Hillary Clinton under subpoena Unprecedented action: First lady a political liability as Whitewater case explodes.

January 24, 1996

UNPRECEDENTED IS A word that should be used carefully in dealing with an institution as venerable as the American presidency. Yet "unprecedented" is the precise word to describe the issuance of the first subpoena ever issued to a first lady. Let it be emphasized that Hillary Rodham Clinton is not a "target" in a criminal investigation and if she were she would not have been ordered to appear Friday before the Whitewater grand jury. But let it also be emphasized that her subpoena strongly suggests the grand jury is considering possible obstruction of justice -- a serious federal felony.

The questions now entangling the Clinton White House concern the odyssey of billing records disclosing Mrs. Clinton's legal work on behalf of a now-defunct savings and loan owned by her partner in the Whitewater land deal:

How did these documents happen to leave the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, which reported them missing? How did they get to Mrs. Clinton's private "book room" early this month, two years after they were first sought by the Whitewater independent counsel? Were they at any time in the hands of suicide-victim Vincent Foster, the former White House counsel whose handwriting appears in some of the papers? Were they moved from Mr. Foster's office to Mrs. Clinton's quarters, and, if so, by whom? Carolyn Huber, the first lady's aide who discovered the papers, testified last week: "I don't have an answer about how they appeared."

As we observed the other day, "It isn't Whitewater; it's the cover-up." With the case exploding into a full-scale political issue, Democrats in Congress have been put in a pincers. Though they want to protect President and Mrs. Clinton from Republicans exploiting the affair for partisan advantage, their efforts are being undercut by day-to-day developments.

Maryland Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, acting as a defense counsel for the Clintons, is chasing a will-o'-the-wisp in trying to halt the hearings of the GOP-controlled Senate Whitewater Committee. It probably can't be done, given the momentum of the last few weeks, and even if if it were the Democrats would wind up looking like obstructionists. Besides, nothing can stop the independent counsel's investigation.

Our advice to the White House is to come clean with every bit of information at its disposal. To do otherwise, to give an appearance of cover-up, will render the first lady an ever-growing political liability and cast a pall on the president's re-election campaign.

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