failed to act ,, on her referrals.

Her reports provided a foundation for much of the work conducted by Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr.

Mr. Ben-Veniste suggested yesterday that Ms. Lewis' first referral, submitted in August 1992, was designed to be an "October surprise" that would hurt Mr. Clinton's presidential candidacy just before the election.

He produced the notes of a Little Rock FBI agent, Steve Irons, who wrote that Ms. Lewis told him she had passed up a job opportunity in Washington just so she could work on the Madison referral and possibly "alter history."

Mr. Ben-Veniste said Ms. Lewis repeatedly asked the FBI about the status of her report in the months before the election.

And he produced an October 1992 letter written to an FBI official by then-U.S. Attorney Charles A. Banks, a Republican and Bush appointee. Mr. Banks wrote that he did not believe the criminal referral was "prosecutable" and that any "insistence for urgency" on the part of the RTC "appears to suggest an intentional or unintentional attempt to intervene into the political process of the upcoming presidential election."

Ms. Lewis denied any attempt at an "October surprise." She said she often talked with the FBI about her referrals and that her comments to Mr. Irons about altering history were probably meant to be sarcastic.

She said that, precisely because of her Republican leanings, she held herself to a "much higher standard" when working on the Madison investigation.

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