First lady's S&L billing records released Mrs. Clinton's papers on failed Ark. thrift go to Whitewater panel

January 06, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- After nearly two years of searches and subpoenas, the White House said last night that it had unexpectedly discovered copies of missing documents from Hillary Rodham Clinton's law firm that describe her work for a failing savings and loan association in the 1980s.

Federal and congressional investigators have issued subpoenas for the documents since 1994, and the White House has said it did not have them. The originals disappeared from the Rose Law Firm, where Mrs. Clinton was a partner, before Mr. Clinton took office.

The newly discovered documents were copies of billing records from the Rose firm, where Mrs. Clinton helped to represent Madison Guaranty, a savings association run by the Clintons' business partner in the Whitewater land venture.

Investigators sought the documents to determine how involved Mrs. Clinton was in the firm's representation of the failing savings and loan.

The Clintons' personal lawyer, David Kendall, said last night that the documents show that the work Mrs. Clinton performed was limited both in time and scope, as she has repeatedly said.

But Rep. Jim Leach, an Iowa Republican who heads the House Banking Committee, said that the billing records contradict Mrs. Clinton's account of her involvement with Madison and show that her legal work for the savings and loan was "extensive and detailed."

Republican Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato of New York called the discovery of the copies of the records "the second miraculous discovery within the past 24 hours."

Mr. D'Amato, chairman of the Senate Whitewater Committee, was referring to the finding on Thursday of a 1993 memorandum written by a former presidential aide that said Mrs. Clinton played a greater role in the dismissal of the travel office employees than the White House acknowledged.

By their volume -- 115 pages -- and the variety of contacts and conferences they document, the billing records seem at least to raise questions about Mrs. Clinton's account of her work that are likely to give new fuel to congressional investigators and federal prosecutors working on the case.

For example, the records show she billed Madison for more than a dozen discussions with an Arkansas businessman, Seth Ward, who played a leading role in one of the savings association's largest losses, a $4 million land deal that regulators later criticized the Rose firm for helping to structure.

Mr. Ward is the father-in-law of the former associate attorney general, Webster Hubbell, who was also a partner in the Rose firm.

Complicating the issue further is that the original billing records remain missing.

Mr. Kendall said the copies of the records were discovered in the White House on Thursday night by Carolyn Huber, a White House aide and former office manager of the Rose firm.

Last Sunday, the statute of limitations expired for a variety of civil lawsuits that may be brought against professionals who fraudulently advised corrupt savings associations.

At the same time, the Resolution Trust Corp., the agency that had supervised the bailout of the savings and loan industry, closed down.

Investigators had been searching in vain for the billing records in an effort to reconstruct Mrs. Clinton's role in Madison, a savings association that examiners found to be rife with corruption and that failed in 1989 at a cost to taxpayers of more than $60 million.

The billing records were filled with the red ink handwriting of Vincent W. Foster Jr., the deputy White House counsel and former Rose partner who committed suicide two years ago.

Since then, investigators have been trying to determine whether Mrs. Clinton sought to block access to files in Mr. Foster's office after his death.

White House aides searched the office and brought files to the Clintons' private residence before allowing investigators to look at them. Mrs. Huber took custody of the files when they were brought to the private residence two days after Mr. Foster's death.

Mr. Kendall said he knew of no evidence that the copies of the billing records had been in Mr. Foster's office, but he added that the White House was still trying to establish where the records had been and why they have not been turned over earlier.

Mr. Kendall said Mrs. Huber discovered the records while cataloging various "correspondence, memorabilia and other materials" in her White House office.

Mr. Kendall refused to say why Mrs. Huber had been going through her files or how the Rose documents could have come into her possession in the first place.

He could not explain why they were not discovered sooner, especially since the White House had said it searched Mrs. Huber's files in 1994 in response to subpoenas.

In recent months, congressional investigators have focused on what role Mrs. Clinton and her law firm played in 1985 and 1986 for Madison as it was coming under greater financial strain.

In one of its final acts, the trust corporation decided not to bring a civil lawsuit against the Clintons for the losses that the Whitewater land venture caused to Madison. The Clintons have cited the report as evidence of complete exoneration.

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